The GOP’s elusive ‘modesty’

THE GOP’S ELUSIVE ‘MODESTY’…. When it comes to predicting how Republican lawmakers will act next year, we talked over the weekend about two competing models.

On the one hand, we have Jacob Weisberg, who believe GOP leaders “will feint right while legislating closer to the center.” Republicans will realize, Weisberg argued, “they’re being handed a gift, not a mandate.” These GOP officials “don’t think working with Democrats is evil. On the big picture tax and budget issues, they plan compromise with President Obama.”

On the other, we have Dana Milbank, who explained that the modern Republican Party “is sorely in need of grown-ups.” As Milbank sees it, “[T]here is no Bob Dole in the Republican leadership today; there isn’t even a Newt Gingrich. There is nobody with the clout to tell Tea Party-inspired backbenchers when it’s time to put down the grenades and negotiate. Rather, there are weak leaders who, frightened by the Tea Party radicals, have become unquestioning followers of a radical approach.”

In his column today, David Brooks sides with the former, insisting Republicans are feeling “modest and cautious.” They’re “sober,” Brooks believes. They won’t “overreach.” The GOP’s leaders are “prepared to take what they can get, even if it’s not always what they would like.”

The new Republicans may distrust government, but this will be a Republican class with enormous legislative experience. Tea Party hype notwithstanding, most leading G.O.P. candidates either served in state legislatures or previously in Washington. The No Compromise stalwarts like Senator Jim DeMint have a big megaphone but few actual followers within the Senate.

Over all, if it is won, a Republican House majority will be like a second marriage. Less ecstasy, more realism. The party could have used a few more years to develop plans about the big things, like tax and entitlement reform. But if a party is going to do well in an election, it should at least be a party that has developed a sense of modesty.

I honestly have no idea how Brooks has come to believe this.

To be sure, I’d love to think reasonable Republicans intend to be responsible with power, and intend to take a mature approach to good-faith negotiations. It’s a pleasant fantasy.

But is there any evidence — any at all — to support such an assumption? Not only have GOP leaders spent the last two years acting like spoiled children, uninterested in any serious policy work, they’ve also sent the last two weeks boldly proclaiming their intention to refuse to compromise with anyone about anything.

Indeed, the number of Republicans talking about shutting down the government next year is already pretty large, and it’s getting bigger. A growing number of Republicans are even talking about deliberately pushing the United States government to literally default on its debts early next year.

Brooks would have us believe the reckless loudmouths are just bloviating, and that the GOP leadership will be far more sensible. That would be the leadership team that features Mitch McConnell (who insisted just last week that his top priority is destroying President Obama), John Boehner (who proclaimed the other day, “This is not a time for compromise”), and Mike Pence (who insisted two weeks ago that Republicans must not even try to work with the White House).

The point of Brooks’ column seems to be that voters shouldn’t fear Republican excesses after the midterms. I’m quite certain that’s bad advice.