What a ‘normal’ GOP might do

About a month after the 2010 midterms, the New York Times‘ David Brooks reflected on the GOP’s willingness to accept any concessions on any issue. “[M]y problem with the Republican Party right now … is that if you offered them 80-20, they say no,” Brooks said. “If you offered them 90-10, they’d say no. If you offered them 99-1 they’d say no.”

That was seven months ago. In his column today, Brooks notes that the GOP’s obstinacy is becoming even more dramatic in the context of debt-reduction talks. Democrats have already accepted the hostage-strategy dynamic and made enormous concessions to congressional Republicans. Indeed, Dems have offered a deal in which 83% of a debt-reduction deal would come spending cuts, nearly identical to what House Republican requested a few months ago.

“If the Republican Party were a normal party,” Brooks notes today, “it would take advantage of this amazing moment.” In fact, the conservative columnist called this “the mother of all no-brainers.” And yet, because the GOP “may no longer be a normal party,” and Republicans “do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms,” failure is an option.

The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the G.O.P. is — a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.

Brooks went on to say that the conservatives who dominate the GOP “do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities,” “have no sense of moral decency,” and “have no economic theory worthy of the name.”

This is pretty tough language for a conservative columnist. Indeed, it’s the kind of language that can help change the conventional wisdom about the nature of the talks themselves.

As of this morning, it appears the White House is prepared to accept “tens of billions of dollars” in cuts from Medicare and Medicaid — the nature of the cuts are unclear — in exchange for Republicans accepting additional revenue. And in this case, “additional revenue” doesn’t even mean increases in tax rates, but rather, scrapping unnecessary (and unpopular) tax subsidies, such as the breaks that go to the oil industry.

Due entirely to their extremism and inflexibility, Republicans have already, in effect, won. They created the debate, established the goal, set the terms of the talks, and dictated what’s allowed on the table. Democrats have conceded away almost everything. The result is what Brooks calls “the deal of the century.”

If there were anything “normal” about today’s Republican Party, it would take yes for an answer. Alas, the GOP has been radicalized to the extent that “normal” is nowhere in sight.