Republicans: Driven by Ideology or Hatred?

[Let me note as a preface that when I say “driven by ideology” I don’t mean that in a negative sense, I mean the extent to which Republicans got into government to accomplish things based on their ideas, as the Democrats did in their passing of Obamacare, for example.]

Matt Yglesias wonders whether House Republicans are interested in actually accomplishing anything:

One possible answer is no. Clearly the outlook for conservative public policy isn’t that good with Democrats in the White House and the Senate, the 2014 midterms will almost certainly strengthen their hand, and the GOP controls most of the state governments in the United States so there’s ample room for conservative policy initiatives of a non-federal nature. Under the circumstances, viewing the congress as primarily a bastion from which to block liberal initiatives and create conservative messaging points is perfectly reasonable.

But on the other hand:

Maybe someone out there really does want to end federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I bet they could get that done. In fact, I bet they could come up with a longish list of small programs that don’t speak to the core functions of the federal government and say “we’d like to scrap these.” Say, “look you created this big Dodd-Frank framework in your first term and you know we don’t think it was a good idea. But if you think it’s truly as important as you say, show us you mean it by offering up some of these small-bore programs and we’ll use those savings to fund implementation.” Nice deal. The White House would go for it both because they like Dodd-Frank, because some liberals think the GOP is right on the merits about PBS, and most of all because Obama thinks bipartisan dealmaking makes him look good.

The conservative movement of the Obama years has been driven first by the belief that total obstructionism would pay off electorally, and second by a delusional belief that the president (a man who passed Bob Dole’s healthcare plan, a man far to Nixon’s right on many issues) is a Kenyan Muslim Socialist who is attempting to destroy freedom forever. Just check out this guy who has sworn an oath to never speak to a Democrat again and spit on the ground if they speak to him.

The latter belief was extremely good at turning out the Republican base, but since it required believing such total nonsense, it badly weakened conservatives’ already-tenuous connection to reality. Even Romney campaign insiders appear to have lost the ability to believe or grapple with simple averages of polls. In short, Republicans’ addiction to nonsense has seriously undermined their campaign performance. What’s more, the belief that the president would get blamed for the Republicans’ obstruction turned out to be wrong too—the Democrats won not just the presidency but swept nearly every close Senate seat.

So if Republicans are actually interested in accomplishing conservative goals, I think Yglesias is right that they could accomplish a lot—way more than they did during the last congress, and there’s at least a decent chance it could work out for them electorally as well. But if they can’t get past the fanatical hatred of the president, if they embrace the attitude of the guy who would make a drowning Democrat say “Obama sucks” before rescuing him, well, we already saw how that works out.

@ryanlcooper

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, is currently the Washington correspondent for The Week.