Blowing Stuff Up

Not being privy to the internal deliberations–much less the private thoughts–of Republicans, I have no way of knowing whether Speaker John Boehner and his right-wing critics are engaged in a very public Mutt-and-Jeff routine designed to convince the White House that Boehner’s pathetic “counter-offer” fiscal package is so brave that it should be seriously considered–or if instead there’s a real fight brewing within the GOP.

But yesterday’s statement by the chief potentate of movement conservatives, Jim DeMint, a man with a lot more real power over hearts and minds than John Boehner, sure created a credible threat of a right-wing revolt against the permatanned Speaker:

“Speaker Boehner’s $800 billion tax hike will destroy American jobs and allow politicians in Washington to spend even more, while not reducing our $16 trillion debt by a single penny,” said Senator DeMint. “This isn’t rocket science. Everyone knows that when you take money out of the economy, it destroys jobs, and everyone knows that when you give politicians more money, they spend it. This is why Republicans must oppose tax increases and insist on real spending reductions that shrink the size of government and allow Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money.

“Big government is the cause of our debt crisis, not the solution. Washington has a spending addiction that is shackling our children and grandchildren with unsustainable debt. Conservatives fought for a balanced budget amendment last year precisely because we knew the political establishment in Washington would never stop their tax and spend addiction without it. However, if neither party leadership is going to put forward a serious plan to balance the budget and pay down the debt, we should end this charade.”

By “charade,” DeMint seemed to be referring to “negotiations.” His position, as reflected in the Cut, Cap and Balance Pledge that he forced leading Republicans, including Mitt Romney, to take during the last cycle, basically lashes the GOP to a position of rejecting any debt limit increases until such time as a balanced budget constitutional amendment with a permanent percentage-of-GDP limit on revenues and spending is at least on the table. He surely knows that will never in a billion years happen so long as there is a center-left party with any power whatsoever, so his basic posture is to hold out until Republicans have enough power to dictate fiscal policy entirely. Don’t laugh: it came close enough to happening on November 6.

Some of DeMint’s little friends are also looking beyond the “charade” of negotiations with the White House to figure out how to gain operational as well as psychological control over the congressional GOP. RedState’s Erick Erickson wants to prepare right now to take out Saxby Chambliss and Lindsay Graham in 2014 primaries for their temerity in following Boehner’s lead:

Conservatives are either going to hang together or separately. Right now they are getting played because Boehner, McConnell, and the like are sure the conservative movement has become a paper tiger. And, to be honest, conservatives have shown them this is true.

The only way to change it is money or primary challengers or, better, both. Citizens United showed it doesn’t really work as the critics said it would in the Presidential cycle. But it worked in 2010 for conservative activists against the establishment.

Conservatives now need to work even harder in 2014. Either start blowing stuff up or shut up. Complaining just reinforces that conservatives are paper tigers.

It’s possible, of course, that without explicitly cooperating with each other the Boehners and the DeMints can both have their way: conservatives will let Boehner reach a deal with the White House; won’t work that hard to side-track it; and will privately welcome this development as the final lever for the final, gloriously bloody RINO purge going into or out of 2014. In that respect, what sounds like a vicious intramural “revolt from the Right” will effectively operate as a decision to delay said revolt until the next election season.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.