THIS ALMOST CERTAINLY ISN’T A HEAD-FAKE…. Jacob Weisberg posted a Slate item yesterday making the case that the congressional Republican leadership, after the elections, “will feint right while legislating closer to the center.” Seriously.
Weisberg relies on history to point to a credible pattern — Republican leaders are great at “the right fake,” but don’t follow through. Reagan, for example, raised taxes, expanded the size of government, largely ignored the legislative priorities of the religious right, and compromised all the time with his rivals, but conservatives loved him anyway.
As Weisberg sees it, we’ll see this model again. Republican leaders will realize “they’re being handed a gift, not a mandate.” These same leaders, Weisberg argues, “don’t think working with Democrats is evil. On the big picture tax and budget issues, they plan compromise with President Obama.”
In all sincerity, I’d love to think Weisberg’s right, but I have no idea where his confidence comes from. Nearly all evidence points in the exact opposite direction — the Republicans’ Senate leader insisted just last week that his top priority is destroying President Obama, and similarly, the Republicans’ House leader boldly proclaimed, “This is not a time for compromise.” The number of GOP candidates talking about shutting down the government next year is pretty large.
This does not sound like a party that “plans to compromise” with President Obama. Extremism, obstructionism, and antagonism will very likely push the GOP into the majority, and expecting Republican leaders to suddenly drop all of this once they’re in a position of power is a fantasy. It is, to be sure, a pleasant fantasy, and one that would benefit the country, but the odds are overwhelmingly against it.
When Republicans gained control of Congress 16 years ago, the revolutionaries were eventually convinced by their leaders to cut deals with President Bill Clinton, leading to milestone achievements on the budget and welfare reform.
But there 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. […]
Compromise was not always a dirty word for conservatives. Ronald Reagan — so idolized by Pence that he has perfected a Reaganesque head-tilt while speaking — compromised with the Democrats on Social Security and taxes. American Democracy couldn’t function without compromise.
But now there is nobody to stand up to the take-no-prisoners caucus, led by Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), who has floated the notion of impeaching Obama because she doesn’t like his policies, and Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), who threatens to leave the GOP if his colleagues don’t pursue his biblical-law agenda.
In Weisberg’s model, GOP leaders are strong, pragmatic, and responsible. In Milbank’s model, those same leaders are weak, reckless, and easily cowed by radicals. Anyone watching D.C. in recent years shouldn’t have any trouble concluding which model has more merit.
Just a few months ago, the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein, not exactly a raging leftist, said John Boehner and his leadership team “are becoming the Bart Simpsons of Congress, gleeful at smarmy and adolescent tactics and unable and unwilling to get serious.”
It’s a party that’s demonstrated no interest in substance, no interest in cooperation, and no interest in resisting the unhinged demands of Limbaugh, Palin, and Beck. Unless some well-hidden Republican adults suddenly emerge in the new year, Weisberg’s predictions are literally impossible to believe.