Shortly after the midterm elections, the New York Times‘ David Brooks insisted that Republicans were feeling “modest and cautious.” They’re “sober,” Brooks said, adding that the GOP wouldn’t “overreach.” Republican leaders, Brooks assured readers, were “prepared to take what they can get, even if it’s not always what they would like.”
The same week, Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg made a similar prediction, arguing that GOP leaders “will feint right while legislating closer to the center.” Republicans would 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.”
I suggested at the time that Brooks and Weisberg were very wrong. A half-year later, it’s probably fair to say I got this one right.
And so did Dana Milbank. While Brooks and Weisberg were predicting Republican sanity and maturity, Milbank argued at the time that there’s no one left in the Republican Party “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.”
Today, Milbank is still correct in his assessment of the GOP, this time in the context of the debt-reduction talks.
The gulf is about policy: the policy of his Tea Party backbenchers not to compromise on anything. This has put Boehner, a dealmaker, in the impossible position of leading a House Republican caucus that is inherently ungovernable.
I mention this, not to pick on Brooks and Weisberg, but because I get the sense much of the media establishment has trouble wrapping its head around the radicalism of the Republican Party. Milbank has approached this with his eyes open, but he doesn’t seem to have a lot of company.
For the establishment, the GOP is still a governing party. Republicans aren’t crazy, the thinking goes, they’re just conservative. It’s why Brooks predicted GOP leaders would “take what they can get, even if it’s not always what they would like,” and why Weisberg felt confident expecting to see the GOP willing to “compromise.”
It’s also drives the “both sides are to blame for everything” reflex.
It’s easy for predictions like these to look foolish eight months later, but the point is, the predictions never should have been made in the first place. Too many pundits have been too reluctant to admit what is plainly true: the radicalization of the Republican Party is changing American politics and policy for the worse.