Two weeks ago, David Brooks raised quite a few eyebrows with a column questioning whether contemporary congressional Republicans are even “fit to govern.” In something of a bookend, Brooks, apparently still angry at GOP madness, today condemns the party for deliberately ignoring an opportunity to do something meaningful on debt reduction.
The column breaks down the Republicans into factions — the “Beltway Bandits,” the “Big Government Blowhards,” the “Show Horses,” and the “Permanent Campaigners” — all of which Brooks holds responsible for failing to “usher in the largest cut in the size of government in American history.”
The categories strike me as pretty compelling, and in their own way, each of the GOP factions make governing difficult, if not impossible. But the categories alone don’t offer a complete enough explanation — the Republican Party, after all, has always had its share of Beltway Bandits, Big Government Blowhards, Show Horses, and Permanent Campaigners.
What’s different now is the takeover. So long as reckless children represented a reasonably small contingent within the Republican caucus, the problem was manageable, and grown-ups kept their hands on the steering wheel.
Brooks thinks the GOP adults still exist and are managing to hold on. I’m not so sure.
All of these groups share the same mentality. They do not see politics as the art of the possible. They do not believe in seizing opportunities to make steady, messy progress toward conservative goals. They believe that politics is a cataclysmic struggle. They believe that if they can remain pure in their faith then someday their party will win a total and permanent victory over its foes. They believe they are Gods of the New Dawn.
Fortunately, there are still practical conservatives in the G.O.P., who believe in results, who believe in intelligent compromise. If people someday decide the events of the past weeks have been a debacle, then practical conservatives may regain control.
Brooks’ assessment of the “Gods of the New Dawn” rings true — they really are genuinely mad — but I’m far less sure the “practical conservatives” exist in the numbers Brooks would like to believe. Indeed, the reason we’re two weeks from a catastrophe is that the Republican Party’s adults are nowhere to be found.
As for the pragmatists “regaining control,” the GOP has decided that every recent electoral setback should be seen as excuse to move even further to the right. When Republicans win, they become more radical, assuming they’re being rewarded for their right-wing ideology. When they lose, they become still become more radical, assuming they’re being punished for not being right-wing enough.
I look forward to this shift in control, but it doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the horizon.