The Looming Post-Election GOP Tempest in a Teapot

It’s not often that I read a political article outside the Greater Wingnutosphere and issue forth a full Chris Rockian “That ain’t right!” But Jonathan Martin’s Politico piece today on the “looming GOP civil war “ struck me exactly that way. Whether Romney wins or loses, says Martin, there will be a vicious battle to the death between the party’s conservative base and “practical-minded party elites.” No question who the heroes of this account are: those “party elites” who understand the need to get things done and broaden the GOP’s base and so on and so forth bark bark woof woof. Interestingly, the only representative of said elites quoted in the piece is Sen. Lindsay Graham, who just loves to talk sensibly unless some specific action is required.

Meanwhile, the “base” seems to be composed of the bulk of actual Republican voters, the interest and constituency groups that hold veto power over every single party decision, the big new ideologically-driven funders, and oh, nearly all House Republicans and most Senate Republicans, not to mention every single politician who would like to run for president some day.

Sure looks like a civil war that will last about as long as the Whiskey Rebellion, if that.

Now there will undoubtedly be some tension if Romney wins and Republicans–as expected–fall well short of control of the Senate. At that point, all Democrats, most independents, the MSM, and maybe Lindsay Graham, would remind Mitt of all that “bipartisanship” rhetoric he suddenly started uttering near the end of the general election, after swearing on stacks of bibles all through the primary season that he’d never betray The Cause (viz. the Cut-Cap-Balance pledge of no debt limit increase without a balanced budget constitutional amendment permanently limiting federal spending, not to mention the various no-tax-increase pledges, and pledges of executive actions on a variety of issues–most notably Obamacare and abortion–that would make Democratic cooperation impossible). What then? Will Romney actually defy most of his own party, with only “party elites” at his back? Of course not.

Martin’s own fantasy of a “bipartisan solution” to the big fiscal problems involves the Republican formula of tax-reform-without-rate-increases (keeping in mind that Republicans define letting the Bush tax cuts expire as a “rate increase”) in exchange for “entitlement reform,” which basically means the Ryan Budget. Sure, a lot of Republicans would go for that, but would any congressional Democrats, now that Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson aren’t around? I doubt it.

Look, I’m a veteran of many “civil wars” in the Democratic Party, and expect to see another one soon. But the conditions simply aren’t ripe for one in the GOP: there are too many convenient rationalizations for defeat other than a failure to compromise; too many conservatives who would prefer to take their chances on future defeats in the hopes of pulling off that one big win that will let them wreck the New Deal and Great Society once and for all; and too much precedent for Republicans deciding that the answer to every conceivable political problem is to move still further to the Right. Remember that “GOP civil war” after two straight calamitous defeats in 2006 and 2008? Where were the “practical-minded party elites” ready to tell the restive “base” it was time to compromise and “move to the center”? Cowering and surrendering, or getting in touch with their inner Barry Goldwater to get in front of the rightward-stampeding parade. And having the recent experience of winning their own landslide in 2010 after going feral, are Republicans going to wise up now just because they lost to an incumbent president with a nominee they didn’t want or like? The question answers itself.

The “looming civil war,” if it happens at all, will be a tempest in a teapot. And the tea will win.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

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.