There Is No Rise of Republican Pragmatists

I couldn’t get past the first sentence of Josh Kraushaar’s piece on The Rise of the Republican Pragmatists without balking. It at once indicated the trouble that was coming and made me want to break out my editor’s pen.

In Washington, narratives last long past their sell-by date. One of the most common tropes is that Republicans are controlled by the far-right wing of the party and have little ability to govern.

Now, a “trope” is a figurative or metaphorical use of an expression, meaning that it is not intended to be literally true. And, while we can bicker about the precise meaning of the word “control,” there is no ambiguity about the recent record. There’s a reason that anyone who follows politics has heard the expression “John Boehner is not good at his job.” It’s not because he has exerted control over his caucus, and it’s not because he’s shown an ability to govern. Boehner and his leadership team have been repeatedly blindsided by the far-right wing of their party and been forced to abandon deals, pull bills from the floor, delay scheduled vacations, shut down the government against their better judgment, and resort to tear-filled serenity prayers. All this stuff literally happened and talking about it honestly is not the same thing as throwing around shopworn tropes.

If those days are about to be over then, as the Missourians say, “Show Me.” But don’t insult my intelligence in the first sentence by suggesting that the far-right of the Republican Party has not been exerting an out-sized amount of control.

The next bit is what amounts to hope, I guess.

This year’s congressional majorities were built on the victories of center-right candidates, not the bomb-throwers who disrupted their party’s leadership over the past two years. Of the 16 House Republicans who picked up seats for the party, 11 of them represent districts President Obama carried in 2012. And the freshman Senate class may be filled with conservatives, but ones who have expressed willingness to work across party lines.

Silly me, but I thought the “trope” about Cory Gardner was that he knew how to put a moderate sheen on an extreme anti-contraception record. He didn’t say stupid things like Sharron Angle or Ken Buck, but his left-right alignment isn’t any different. Thom Tillis presided over the most radical state legislature in North Carolina in living memory. Joni Ernst spent much of time talking about how she was going to come to Washington and start cutting the balls off the place. What these folks did was win where their radical predecessors had lost, and they gave lip service here and there to finding solutions, but all that happy talk was accompanied by completely uncompromising paranoia and lunacy regarding the president.

And then we get to the just plain stupid.

That’s not to say the new wave isn’t conservative, but there’s a huge distinction between being conservative and being uncompromising. All of these GOP senators-elect have an interest in policy, and already showcased governing aptitude. Cotton, Sullivan, and Ernst (all military veterans) could join the party’s group of foreign policy hawks, led by Sens. McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte. Sasse, a policy wonk, could team up with Sen. Mike Lee on proposing Obamacare alternatives.

Gardner, who made inroads with Hispanics in his election, could be a point person on immigration reform if the Senate tackles the issue. Shelley Moore Capito, the first Republican elected to the Senate from West Virginia since 1956, is likely to take up energy issues as part of her portfolio. These aren’t Republican nihilists at all.

How have Joni Ernst or Dan Sullivan “showcased governing aptitude”? If you haven’t noticed, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte are frothing maniacs on foreign policy. Mike Lee’s idea of an ObamaCare alternative is practical? West Virginia’s priorities on energy align with America and China’s interests in what way?

If there is any basis for optimism it is that Speaker Boehner has some vulnerable members to protect now, which also means that he might be able to rely on them to sell-out the Republican base and cut a deal on something. But, if there’s a real case to be made that the freshman class of Republicans is coming to Washington eager to sell out the base, I haven’t seen the evidence for it. In 2006, when dozens of vulnerable blue-district Republican representatives were clearly about to be defeated, they walked in lockstep over the cliff rather than break with their deranged leadership or president.

Maybe the definition of insanity isn’t doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result but watching the same thing over and over again and expecting the Republicans to become practical or moderate.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.