Republicans have no incentive to moderate or govern

It has become conventional wisdom in the press, seriously intoned at every level, that Republicans need to “prove they can govern” in order to succeed in 2016. Jay Rosen throws some clarifying cold water on that notion:

You can’t simply assert, like it’s some sort of natural fact, that Republicans “must show they can govern” when an alternative course is available. Not only is it not a secret — this other direction — but it’s being strongly urged upon the party by people who are a key part of its coalition.

The alternative to “show you can govern” is to keep President Obama from governing. Right? Keep him from accomplishing what he wants to get done in his final two years and then “go to the country,” as Karl Rove used to say, with a simple message: time for a change! This is not only a valid way to proceed, it’s a pretty likely outcome.

As a media critic, Rosen is primarily frustrated that press mouthpieces are declaring as natural fact statements that are in reality matters of opinion. Rosen is right: centrist media institutions have a bias toward Washington consensus building such that they tend to actively ignore both issues and political realities as they are to match their own narrative. The self-evident thesis of respected political scientists Mann and Ornstein that Republicans have become singularly extreme over the last few decades has been met with stunning silence by centrist press institutions. Meanwhile, five-alarm fire issues like climate change and record inequality receive little attention because they’re not ones on which Tip-n-Ronnie style bipartisanship in a lunch meeting hammered out by McCain, Hagel and Lieberman will save the day. The press is itself biased toward “solutions” that will not actually solve the big problems, and willfully ignores the big problems in favor of phantom “problems” like the deficit that their preferred “let the moderates work it out at a cocktail party” solutions are more amenable to.

Rosen is right insofar as the press goes. But he’s also right, of course, on the GOP strategy.

Republicans have been remarkably successful over the last six years in spite of themselves. Their policies and their brand are both extremely unpopular, and their path to the presidency seems nearly impossible. They’ve shut down the government and managed to alienate almost every rising sector of the population while solidifying a base of voters that is narrowing both demographically and geographically. And yet, through record obstruction they’ve managed to stymie President Obama on nearly issue and now hold a greater share of Congress than they’ve had in decades.

What’s not to love about that for Republicans, and why wouldn’t they keep doing it? Actually taking action on major legislation like immigration would only threaten to blow up their uneasy coalition and ignite GOP civil war. Why court that controversy by actually trying to get anything done, instead of allowing the country to suffer for two more years then pinning all the blame on the President?

Eventually even the centrist press will figure this out. Whether they’ll actually report on it over their own inherent biases is another matter.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.