The GOP vs. the Reality Principle

If you, like me, have a twisted sense of humor and limited compassion, it’s rather funny to see all the Republican politicians and conservative pundits decompensating in the face of the rather predictable outcome of King v. Burwell.

Not that it’s unreasonable for them to be disappointed that the court didn’t once again make up legal principles out of whole cloth in order to serve right-wing prejudices and policy preferences. But the reaction isn’t the “Well, it was worth a try” that might be expected when a long-shot didn’t come in. It’s sheer uncomprehending grief and outrage. Instead of saying “Too bad, I guess John Roberts decided he couldn’t stretch reality far enough to let us win this one,” the right wing is saying “John Roberts betrayed us! He was never really a conservative!”

More than anything else, it reminds me of Karl Rove on Election Night 2012, insisting that Barack Obama hadn’t really have carried Ohio (which, when all the votes were in, he carried by a reasonably comfortable 3 percentage points) and thus the Presidency.

In 2012, then The Republicans had spent so much time “unskewing” the polls that they’d really convinced themselves that Romney was going to win. Recall that Romney was so confident he hadn’t even drafted a concession speech. This time, they’d convinced themselves that the fundamentally frivolous challenge in King – asserting that the Congress had deliberately set up Obamacare to fail – was obviously valid. (As Roberts points out in a footnote, Scalia’s dissent in NFIB, the previous Obamacare case, specifically asserted that the subsidies formed an essential part of the law.)

So when John Roberts, in effect, called “bullsh*t,” Fox News viewers, including the pols and the professional chatterers, were utterly blindsided, and reacted by insisting that the problem was with Roberts rather than with the plaintiffs’ case.

In a purely partisan sense, it’s an advantage for Democrats to be running against a fundamentally unhinged party. But from a patriotic viewpoint, the realization that the country no longer has two political parties that can be trusted with the reins of government is pretty damned scary. It’s possible that a convincing Clinton win and a Democratic recapture of the Senate in 2016 will shock the GOP back to reality. But I wouldn’t bet on it. Feeding right-wing fury is a profitable venture financially, and it works well enough electorally in off-years to keep the hustle going. My guess is that it will take a Clinton re-election landslide in 2020 to do the job.

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.