Ideologues Playing Games
This morning, Congressman Kevin McCarthy- a Californian and by every measure a conservative- dropped out of the race for Speaker of the House. That race was made possible only by Speaker John Boehner’s abdication of the Speakership in the face of a revolt on his right flank. Boehner, too, is conservative by most conventional measures. Yet the smoking gun in both of these high-profile resignations lies in the hands of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, a Tea Party-affiliated group of Republican Congressmen more committed to radical ideological purity than anyone outside the further reaches of the activist Left. The fact that McCarthy and Boehner worked with Democratic President Obama on various pieces of legislation over the last couple Congressional cycles- also known as “politics as usual”- was, in the Freedom Caucus’s view, McCarthy and Boehner’s great betrayal of conservatism, and sufficient evidence to warrant consigning the two conservative leaders to the status of “Republicans in Name Only.”
As a moderate Republican myself, I look on in horror as pragmatic national figures like Boehner and McCarthy are executed in the public eye by the Republican radicals now ascendant in Congress and many state legislatures. Bear in mind, Boehner and McCarthy stand to the right of Ronald Reagan on issues as diverse as gun control, deregulation, and immigration, yet they have met their demise at the hands of throngs of populists who worship a mutated version of the Gipper in every statement. In this contemporary climate, my mentor the historian Geoff Kabaservice sees eerie parallels to the conservative revolution of 1964, when Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater shunned the moderates in the Grand Old Party and dragged it far to the right. The result: overwhelming victory for the lefty Democrat Lyndon Johnson and Congressional majorities for the Democrats for a decade. The GOP, by radicalizing, marginalized itself from the rest of American society and handed victory to the Democrats. Is the GOP of 2015- presented with a floundering Democratic Presidency, the best possible opportunity for the opposition party to seize the White House in an election year- throwing away its shot?
If the Freedom Caucus and its supporters continue to dominate Republican congressional politics and give energy to anti-establishment Presidential candidates like Trump and Cruz, then perhaps. All the factors in the national and global situation point to a 2016 Republican victory- but all the factors in the GOP itself point to an increasingly ideological and regional appeal for the Republicans, which would all but guarantee a Clinton or Biden presidency. The party, by playing games and not doing anything constructive, is committing electoral suicide.
It is unfortunate that the ideals and legacy of so noble a tradition as that of the Grand Old Party would be subverted by heirs to that tradition more interested in political games and ideological purity than in the actual process of governing, crafting principled and pragmatic policy agendas, and leading the United States of America into its next great epoch. We are the generation that will lead America someday, and THIS is what we’re doing?