Let’s be blunt, shall we? This was a disaster for the country, and an utterly pointless disaster. Chuck Schumer had it right last night in his brief remarks after the Senate vote. No one had any cause to be happy. Seventeen days and $2 billion in lost government revenue and $25 billion in lost economic activity later, by some estimates, we are exactly at the point where we on Sept. 30. It all could have been averted if John Boehner had simply allowed a vote—as he’d promised Harry Reid he would—on the Senate’s “clean CR,” which would have passed.
But maybe it wasn’t utterly pointless. At least the American people did get to see what assassins the Republicans are. That was valuable. Many of us have been trying to say for many years now about Washington’s polarization and dysfunction that yes, both sides are to blame, there are no Boy Scouts here, but the sides are not remotely equally to blame, and this is a crucial point, and journalists and commentators who keep insisting on framing things this way out of some devotion to “balance” that is out of whack with the facts of reality are disserving the republic; lying, basically. I don’t think now any commentator can seriously maintain that fiction. Even David Broder himself, were he around, would be pointing fingers now.
Ross Douthat, whom I sometimes reprove for pulling a punch or two when assessing the activities and habits of Republican legislators, is on target today:
So for undeluded conservatives of all persuasions, lessons must be learned. If the party’s populists want to shape and redefine and ultimately remake the party, they can’t pull this kind of stunt again. If the party’s leadership wants to actually lead, whether within the G.O.P. or in the country at large, they can’t let this kind of stunt be pulled again. That’s the only way in which this pointless-seeming exercise could turn out to have some sort of point: If it’s long remembered, by its proponents and their enablers alike, as the utter folly that it was.
Now. Were I quibbling, I’d note that prominent conservative commentators helped enable this, like the extended members of the family who ignore the fact that Uncle Jack is drunk again and laugh at his drunken jokes like everything’s okay. But let’s set that largely aside today. The key question today is whether the right lesson has been learned.
And the answer is: I very seriously doubt it, unless the responsible voices in the party are more willing to step to the front of the room and take on the extremists. Because the extremists certainly haven’t learned anything. All they’ve “learned” is that if they’d just held tougher, they’d have won!
That’s what Ted Cruz meant yesterday, when he blasted the Senate for not behaving more like the House. It’s what Rush Limbaugh meant when he said that the GOP was “irrelevant” and—ponder this—trying too hard “to make people like them.” (!) It’s what the tea party people in the House meant yesterday when they told various Capitol Hill reporters that Boehner’s job was safe in their eyes, because he went to the mat with them. They are all saying: Not only are we going to do this again; we’re going to come up with ways to do it harder.
That’s where Cruz’s main 2016 competitor in the Senate, Marco Rubio, positioned himself with his vote against the deal. (Interestingly, John Thune of South Dakota, whose name is sometimes tossed into ’16 conversations, voted for it; keep an eye on him.) That’s where two blue-state Republican senators who are up for reelection in the presidential year of 2016, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, placed their chips.
Johnson is a tea partier, and Toomey is presumably doing some backpedaling to win back right-wing affection after demonstrating momentary sanity on the gun issue. I have to think their votes are going to cost them in 2016, but they obviously weren’t too concerned about that yesterday; they were concerned about staying in line, keeping the door open to more chaos.
So now we move to actual budget negotiations. The position of the chaos caucus is going to be: Okay Obama, you give us entitlement cuts, and we’ll give you...uh, what? No revenues. They’re inflexible on that point. No programs (outside maybe of defense, and even that’s a maybe) funded at levels above sequestration. So actually, they’ll give nothing. Oh, wait: They’ll give Obama a government that doesn’t shut down in January, and a country that doesn’t default next spring. So chances are decent that we’ll be in exactly the same place.
Who among Republicans will step up to say “Enough”? McCain has, kind of. Lisa Murkowski. In the House, Peter King. Amazing! Peter King, the old mosque-demagoguer, is Mr. Reasonable! Right now, these people are disparate. They need to get together and make themselves into a force. Get numbers. Give themselves a name. The Sanity Caucus. Hold a major press conference in front of old Bob Taft’s carillon and say that you are the real conservatives, these other people are radicals who aren’t interested in “conserving” anything. After a crushing defeat for your party like this, there’s a vacuum right now. Fill it. If you don’t, the nutters will.