The RNC’s Block and Blame Game

The RNC says it’s Obama’s fault the gun bill didn’t pass. By John Avlon.

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

There’s chutzpah, and then there’s rank hypocrisy.

The RNC released a slick but cynical Web ad this week commemorating the first 100 days of President Obama’s second term. Politics ain’t beanbag, and no one expected their assessment would be sunshine and light. But there’s a particularly low place for folks who block and then blame—in this case, intimating with mock sadness that the president is legislatively impotent for failing to pass universal background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook slaughter.

Reality check: 41 Republican senators (and five Democrats) voted against the bipartisan compromise bill crafted by Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Manchin. And among Republicans controlling the House, the modest background check bill—supported by 90 percent of Americans—was considered DOA.

This affront to common sense and common decency is difficult to defend. And so the RNC response is to blame the president for a failure to lead, despite that his bipartisan outreach was rejected by most Republicans.

Don’t take my word for it—listen to Pat Toomey: “In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized,” Toomey told the Times Herald editorial board. “There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”

This is ugly stuff, deeply self-defeating to the cause of self-government. It is also the new normal. Now polls show that you reap what you sow: Republicans face a credibility gap based on the perception that they are too inflexible and unwilling to compromise. And so the apparent solution struck at the RNC is to skip over the facts as if we all have the attention span of gnats.

But in the wake of the Senate rejection of universal background checks, we already see that Republican senators from swing states who voted against the bill are facing a backlash, while red-state Democrats who took the risk of voting for the bill are seeing a boost in their political fortunes. The lesson is that we do pay attention—especially if there is a moral dimension and frustration over popular will being ignored.

There are plenty of credible criticisms of President Obama, specifically arguments that he didn’t have enough executive experience or Washington experience to lead effectively before entering the Oval Office. But the hyperpartisan impulse to oppose policies that Republicans have supported in the past simply because President Obama supports them has been the story of this administration in too many of its dealings with Congress. From the adoption of the Heritage Foundation–proposed and Romney-implemented individual mandate for health-care reform to the president’s proposal of entitlement reform that has so far been unable to provoke an equal Republican response to achieve a grand bargain, the outreach is too often one-sided and unreciprocated.

For conservatives to block bipartisan bills as a matter of strategy and then blame the president for the failure to achieve progress is the height of hypocrisy. The subsequent media rush to debate whether the president is a lame duck is itself a lazy taking of the bait, reflecting that desire to fast-forward to the 2016 campaign rather than stay focused on the matter at hand: covering governing, with accountability intact.