Why does the Republican Party exist? What is its purpose as a political entity – to what end do its members work to elect their fellow Republicans? What are its priorities? Whose interests does it serve? Why is this political party still around so long after its primary motivations for creation – the defense of the Union and the end of slavery – were achieved? The Democratic Party exists to serve its clients – but the Republican Party’s justification is more ethereal. Is it just an arbitrary entity seeking a universal negative, designed to push back against Democratic policies and demand they be more something (efficient) or less something else (expensive)? Or does it have actual principles and priorities it seeks to make a reality?
The Republican Party’s voters and supporters certainly seem to have such beliefs. But they rarely seem to make it through the process of synthesis that turns such beliefs into actual policy priorities. Being a negative force is not nothing, and blocking bad policy is worthwhile. But when given the opportunity to put good policy into place, or to take steps to make such policy more feasible in the future, where is the Republican Party to be found?
David Harsanyi writes about this today in the context of explaining poll after poll which shows the Republican Party less and less popular among Republicans, even as rabble-rousers like Donald Trump are overperforming:
“It’s conceivable, and I’m just spitballing here, that many conservatives are wondering: If the Republican Party is incapable or unwilling to make a compelling case against the selling of baby organs or the emergence of a nuclear Iran or the funding of a cronyist state-run bank—or all three—then really, what exactly can it do? Setting aside presidential politics for a moment, three issues have filled the conservative ether the past few weeks: The administration’s pact abetting Iran’s efforts to become a threshold nuclear power, Planned Parenthood’s organ harvesting controversy, and, to a lesser extent, the renewal of the Export-Import bank. None of these are hobbyhorses of the wild fringe. These are issues—ostensibly, at least—that strike at the heart of the modern GOP. And on all three, Republican leadership have, though they held plenty of leverage to raise a stink, capitulated. In fact, they have probably put more effort into evading confrontation than their standard response of pretending to court it.”
Perhaps you believe the Republican Party exists as the party of limited government and free markets. This is impossible after the past weekend, where Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell went so far as to blatantly make the lie he told his fellow Senators – that no deal had been cut with interested Democrats during an earlier debate to reanimate an entity of pure corporate welfare, the Export-Import Bank – a priority so critical he would box out all other attempts to attach amendments to what is considered a “must-pass” measure, the Highway Bill.
Perhaps you believe the Republican Party exists as a national security party, which believes in a clear-eyed trust but verify approach to dealing with our enemies. This is impossible after the past few months, where the Senate Republicans completely ceded their Constitutional duty regarding the Iran deal, putting them in the wonderful position (so politically advantageous in the realm of domestic policy) of decrying this deal as awful without being on the hook for anything that happens because of it.
Perhaps you believe the Republican Party exists as today the lone pro-life party in the United States. This cannot be possible after the weekend, where Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell blocked any attempt to force President Obama and all his fellow Senate Democrats to take a stand for or against not even the legality, but the taxpayer subsidization of harvesting organs from aborted babies. The fact that McConnell did all this after telling his GOP colleagues that he definitely wouldn’t, and the fact that Texas Senator Ted Cruz pointed this out, is a breach of decorum. Orrin Hatch will be along with a ruler shortly to rap your knuckles, you naughty boy.
Taken together, the stance of the Senate Republican caucus on these three issues reveal the utter failure of post-Cold War fusionism. The Senate Republicans have in the space of a few short months dramatically undercut their ability to be considered serious on national security, fiscal conservative, and social conservative priorities. And for what? What is worth cutting all three flimsy legs of the stool shorter? Surely it has to be something worthwhile – avoiding a government shutdown, or repealing Obamacare? Surely it must be about achieving some greater legislative goal or laying the groundwork for taking the White House in 2016?
Well, actually, the aim is to pass a Highway Bill. It is a thousand page tax and pork-laden monstrosity which does not deserve to pass in the first place, and whose failure would be greeted as a positive development for any fiscal conservative. For conservatives, the Highway Bill is a bad thing that could be the vehicle for something politically useful. For Republicans, this is not the case. The passage of a Planned Parenthood defunding amendment would set up a direct conflict with the White House over the issue, and undercut McConnell’s priority of passing a Highway Bill with an Ex-Im resurrection attached to it – two things that are not a priority at all for Republican voters, mind you, but for the corporatist constituency the Republican Party actually serves, are near the top of the list.
And that is why the Republican Party exists.