The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza poses a good question:
There are, no doubt, countless answers to the above question, but let me take a stab at it: 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. They’re issues—ostensibly, at least—that are core issues of the modern GOP. And on all three, the GOP has, though it has plenty of leverage to raise a stink, capitulated. In fact, it has probably put more effort into evading confrontation than its standard response of pretending to court it.
I’ve long defended John Boehner’s House as one the most productive in history— obstructing more detrimental and intrusive legislation than any other in modern history. This is a meaningful legacy. From 2010 to 2014, the House was the nation’s checks and balances—inadvertently, perhaps, but still the only thing stopping a monocracy. Even most rank-and-file conservatives disagreed with this assessment. While no one (or, I should say, no sensible person) is expecting the GOP to demand a shutdown, what’s the point of a party that not only ignores issues conservatives are emotionally and ideologically invested in but ones that could appeal to a wider electorate?
How shameless was the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, as he laid into John Kerry at the Iran-deal hearings earlier this week? Corker had the temerity to claim the administration had “been fleeced” by the Iranians after listening to the administration’s rationalizations for the deal.
This might be true. It might also be true that Corker was willing to abdicate his responsibility of holding on to congressional oversight when he agreed to a framework that allows the Iranian deal to move forward even if a majority of the Senate votes no. It’s the risk-free alternative. Corker (and others) can now profess disgust at the outcome, lecture the administration about its impotence, and oppose the deal for the benefit of conservative voters while having, in essence, voted for it months ago.
It’s problematic, for one thing, because the Senate has a constitutional responsibility to stop terrible international treaties, no matter what euphemism we attach to them. And maybe Republicans never believed Kerry would come back with something this awful. Maybe they could never imagine that the president would seek the United Nations’ blessing of a nuclear deal before he went to Congress. Or maybe they never imagined that the deal would extend to Iran’s ballistic missile programs. Now it’s on Republicans, as well.
American voters may not understand all the intricacies of the deal, but they understand the Iranian position. How many Americans recognize what the Ex-Im Bank does? Not many. But most understand cronyism. The abortion debate almost always deteriorates into a partisan squabble, but when an organization that gorges itself on government funding is caught having discussions about the sale of human organs, Republicans are offered one of the best opportunities to make their case.
Yet, when Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee made noise about filing amendments to the highway bill to eliminate all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, Mitch McConnell used a procedural tactic known as “filling the tree” to prevent other amendments from being offered. This stopped any debate on Planned Parenthood.
“What we saw today was an absolute demonstration that not only what he told every Republican senator, but what he told the press over and over again was a simple lie,” said Cruz on the Senate floor.
Say what you want about Cruz’s self-serving theatrics (Sen. Orrin Hatch and other senior Senators lined up to scold him on Sunday), but was he wrong in substance? In June, McConnell claimed he wouldn’t block efforts to combine legislation reauthorizing Ex-Im with a transportation-funding package. “The highway bill is an ‘obvious’ vehicle for the bank, said McConnell, who opposes extending Ex-Im,” reported Bloomberg.
Republicans blocked amendments offered by other Republicans to work with Democrats. On Sunday, 24 GOPers voted to move forward with reauthorizing the bank. Opposition is purely theoretical.
As Tim Carney put it in the Washington Examiner:
It’s impossible to read McConnell’s mind. But it’s clear he desires, deeply, to be seen as a majority leader who knows how to govern, not merely fight. Perhaps this perception will help him keep his majority, or help his party win the White House. But it’s hard to make sense of the argument that voters should vote Republican so that McConnell can cut deals about subsidies with Sen. Maria Cantwell in order to pass Sen. Barbara Boxer’s tax-and-spend highway bill.
McConnell can “govern” and “fight.” Obama does. And when we hear, according to a new CNN/ORC poll, that 52 percent of Republicans believe Donald Trump should stay in the presidential race (33 percent say drop out, 15 percent say run as indie) we are seeing a reckless but understandable acting out. In a new Pew Research poll, just 32 percent of Americans view the Republican Party favorably, a nine-point drop since January. Among Republicans, that decline has been steeper than among others— dropping 18 points since the beginning of the year. This might, in part, be precipitated by the presidential primary fight that many grassroots activists see as a battle between the establishment and the true conservatives. This tension is often built on an assortment of unrealistic political expectations.
And then other times, it’s not.