We might for a moment pause to recall 2010. Republicans achieved a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, but the real story was in the state houses, where the GOP made astounding gains by hammering away at the economic instability their Congressional partners worked so hard to create.
And then they tacked away from jobs. As Rachel Maddow memorably put it, “Jobs, jobs jobs … j’abortion”. State-level Republicans passed record numbers of anti-abortion bills, knowing that most of them were unconstitutional. And it is certainly an old conservative scheme, to tilt windmills, lose, and then bawl that the sky is falling because the Constitution is Sauron and Democrats and liberals the armies of Mordor.
With many predicting a Republican blowout in the 2014 midterms, some are looking ahead to figure out just what that will means in terms of policy and governance. And some of those are Republicans.
Yet there is a week left; perhaps this isn’t the best time to be telegraphing the Hell they intend to call down upon the Earth.
Or, as Lauren French and Anna Palmer of Politico explain:
Conservatives in Congress are drawing up their wish list for a Republican Senate, including “pure” bills, like a full repeal of Obamacare, border security and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline — unlikely to win over many Democrats and sure to torment GOP leaders looking to prove they can govern.
Interviews with more than a dozen conservative lawmakers and senior aides found a consensus among the right wing of the Republican Party: If Republicans take the Senate, they want to push an agenda they believe was hamstrung by the Democratic-controlled chamber, even if their bills end up getting vetoed by President Barack Obama.
Their vision could create problems for congressional leaders who want to show they aren’t just the party of “hell no.” And while conservatives say they agree with that goal, their early priorities will test how well John Boehner and Mitch McConnell can keep the party united.
Two points: Swing voters can’t say they weren’t warned. And conservative voters complaining about gridlock should admit that’s what they’re after.
Consider Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC5), who explained how the real problem is that, “we can’t get that past the Senate” is just a weak excuse. “The whole ‘Harry Reid won’t let that go through’ argument will be put to bed,” Mulvaney explained. “That creates a really good opportunity for conservatives.”
Their plan is to pressure Boehner and McConnell into taking up bills designed to force the Obama administration to defend some of its most unpopular policies, including the 2010 health care law. And they want to increase border security without any legislative sweeteners like increases in visas for high-tech workers or allowing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Conservative Republicans also want to create work requirements for welfare recipients and force Obama to veto the Keystone XL pipeline.
All of these legislative priorities are top goals for Republicans broadly, but conservatives want to keep the bills “pure” rather than make deals with Democrats.
“We’ve talked about it as a group,” Mulvaney said. “A bunch of different folks have talked [and are] … trying to get something. One of our frustrations is that we’ve never told folks what we stand for. We’ve told them that we’re not Obama, but we’ve never told them what conservatives stand for.”
This fits with Mulvaney’s track record. Obamacare? Consider Jeremy W. Peters’ 2013 report on the thirty-seventh House vote to repeal the PPACA:
The 37th time won’t be the charm. But House Republicans are charging forward anyway this week on a vote to repeal President Obama’s signature health care overhaul, which will put the number of times they have tried to eliminate, defund or curtail the law past the three-dozen mark.
“This is what, the 40th time they’re going to do it?” scoffed Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, confessing that she had lost count. “Thirty-eight? 39? 40? 41?” She eventually settled on “high 30s” as her best guess.
Three dozen is a lot for a bill that currently has no prayer of becoming law. But the figure 37 actually understates the amount of time Republicans have devoted to litigating and trying to dismantle the president’s biggest legislative accomplishment.
The repeal vote, which is likely to occur Thursday, will be at least the 43rd day since Republicans took over the House that they have devoted time to voting on the issue.
To put that in perspective, they have held votes on only 281 days since taking power in January 2011. (The House and Senate have pretty light legislative loads these days, typically voting only three or four days a week.)
That means that since 2011, Republicans have spent no less than 15 percent of their time on the House floor on repeal in some way ....
.... “The guys who’ve been up here the last year, we can go home and say, ‘Listen, we voted 36 different times to repeal or replace Obamacare,'” said Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina at a gathering of conservatives recently. “Tell me what the new guys are supposed to say?” In addition to this week’s vote, there are also at least 15 separate Republican bills pending in Congress with titles like “American Liberty Restoration Act” and “Protecting Seniors’ Access to Medicare Act” that are either full or partial repeals.
And that, pretty much, is the sum total of the Republican outlook on governance: Get elected, wallow in futility, raise funds by bawling about the failures of that futility.
Mulvaney is hardly alone; he’s just the idiot who went and said it aloud.
And this futility ploy has been going on for over two decades; it is conservative bread and butter. Consider the 1992 election, when two homophobic ballot measures drew nationwide attention. Measure 9 lost in Oregon, but Amendment 2 passed in Colorado and was promptly eviscerated in court. Cries of liberal judicial activism rang from coast to coast, but here is the point they were banking on: The denunciation of Romer v. Evans presumes that a popular vote in any given state can trump the United States Constitution, which in turn is actually the “supreme law of the land”.
If one managed to get a measure onto the ballot, and win on election day, so that the Catholic Church was banished from a state for being a criminal organization, and the Supreme Court dutifully struck the law as unconstitutional, who, really, would complain of judicial activism in upholding the Constitution?
If a state declared that men seeking medication for erectile dysfunction needed to submit to simultaneous ureteroscopy and mandated preaching about sexual morality, just how long do you think that law would last?
It is easy for bigots to weep about other bigots who run a bakery and would rather shutter their business than serve the marketplace because they cannot disqualify customers for not being Christian enough, but how many Americans wear small graven images of Christ and His sacrifice around their necks? Or proclaim their piety for others to see through smart-assed t-shirts and bumper stickers that miss the point? And what would they say if one day one of them walked into a bookstore or bakery or whatever only to have the proprietor refuse them because, “We don’t serve your kind, here, as it conflicts with the morals of this closely-held private business”?
Meet the new Republican majority? It’s the same as the old Republican majorities. How do we know this? Because they are telling us what to expect.
And they have every reason to try, because their narrative plays in Peoria while the actual nuances of reality just aren’t fashionable in Middle America.
We are not about to see a major public shift toward the Republican Party; rather, we are going to see an engineered razor’s edge, which, combined with a year-six election, means the battleground states are likely to tilt slightly red this year.
Consider the actual battleground states: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and South Dakota. Wait a minute, Kentucky? Iowa? How did this happen? Kansas? Are you kidding me?
And herein we find the hidden narrative, the one that doesn’t sell as well as flipping the U.S. Senate: That Sen. Pat Roberts is in the fight of his career only reflects his own waning popularity in the Sunflower State.
That Alison Lundergan Grimes has a fighting chance in hell to begin with is only the result of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s incompetence. To wit, whatever feathers he might have gathered for his cap, the defining moment of his career might well be the occasion on which he filibustered his own bill.
He is, after all, one of the architects of the GOP’s stonewalling strategy that has Americans so frustrated with the federal government’s inability to operate.
Nor should the idea that Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO4) might win a U.S. Senate seat surprise anyone. In 2010, Sen. Michael Bennet won a narrow victory, compelled in no small part by the fact of running against a prosecutor who advocated for rapists. While the magnitude of Mr. Buck’s misogyny cannot be understated, Bennet won 2010 by all of nine-tenths of a percent. And voters in Colorado Four are poised to send the rape advocate to the House of Representatives, to succeed Rep. Gardner.
Yet as the narrative plays for the extraordinarily dramatic, we find that the drama is actually pretty mundane. The implications, however, are spectacular. And, yes, with less than a week to go, we are already getting hints of what to expect.
More of the same.
In a national context, this would create a paradoxical outcome, that voters, being sick of gridlock and dysfunction, would vote for more. But considered in a more realistic context, what we’re seeing are essentially typical year-six projections. What makes them stand out, though, is that seemingly paradoxical national context. At some point, it has to stop being about “the will of the people” in general, and more about why the hell conservatives in the midwest and south keep doing this to the rest of their American neighbors.
To the one, a candidate like Grimes only has a chance because the incumbent screwed up badly enough. To the other, in some places like Iowa, an apparent majority of voters would seem to place greater value on the letter following a candidate’s name than, say, qualifications or competence. And to the ski-boxer’s third, what we see in battleground states like Colorado is nothing more than we might expect of a year-six election.
And, yet, here we are, and the Republicans can actually telegraph that they will be bringing more of what everybody seems to be complaining about, and the only question is not so much whether anyone will notice, but whether anyone will care.
Actually, that’s not fair. There are plenty who will notice, and care. But the problem with those is that they don’t live in states where they have a vote. Really, up here in the Evergreen State, we don’t have a Senate election, and we’re not about to experience a ginormous red wave.
If we actually look at the map of where the action is happening, the two factors in play are Republican incompetence making certain races close that otherwise shouldn’t be, and the fact of a year-six election. The implications, however, are far greater than one might imagine. Republicans are asking nothing more than to spend the next two years fighting against economic recovery and stabilization, suppressing voter rights, attacking the human rights of their female constituents, and refusing to undertake genuine, problematic issues facing society. And because of where the action is this year, voters might actually grant them that wish.
Which means that the only people left who would have the moral right to complain about gridlock will be Democrats. Who would actually want to wager that Republicans would respect that moral reality?
Sometimes voters get what they deserve. To wit, there is no explaining the Minnesota Sixth Congressional District, except to say that its voting index heavily favors Republicans. Heavily enough, that is, that they sent Michele Bachmann to Congress four times, even though all they have to show for it is a failed crackpot bill in defense of incandescent light bulbs. Oh, right, and some campaign bribery.
Yes, many laugh at MN-6. But Bachmann won a House seat; she never won a statewide election, and there is a reason she dropped her 2012 presidential campaign after placing sixth in Iowa.
And while 179,240 votes, the tally Bachmann won in 2012, is not exactly a number to sniff at, could she really win a statewide election? Al Franken (D-MN) nabbed over 1.2 million votes.
Which, in a roundabout way, brings us to Iowa where many voters would seem to want to send incompetence to the U.S. Senate because the candidate’s name is followed by “(R)”. Bruce Braley (D) currently trails Joni Ernst (R) by a narrow margin in a race to succeed Tom Harkin. The Democratic stalwart pulled 925,630 votes out of over 1.47 million cast. Compared to MN-6, a Joni Ernst win would bear a statewide imprimatur.
And, yet, we already know what to expect.
More of the same. Stonewalling, lying, gridlock.
We have been warned.
French, Lauren and Anna Palmer. “Conservatives ready to give leaders hell”. Politico. 29 October 2014.
Peters, Jeremy W. “House to Vote Yet Again on Repealing Health Care Law”. The New York Times. 14 May 2013.
Hulse, Carl and Adam Nagourney. “Senate G.O.P. Leader Finds Weapon in Unity”. The New York Times. 16 March 2010.