How dysfunctional is a political party when futility is passed off as “strategy” and breaking from reality is portrayed as “principle”?
Obamacare isn’t as impactful an issue as slavery but it may as well be considering what it is doing to the Republican Party. Where the issue of slavery nearly destroyed the Democratic Party, weakening it for more than a generation before and after the Civil War, Obamacare threatens a similar meltdown for the GOP as even the most fervent opponents of the law are now having their commitment to getting rid of it questioned.
This is a different Republican Party than the one just five years ago — which was a different party from the one a decade before and the one a decade before that again. The shift has been radical. It has redefined conservatism in the process, eschewing traditional conservative principles and substituting a blindly partisan, wild-eyed extremist ideology that turns on and bites its own at the first sign of apostasy.
Wanting to defund Obamacare is not extreme. But denying reality by believing it’s possible demonstrates just how far around the bend the base of the Republican Party has traveled. And punishing those who point out the futility of such by attempting to promote the idea that they actually support Obamacare is childish. This tenuous hold on reality also manifests itself in wild conspiracy theories, unreasonable demands on the GOP leadership, and a rejection of responsible governance.
Cannibalism is not a sign of a healthy political movement. But Texas Senator Ted Cruz had a few chunks bitten from his hide when he dared point out that, at the moment, the arithmetic in the Senate does not favor the effort to defund Obamacare:
Cruz, a tea party favorite, is one of the most vocal proponents of defunding the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s health care reform law. He’s spent months championing the cause. But on Wednesday, as House Republican leaders unveiled their latest plan for sinking Obamacare — tying a measure to defund the law to a must-pass resolution that keeps the government running — Cruz thanked House Republicans for their fight, and said they’re on their own.
“[Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so,” Cruz said in a statement. “At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people.”
The sense of betrayal from House Republicans is palpable. “We haven’t even taken up the bill and Ted Cruz is admitting defeat?” spit one GOP House aide. “Ted Cruz came here to throw bombs and fundraise off of attacks on fellow Republicans. He’s a joke, plain and simple,” said another.
Cruz pointing out the reality of the situation is apparently too much to bear for many Republicans. In what universe will the Senate ever vote to defund Obamacare? Perhaps some of those fire breathers in the House could invite 15 or so Democratic senators out for a few drinks, slip them some mickeys, and force Harry Reid to bring the continuing resolution to the floor where it can be passed. Other than that, they have no strategy, no arguments they can make to Democratic senators to get them to change their minds, and no threats that haven’t already been made. There are no parliamentary gimmicks that Republicans can use to engineer victory. A filibuster would shut down the government, which the Democrats are perfectly prepared to do. But how long can that go on?
Forget about political blame for a shutdown. Let’s look at what that means for Obamacare. Because unless the Republicans are willing to shut the government down until 2017 when they may be able to repeal it, they have lost. And Obamacare will limp forward with the exchanges already funded and will be up and running in less than a fortnight, the individual mandate will still be the law of the land, Medicaid expansion will go forward, and the 20,000 pages of rules and regulations that have already been written will still have the force of law. Of course, the subsidies will not be funded, but people will still have to purchase insurance on the exchanges or face the music with the IRS. That will no doubt be wildly popular with the public.
Accusing Cruz of “surrendering” is lunacy. Republicans apparently want to show up on the battlefield only to find it empty. Whom or what are they supposed to fight? How can you “surrender” when you’re the only one fighting the war?
Cruz went even further in remarks to reporters after a speech in Washington:
“Right now, [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid has 54 Democrats and they presumably are going to stand with him … and a number of Senate Republicans have expressed that they may support the Democrats here,” Cruz told a couple of reporters, just after his remarks at an event hosted by the National Auto Dealers Association.
“I think it is likely that it will take another election for a full repeal,” he said.
Let’s hope, although the Republicans better have an alternative insurance-reform plan ready to go or the idea of repeal is useless. Imagining what would happen to people’s insurance, the economy, and the entire health care industry if Obamacare is yanked with no substitute ready to replace it is beyond the ken of our understanding. Millions would see their premiums skyrocket without subsidies, states would be stuck holding the bag on Medicaid expansion, massively increasing their costs, while rules governing doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and the rest of the industry would still be enforceable. The economic dislocation and confusion would be unprecedented.
Still, Obamacare is worth repealing. Removing the tentacles of the state from one sixth of the economy will be extremely disruptive but, in the end, probably worth it.
Back to the present hallucination that defunds Obamacare, the Senate isn’t the only actor in this fantasy, of course. Looming over the defunding scenario is the dark visage of Lord Sauron, sometimes referred to as President Obama. In the House GOP scheme, after Senate Democrats have a road to Damascus moment and vote to defund a bill they voted for in 2010 and defended for the last three years, the continuing resolution lands on the president’s desk where he is so terrified of the political consequences of a government shutdown that he cuts off his own testicles and signs it.
And we all lived happily ever after.
“Ted Cruz and [Utah Sen.] Mike Lee have been asking for this fight,” said Louisiana Rep. John Fleming, a reliable conservative. “The conservative base has been asking for this fight. So we’re gonna give ’em the fight.”
And that pretty much sums up the reason why so many Republicans — perfectly aware that they are beyond tilting at windmills and are now upside down with their heads stuck in the mud — are going to vote for this strategy. Shadow boxing with phantoms is being sold as a “fight” because this proves that Republicans are “serious” about getting rid of Obamacare.
PJ Media’s Andrew McCarthy explains:
Resistance is futile, in other words, so why resist at all? It’s an ironic argument since it seems Republican leadership only resists when doing so is futile, when the resistance is token. Thus the prior votes to repeal Obamacare, all forty of them, taken in the comfortable knowledge that they had no chance of succeeding – just going through the motions in faux fulfillment of a commitment to the base to work tirelessly to undo the law. But when something might not be futile – when it could actually work, and therefore entails hard work and risk – we generally find leadership in folderoo mode, babbling its one-half-of-one-third mantra.
Mr. McCarthy goes on to describe just why defunding is different than repeal and why it has a real chance of success. The Many Worlds Theory of quantum mechanics posits the notion that once a quantum event is observed, the universe is split into an infinite number of universes, each representing a different possible outcome for that event. For example, in our universe, you go out to check your mailbox tomorrow, and in another universe, when you open the door and reach in to pull out your mail, instead of bills and circulars, you find a check for a million dollars. Any outcome is possible.
So one supposes in some universe in the quantum firmament, there is scenario where Democrats in the Senate vote for defunding Obamacare and, in a grand ceremony at the White House, President Obama signs the CR with a flourish, thanking Republicans for saving America.
Meanwhile, back on planet earth, this defunding mirage is tearing at the vitals of the Republican Party. It has aroused enormous animosity and bitterness among the base, who are demanding that the attempt be made not because it has any chance whatsoever for success, but because the effort itself will prove that the establishment is paying attention to the right wingers and that they can be controlled like a bunch of first graders lining up for a fire drill. The 40 or so votes to defund Obamacare, as Mr. McCarthy points out, weren’t serious and didn’t prove that members were sufficiently dedicated to getting rid of the law. Ergo, Republican lawmakers must pretend that the defunding hallucination is real by voting for it in the House and filibustering any continuing resolution in the Senate that authorizes one cent for the law.
There is no objective reality at work here. But as ideology is refined and sharpened even more, fewer and fewer Republicans dare stray off the right-wing reservation. If the right wing can turn on Ted Cruz, who in the entire GOP caucus is safe?