A Civil War with Two Winners

On Thursday, December 12, 2013, something remarkable happened in the history of current American politics. To be more accurate, two remarkable things happened.  The first -- and most obvious -- was that the United States House of Representatives came dangerously close to passing a budget for the first time in recent memory, though precisely how recent is up for debate as well. There was a rather large, multipart omnibus bill in 2009 which certainly resembled a budget in many regards, but it wasn’t really a budget per se.  In the opinion of others, you might have to go all the way back to 1997 to find the passage of an actual budget. But no matter how you define Thursday’s agreement, it was still rather historic in that the least productive Congress in recorded history actually accomplished something, for better or worse.

Inside the Republican big tent, the accomplishment in question was met with a less than enthusiastic response in some quarters. Whether it was the Senate Conservatives Fund, Heritage, Club for Growth or any other of a number of groups striving to drive a conservative spending agenda, there was clearly something not right in Whoville this season. Everyone was “scoring the bill” and ready to put a checkmark in the naughty list column for any Republican who dared vote to pass the agreement crafted by Paul Ryan and Patty Murray. The reaction was perhaps best summed up by a spokesperson for Tea Party Patriots, who pulled no punches and flatly announced that war had been declared.

Tea Party Patriots said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has “declared war on the Tea Party” with his “smug and pretentious rant” against certain right-wing organizations.

The group made the charge in a fundraising email to supporters, seeking to win donations over the public feuding.…

The letter quotes Boehner's statement that “outside groups” were “using our members and ... the American people for their own goals.”

“The last time we checked, we are the American people,” the letter said.

But that was not the second remarkable thing to occur. This is a cycle which has been repeating for some time now, dating back far past the partial shutdown of October, which the White House and the Democrats used to whip the Republicans mercilessly to the delight of the media and DNC strategists. At that time these same groups demanded -- and achieved -- the support of the leadership in taking the battle to the edge of the cliff and beyond, requiring either an end to the president’s signature health care law or significant delays and changes.

Nothing measurable came from this effort in terms of return on investment aside from a growing consensus among voters that the GOP shouldn’t be trusted with running anything much more complicated than a fruit stand. Bitter feelings were sowed, with “establishment type” donors vowing to mount a counteroffensive against a Tea Party run amuck and grassroots conservatives promising primary challenges all across the landscape. But the law of unintended consequences was in play as it often is in American politics, and the second remarkable thing took place as if Charlie Brown was witnessing the Christmas Miracle early.