Pete Sessions, and the Unbearable Disconnect of the GOP
On January 28, Texas Congressman Pete Sessions -- chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee -- defended his vote in favor of the fiscal cliff deal before the Dallas County Republican Party Executive Committee, an ad hoc group of precinct chairs and guests.
In what were often heated exchanges, Sessions lamented how Obama and the Democrats are attempting to destabilize and destroy the GOP. He expressed his frustration with how they throw 15 things at them at once (gun control, immigration reform, women in combat, etc.) and conservatives willingly grab onto each one instead of focusing on the coming fiscal crisis. He pounded home that the fiscal cliff deal permanently locked in the Bush income tax rates for 99 percent of Americans.
With a lock on just one branch of government, Sessions stressed how tough it is to impact policy by leveraging the purse strings: “When we pass a budget and the Senate doesn’t do anything about it … we did all we could do.”
“No you didn’t,” shouted one of the attendees. “When you pass a budget, you need to get out there and make sure everybody knows that you passed a budget, that you did your job, and then put it on the president and the Senate. And you need to tell them this well beforehand, that it’s all on Obama and Harry Reid.”
While Obama was busy for months framing the debate leading up to the fiscal cliff showdown -- how he was working to protect the middle class while the Republicans only cared about tax breaks for the rich, along with lots of “fair share” blather -- Republicans were largely mute. President Obama took every opportunity to explain why he believed raising taxes on high earners was the solution to what ailed the country.
The GOP is clueless when it comes to such tactics, incapable of developing a coordinated messaging strategy for impending confrontations. When you see a Republican leader on the talking-head shows, they react to the pre-selected media/DNC narrative of the week, always playing defense.
This isn’t rocket science. The GOP could have pointed out that Obama was about to pummel the middle class with new Obamacare taxes and health insurance rate increases amounting to thousands of dollars per family annually. They could have trumpeted the most appalling examples of profligate spending, such as the General Services Administration’s lavish $1 million Las Vegas conference that included $1,840 for 19 “regional ambassadors” vests; $3,200 for a mind reader; and $75,000 for a team-building “bicycle building project.”
Identifying the administration’s outrageous expenditures is simple, and voters easily grasp these outrages. Yet House speaker John Boehner and the GOP leadership never initiated a spending-cut PR campaign. They never attempted to make excessive government spending the issue.
Sessions also tried to explain away last November’s Senate losses on a battleground that should have been favorable to the GOP: “I’ll describe to you very quickly why we lost. We lost because we had several guys, two in particular, that said things I’d never even begun to think about,” he said, referencing the rape and abortion comments by U.S. Senate Candidates Todd Akin (Missouri) and Richard Mourdock (Indiana). “If our party is silly, then we all become silly. We just have to be careful.”
Was it the strange comments of these two candidates that derailed potential Senate GOP gains, or was it that the GOP establishment enthusiastically joining the Akin-Mourdock firing squad, much to the glee of the democrats and the media? Think of all the offensive and vile comments that spew from DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, or even Harry Reid. Hell, consider that the featured speaker at the Democratic National Convention was a disbarred lawyer and alleged rapist. Did the GOP give them worse than they gave Akin and Mourdock?
The Democrats always close ranks. They rarely, if ever, abandon their own. They never apologize. You never doubt they will fight fiercely for their principles, whether abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, higher taxes, environmental regulations, and an ever-expanding state. Yet it’s hard to tell what Republicans would go to the mat for, if anything. This explains why they failed to mount a successful campaign to take the Senate.
Think of how the election might have been different if the GOP had nationalized Senate elections by emphasizing the coming Obamacare train wreck and the fiscal dereliction (and law-breaking) of Harry Reid and the Democratically controlled Senate. The last time the Senate passed a budget, there were no iPads -- voters get messaging like that. Too bad the GOP discovered it after the election.
Strategies like messaging, refusing to accept prevailing DNC-media narratives, and taking the initiative on upcoming policy battles seem never to occur to the GOP. It’s simply not in their worldview.
Sessions concluded by stating that both sides will likely agree to sequestration, and that there is a strong possibility of a government shutdown. And if history is any guide, the GOP will have no messaging strategy in place to deal with any potential fallout.