The Republican establishment and fiscal conservatives have a history not unlike that of Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca. Their paths seem to cross only when they are thrown together by extreme events, at which time they get along like matches and fireworks but are quickly cast apart.
For most of the 20th and 21st centuries, fiscal conservatives have been forced to temper our disaffection with wistful memories of times past.
We’ll always have Reagan.
Fierce political winds have once again fortuitously guided conservatives to the GOP’s Café Américain, but this time, Ilsa has walked into the gin joint proudly waving a Gadsden flag and she feigns no interest whatsoever in entertaining Rick’s pragmatic philosophy about the regrets she may or may not have. As far as Ilsa and the fiscally-conservative Tea Party are concerned, she, Rick and the GOP are sticking together. Her heart no longer swoons into submission, but beats with a strong pulse of anger that will not be quelled by mere platitudes.
For their part, Republicans have momentarily given in to the seduction, abandoning their default mode of ideological promiscuity, perhaps to join the good fight, perhaps only to ride a sentimental wave to election.
The turbulent courting ritual has already begun, both on the campaign trail and in the Capitol. From pouting primary losers refusing to get off the field, to pundit-on-politician melee, the Hatfields and McCoys, they be a-fightin’. Even within the incumbent Republican caucus, tough talk from hard-line Tea Party-friendly conservatives like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has suggested that House Republican leaders make “blood oaths” committing to health care repeal and a ‘no blinking’ strategy in the event that Pres. Obama shuts down the federal government, is an opening move in a struggle to shape the upcoming legislative agenda.
The resulting dynamic between mainstream and Tea Party Republicans is eerily reminiscent of the lead-up to the early 20th century schism led by Republican progressives. The split, climaxing in former Pres. Roosevelt’s formation of the breakaway Bull Moose Party, nearly destroyed the Republican Party. Although the center of gravity in the current ideological imbalance lies somewhere to the right of center instead of to the left, as it did during the Progressive Era, the challenge of keeping the party moving on a unified course will demand shrewd political savvy and spirited leadership.
“The Pledge to America” that was unveiled by House Republican leaders last Thursday should have been the rallying cry that galvanized a coalition of political allies, pulling them into a tightly-formed phalanx rather than magnifying differences. Instead, it has allowed nitpicking divisions within the conservative movement to publicly surface that threaten to squander the Pledge’s intended effect of giving the GOP the initiative in a critical midterm cycle by sending the White House and Democrats into a full-scale defensive crouch.
The Pledge has set the President on frantic tour of America’s backyards to popularize progressive dogma and preach the Democratic gospel, a homily of fear and disinformation couched in the language of identity politics and class warfare. How should the right take advantage of an obvious moment of weakness on the part of the nation’s chief executive? Why not stage a picayunish internecine debate over the precise degree of incremental progress toward the ultimate goal of shrinking government to its pre-Roosevelt size will still conform to conservative doctrine?
Fault for the rift can be spread evenly. A good portion goes to those who collaborated on the Pledge, a “governing document” that appears to be too much the product of compromise. The remainder can be borne by those who have forgotten that the undoing of the Democratic majority was in overreaching and not comprehending the nature of their mandate, a curse Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid will be glad to pass along to Republicans should they manage to regain control.
There’s also credit to be shared for those level-headed who can agree about that any agenda without the power to implement it is nothing more than wishful thinking.
[Note: Portions of the article above were extracted from a previous post of mine, “’The Pledge” Released, Meet the Man Who Would Be Speaker,” that was published last Thursday.]