A response to "Why GOP 'Insiders' Thwart Conservative Reformers

gop losers

The inestimable Jay Cost has a piece at RCP today titled Why GOP ‘Insiders’ Thwart Conservative Reformers. He makes this observation:

This has been a persistent pattern. Conservatives come forward with bold proposals to reform the way government works — or at least stop some egregious abuse — and GOP insiders warn of dire consequences. We’ve seen that on the farm bill, on the Export-Import Bank, on the [mc_name name=’Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’R000570′ ] budget plan, on executive amnesty, and now on Iran. Don’t make waves, they warn, lest we risk the majority!

But what is the point of a majority, if not to reform the government? That is the conservative attitude, at any rate, but there is a different view that, unfortunately, has wide purchase in quarters of the Republican party. It is the belief that the majority is a good thing because it means Republicans get to decide how the government pie gets sliced up. Upsetting the apple cart threatens the chairmanship of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of Appropriations, which simply cannot be riskedunder this view. Otherwise, Democrats will get to decide how all that tasty government cheese is allocated!

I think that Cost accurately identifies the symptom, dividing up the government pie, but it misses the point when it comes to answering the question of “why” this happens. Was any government pie divided up when the GOP folded like a cheap suit on the DHS appropriation and allowed Obama to institute de facto amnesty? No. In fact, even if no appropriation for DHS were EVER signed, those functions that are core to the agency — Border Patrol, TSA, Coast Guard, etc. — would have continued apace. All that would actually have “shut down” would have been a handful of “non-essential” positions. This was a no-risk, high pay-off play that was an easy win for anyone with balls. Is government pie at stake with the upcoming confirmation vote on Loretta Lynch for Attorney General? Ms. Lynch may not puree puppies to spread on her morning toast but she told the Senate Judiciary Committee in no uncertain terms that she would happily puree the US Constitution to support Barack Obama. And yet that committed gave her an affirmative vote.

Many moons ago, back when I had a full head of hair, thought beer was food, and was blessed to command a light infantry company I had a brigade commander who used to refer to “the little town in Georgia syndrome” in describing truly screwed up and ineffective organizations. He said when you first move to one of those small Georgia towns, you are amazed at how bad it is. But once you live there for a while you start thinking it really isn’t all that bad.

The “why,” that I think Cost doesn’t address, is much more banal than dividing up government largesse.  The GOP is irreparably broken. It is a failed organization led by losers who got to the top by, wait for it, being proficient at losing. There are two interesting facets of failed organizations.

Failed organizations are incapable of internal reform.

Failed organizations don’t fail overnight. It takes years of diligent effort to achieve failure that permeates every part of an organization.  This is not something unique to the GOP, but it is unique to government. In the private sector, usually market forces succeed in killing off truly failed organization. Even in mission oriented institutions like the Army you find failed organizations that are utterly impervious to change absent the most Draconian steps. (One US Army infantry regiment was actually disbanded during the Korean War, and its number stricken from the Army’s rolls.) But look at any urban school district in the country — indeed, look at most school districts, period — and you see the same behavior. Who rises to lead failed organizations? Well, people who succeeded in that environment, of course. If you succeed in rising to the top of a failed organization what is your incentive to render irrelevant the skills and experience that let you rise to the top in order to reform the organization? What happens when outsiders are brought in? The are either co-opted or driven out. If you’ve ever dealt with most state GOP organizations you find they are profoundly dysfunctional organizations where the members spend more time backstabbing each other for the sake of whatever spoils are available than trying to advance goals. When reformers are elected, what happens?

The internal power struggle between the Arizona Republican Party’s most conservative activists and more mainstream GOP members has flared anew with critics accusing the outgoing Maricopa County chairman of improperly appointing more than 108 vacant precinct committeemen assumed to be hostile to U.S. [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ] and his supporters.

A.J. LaFaro, a conservative McCain critic who is not running again for chairman at Saturday’s Maricopa County GOP meeting, recently submitted 108 applications to fill PC vacancies, including 99 in Legislative District 30, where anti-McCain chairman Timothy Schwartzwas ousted in December amid a well-organized effort to moderate inside party politics.

Failed organizations are self perpetuating.

Keep the previous axiom in mind and then consider two other points

  • People hire in their own image.
  • If A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s. Who the **** do D’s and F’s hire?

People who are not all that competent don’t hire people who threaten or challenge them. This, in a nutshell, explains personnel selection in the Obama administration. It also explains how [mc_name name=’Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’M001165′ ] and [mc_name name=’Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’S001176′ ] were selected to House leadership positions. It explains why [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ]’s leadership team is permanently focused on what it can’t do rather than trying to actually do something.

Completing the Circle

Back in December, before the new influx of conservative members of the House and Senate were even sworn it, Mister #FAIL, himself, Trent Lott had this to say:

Former Senate Republican leader Trent Lott is urging today’s GOP leaders to co-opt staunchly conservative freshmen if possible and to marginalize the rest in order to ease congressional gridlock.

Lott tells reporters that Republican House and Senate leaders should immediately embrace new members before they can drift toward the right flank dominated by tea party people.

He also says leaders must be forceful in keeping conservative hard-liners from triggering another government shutdown. Lott, who is from Mississippi and was GOP leader a decade ago, calls the 2013 shutdown foolish and disingenuous.

Or, to quote an obscure philosopher: “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”

What do we see at work here? The institution recognizes the danger of reform and reacts by co-opting and marginalizing the reformers. Yes, as Cost says, some of that danger is about dividing up the government pie but most of the danger is seen in the landscape, the cultural milieu, if you will, shifting and suddenly the skills and experience that makes GOP ‘insiders’ actually ‘insiders’ and not ‘unemployable cretins’ is put it danger. Some of those conservatives who agree to join the House and Senate GOP leadership will do so with the intent of reforming from within. But, you know what, this little Georgia town don’t look so bad after all.