The late Yogi Berra is credited with all kinds of interesting sayings (“when you come to a fork in the road, take it”; “nobody goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded”). But Yogi’s old manager, Casey Stengel, had some good ones too. One from 1962 when his Mets were losing all the time seems particularly appropriate these days when observing Republican politics. “Can’t anybody here play this game?”
I hope my Republican friends can forgive me a small dose of schadenfreude. Ok, maybe a large dose. It is sort of incredible to watch what is going on in the presidential campaign and in the House of Representatives.
I will get the balancing note out of the way right off the bat: the Democrats have their problems too. Hillary has created quite a mess with the email fiasco and some other things. Her main challenger is a 73 year old socialist. The party has no bench of alternatives or successors. I doubt that Joe Biden will run.
But the Republican Party – wow!
As I have noted in previous posts, the party does not simply have a Donald Trump problem. It has an extreme right wing problem. Consistently, in national poll after poll, the share of party members supporting Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Cruz, Huckabee, Paul, Santorum and Jindal combined adds up to 60-65 percent of the party. The “establishment” segment of the party represented by Bush, Rubio, Kasich and Christie adds to 20-25 percent.
Kevin McCarthy’s withdrawal from the race for Speaker of the House emphasizes even more clearly that though they are relatively few in number (less than 25 percent of the caucus), the extreme right wing of the party in the House is now in control. They brought down Boehner, then they forced McCarthy out without even taking a vote. Anyone who is now seeking the Speakership will need to pay homage to the extremists to get elected and to operate the House.
Conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote yesterday in the Washington Post “’Complete confusion and disorder: a state in which behavior and events are not controlled by anything.’ That’s the Merriam-Webster definition of chaos and the defining feature of the GOP House caucus.” The words ring true.
The major federal government decisions that need to be considered in the next eight weeks – raising the debt ceiling; completing the 2016 budget; approving a highway bill – must be handled at the same time as the House tries to pick a leader. It’s hard to imagine how any of that will happen without a major financial disaster occurring.
At some point between now and the end of the year the adults will need to step in and settle those key issues. But the damage will be substantial. And it will spill over into the presidential campaign.
Out of the substantial and determined support for the right wing presidential candidates and the yahoos who are trying to shut down the government one of two results will occur: either the establishment side of the party will re-assert themselves and force through some government solutions and the 2016 version of McCain and Romney will be selected for president; or the invigorated right wing will ride high through 2016 and demand that one of their own be selected as the candidate for president. It is not too far-fetched to expect Ted Cruz to be accepting the Republican nomination next July with a speech that includes something like “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice…” Barry Goldwater would be so proud!
Extremists in control of the Republican Party in 2016 will be a catastrophe for the party. But, my Republican friends, take heart, your party made major gains in 1966 after the Goldwater debacle in 1964. And two years later you elected a president. Ok, so it was Richard Nixon, but I guess sometimes you need to settle for what you can get.