Sunday, March 9, 2014

When Will The GOP Establishment Take Responsibility?

Speaking on opening day of the annual CPAC meeting, Paul Ryan tried to minimize the GOP divide by comparing it to an Irish family reunion. He characterized the infighting that is convulsing the party as “vibrant debate” and “creative tension”. However, Ryan’s valiant effort came crashing down on the final day of the conference when the results of the straw poll were announced and it was revealed that 51% of CPAC attendees disapprove of the job Republicans are doing in Congress.

It has been five years since the Tea Party came on the political scene and the GOP establishment has yet to take responsibility for creating it. It was the establishment’s actions that generated the resentment, a feeling of betrayal and frustration that fuels the Tea Party. For decades, promises were made and very little was delivered. Worse. In some cases, the GOP leadership did exactly the opposite of what was pledged. That’s the reason the Tea Party exists. That’s the reason there is so much grassroots anger directed at the establishment. The grievances are real and justified.

For decades, GOP leaders made promises that either they had no intention to fulfill or they knew they were impossible to fulfill. They told social conservatives that they would bring prayer back in  public schools. They would ban abortion. They would use government to advance God’s will. None of it was possible given our Constitution. To cover their tracks, they introduced constitutional amendments that never had the support necessary to be ratified. Instead of being honest with their supporters, the GOP establishment took the easy way out and blamed “activist” judges for their failures.
For decades, Republican candidates promised to reduce the size and scope of the federal government. They promised to eliminate entire departments such as the Department of Education. For years, they were able to blame Democrats controlling Congress or the White House for failing to deliver on their pledges. However, when Republicans finally did control both Congress and the White House they enlarged the Department of Education’s reach. Instead of eliminating departments, they added a new one: Homeland Security.

For decades, Republicans promised to reduce federal programs. Once in power, the expanded existing programs and added new programs. Republicans preached fiscal discipline and, instead,  they turned surpluses into deficits; piled on debt at a record pace. They preached personal responsibility and then proceeded to bailout individuals that brought our economy to its knees.

For decades, Republican strategists accused Democrats of winning voters by encouraging “dependency” through government programs. And yet, when it was time for Karl Rove to create a permanent Republican majority, the “Architect” reached for the same bag of tricks as the Democrats by creating new government programs; Medicare Part D to capture the senior vote; Faith Based Initiatives to capture the religious minority vote; and, No Child Left Behind to capture suburban moms.
After the 2008 electoral debacle, for a couple of weeks Republican leaders made some noise about acknowledging their mistakes while in office. But introspection was quickly replaced with a full throated attack on the Obama administration and nothing changed. In 2010, the GOP was able to regain control of the House and given one more opportunity to deliver on their promises. Once again they failed. The much vaunted Ryan Path to Prosperity never balanced. The spending reductions we did get were the result of the Super Committee failing to reach an agreement in 2011 and not because of Republican efforts.  As matter of fact, both parties have been trying to undo the sequester cuts ever since.

Oblivious to  their record in office, Republican after Republican politico took the podium at CPAC repeating the same promises, the same rhetoric about limited government and fiscal responsibility. But the grassroots know better. They have seen this movie and know how it ends. That is why 51% of the attendees registered their disapproval of Republicans in Congress; and that is why the Tea Party is still on the hunt to take down the establishment.
A few weeks ago, John Boehner blamed the failure to address immigration reform on the lack of trust between Republicans and the president. But there is a more important trust gap that Republicans must address if they want to succeed; and that is the lack of trust between the grassroots and the party leadership. So far the establishment's attempts to deal with the Tea Party have been to deride their candidates and to outspend them in the primaries. This will only increase the resentment and frustration and will make it more difficult for the GOP to come together.

Unless the Republican leadership is able to regain the trust of the activists, the 2016 presidential primaries will be a repeat of previous primary seasons when the base was force fed a candidate under the guise “he is the only one who can win”. After the establishment's pick loses in November, the same recriminations will be replayed; divisions will get deeper and bitterness will grow.
Perhaps it is time for a new approach to politics. A more honest approach. Instead of making unrealistic pledges, why not propose legislative goals that are achievable? Instead making excuses for failing to downsize the federal government, why not explain why it is so difficult to eliminate programs and cut spending? Instead uniting the party by attacking the Democrats, why not unite the party behind a policy agenda that inspires the base and attracts independent voters?

During his speech at CPAC, Mitch McConnell promised that if he is given a majority in the Senate he will not let the activists down. Given the GOP record while in power, why should anyone believe him? This is the question that the establishment must satisfactorily answer to regain the activists’ trust. Failure to do so will only ensure that the GOP civil war will intensify. There is no minimizing it.