The View From Across the Atlantic

My Comments: Sometimes it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees. When that happens from time to time, it’s helps me to get another perspective. This one is from England.

It’s about the chaos in the political party not now in the White House. This party is searching for new leadership and reading this article reminds me how dangerous it is for any of us to become complacent.

Edward Luce – October 11, 2015

The problem with labels is they shut down thought. According to Webster’s, a conservative is someone who embraces “the value of established or traditional practices”. It is hard to find a worse description of US conservatives today. At rare moments, conservatism blesses rebellion against the ancien régime — to overturn the tyranny of Louis XVI for example, or George III. In the past few years, this exception to regular order has been expanded to include Barack Obama. The US Republic’s 44th president is anti-American they say. Now the Jacobins — call them the Tea Party, Trumpians, the Fifth Awakening, whatever — are devouring their own children. Any leader who acquiesces in Mr Obama’s presidency is a traitor to the movement. They are bundled off to the guillotine.

Of course, it is careers, rather than heads, that roll. Last month, it was John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, who gave up his futile quest to lead his own party. Mr Boehner was followed last Thursday by Kevin McCarthy, his chosen successor. A shell-shocked Mr McCarthy said his party had yet to hit “rock bottom”. Whoever emerges next risks a similar fate.

Obvious choices, such as Paul Ryan, the former vice-presidential candidate, deny any ambition. In fact, the smart instinct is to run a mile from the most powerful Republican job. Mr Ryan wants to be president. Becoming speaker would risk killing his standing with his own base, or with the electorate. You can’t please both. “I’d rather be a vegetarian,” said Republican Mac Thornberry when asked whether he planned to throw his hat into the ring.

The pace is dictated by a small group of Republicans — the House Freedom Caucus, which makes up about a sixth of the party’s seats. What it lacks in numbers, it makes up with zeal. Its formal membership is secret, but it is growing.

The group’s true leader is Ted Cruz, the Texan presidential hopeful. Donald Trump is too heterodox. Mr Cruz is their Robespierre. His methods are less bloodthirsty than the French radical’s, but the logic is similar. Like Robespierre, Mr Cruz reserves his venom for fellow travellers. In his telling, it is the Republican leadership, rather than Mr Obama, who are betraying the republic. They are Mr Obama’s enablers. Every head that rolls is a victory.

Though he has blocked almost everything Mr Obama has proposed, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is the next Republican target. Decapitations can be carried out by legislators or activists. Every Republican of note fears being ejected in a primary. “Must the footsteps to freedom be gravestones?” said Danton. Quite so, says Citizen Cruz. The tree of liberty must be refreshed with blood.

Those who observe that scorched earth tactics will cost Republicans the White House in 2016 are told to respect history. Barry Goldwater, the hardline libertarian, lost badly to Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Yet his kamikaze campaign marked the return to true conservatism. It paved the way for Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. Moreover, the White House is an overrated prize. Congress, not the White House, holds the purse strings. Grover Norquist, the anti-tax campaigner and ringmaster to the movement, says it is far more important to control Congress — and particularly the House — than the presidency. A true Jacobin, Mr Norquist cautions against the siren song of monarchism.

The enemy is clear. The ends justify the means. The vocabulary is war. Those who deviate are traitors.

It is not as if accommodation has been working. Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections by nominating moderate candidates, such as Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. Not to mention George HW Bush in 1992. Why would voters be any likelier to fall for his country club son, Jeb? In the meantime, the imperial presidency continues to expand. Mr Obama may have added a new entitlement in the Affordable Care Act but the powers of the executive branch grew dramatically under Jeb’s older brother, George W Bush. If this is what Republicans do in office, why would Democrats behave any different? If leaders, like Mr Boehner, think it is their job is to trim their sails to Mr Obama’s agenda, it is the duty of true conservatives to rebel.

Their worldview is highly seductive. The enemy is clear. The ends justify the means. The vocabulary is war. Those who deviate are traitors. But it suffers from the same deficiencies afflicting all fanatical movements. “Freedom” can mean pretty much what you choose it to mean. Their thirst is impossible to quench, which means the revolution is never-ending. At this point, the freedom agenda means once again holding the federal budget — and the US sovereign debt ceiling — hostage unless conditions are met. That includes further budget cuts. It could also mean defunding any support for family planning. Ultimately, government must be shrunk to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub.

The bigger problem is that it damages the spirit of the constitution, in whose name it fights. The Founding Fathers made it impossible for one branch of government to impose its will on another. It insists on deal making. The constitution’s unofficial motto is that politics is the art of the possible. In contrast, Mr Cruz, and his followers believe that extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice. Their tactics will boomerang. In the process, however, they are making a sorry spectacle of US democracy.