Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Treason of the GOP Establishment

'Round Here, We Call That Boehner-Face
[C]onsider what he faces this fall: a quixotic but determined fight to defund Planned Parenthood, a potential government shutdown, a deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling or risk default, and a contentious showdown over highway spending. Boehner's aides say they expect a vote to oust him, formally known as a motion to vacate the chair.
The Omnivore thinks there's another factor in play too: Trump. The problem with ousting Boehner has always been "If not him, then who?" Donald Trump doesn't answer that question--but he does answer a similar one: "If I don't vote for the GOP Establishment, then who?" Trump's anti-candidacy gives legitimacy to just saying 'fuck it' and going with a hail-marry replacement.

The 'fuck it' part of the equation, however, is the key one: Replacing Boehner with someone who would potentially be much, much worse would be an act of political self-spite (cutting off your nose to spite your face, right?)--so why would people do that? Isn't that irrational?

Well, it could be (depending on who the replacement is and how the transition is handled)--but the same driver that has created a now-viable Trump candidacy is, again, also in play here: The GOP Base have been told that John Boehner is a traitor. Yep.

Boehner (and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, also GOP) have been accused of totally selling out to Democrats, supporting Obama's agenda, and overall just betraying the base over and over and over.

Is this the case? Let's look.

Failure Theater vs. A Failure Reality Show

Ace at Ace Of Spades coined the phrase Failure Theater:
Failure Theater is the process by which the Establishment deliberately fails to do achieve anything, but wants credit from the Dumb Conservatives they're playing to for allegedly "trying." 
Each of Boehner's and McConnell's "defeats" are in fact planned in advance. They are not trying to advance the conservative agenda; they are attempting to con conservatives into believing they have attempted to implement conservative policy, when in fact they were delivering their political deliverables to their Donor Class paymasters all along.
There have been a lot of variations on this theme.

But the other narrative is that The Base has been demagogued into a frenzy by conservative media and conservative politicians who have vastly over-promised ("We'll repeal Obamacare--without winning the presidency!!"). In this view, conservative voters have been stirred to anger and, in many cases, even paranoia, and then presented with 'strategies' that simply will not work.

In this view, the GOP leadership is in an impossible bind: their core voting bloc has been told Grand Theft America is underway (by people like conservative talk show and talk radio hosts whom they trust like family) and have been told to do things that simply will not work.

In this view, the GOP Establishment has to practice Failure Theater because the failure part is a given and the base's news sources (which make tons of money off their anger and fear) either won't or can't set them straight about reality (that you need the executive office to make headway if you don't have a veto-proof majority in the Senate--and that to make deals you have to actually have something to deal with).

How would we know? Well, let's look at the charges.

The Charges of GOP Establishment Treason

There are, frankly, a lot of these--and they all require at least some research. So we'll just go with some top-level ones (and can litigate the rest moving forward).

How To Evaluate?

There are at least two sides to every story--so The Omnivore is going to have to have some criteria for figuring out which side has more credibility--and The Omnivore is biased in favor of his own belief (that The Base has been manipulated by a media bubble that has a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop based on angering and scaring conservative viewers). So what to do? Here are our criteria:

1. Your Own Team Says So

First, let's only give credibility to right-wing sources--and the more conservative the better. So, for example, if Scott Walker says something is good, that counts a lot more than MSNBC saying it.

2. Internal Divisions (Acknowledge The Chamber of Commerce is Part of the GOP)

The GOP has always been a "three-legged stool" (social conservatives, foreign policy hawks, and fiscal conservatives/big business). These groups will never completely align on anything--so there will always be tension. Some of this has to be legitimate: if you kick out big business the stool will fall over. If you want to postulate that somehow big business has totally, and illegitimately, co-opted all leadership: show your work.

3. Strong Moves vs. Weak Moves

The final evaluation criteria will be based on whether or not the 'betrayal' in question was risk-averse or not. Demanding that leadership continually play bumper-cars with its organization isn't rational. A chain of high-risk, high-reward moves only works in the movies. If you think it's a good way to run your organization, go to Las Vegas and bet your life's savings on roulette. You might come out way ahead.

The Charges of TREASON

So let's get down to it.

The AWB in 1994

We're starting here because this is the easy one. Back in 1989 (21 years ago) there was a mass shooting with a 'scary looking gun.' The Assault Weapon Ban in 1994 was a reaction to (some) public concern over military-looking guns. The ban, based, essentially, on how a weapon looked, passed with a sunset provision that ran out in 2004. 

  1. Your Own Team Says So: Ronald Reagan signed a letter (and followed up) promoting the AWB.
  2. Internal Divisions: There isn't much disagreement here. The Omnivore will note that gun sales spike after shootings (out of fear of a new ban?). NOTE: Article linked is hugely biased--but the numbers may be right.
  3. Strong vs. Weak: The AWB was contentious--but it passed with bi-partisan support in 1994. Today, even after Sandy Hook, it couldn't get to a vote. The Omnivore concludes that things were different then--most non-gun people seem to have had a higher level of support for the AWB then other than now. It would seem, on the face of the vote, to be a fairly strong move.
Conclusion: NOT BETRAYAL. The Reagan thing alone should be enough for that but it's also worth noting that things are simply different 21 years later. Today politics are far more polarized than they were in 1994. This is not just the electorate--but also objective observations of bloc voting in congress (today peeling of Democrat or Republican votes is extremely difficult). In this environment, the 1994 GOP's willingness to do something should not be lumped in with current events.

The List Of Treasons!

Go here to read a list of treasons that the GOPe has committed against The Base. The article makes the point (to the editor of the National Review Online--who doesn't like Trump at all--that if Trump is not a conservative, neither is the GOP-controlled congress). It isn't a bad perspective as these things go--but let's look at the specifics:
  • Congress did not stop Obamacare and did not get an Obamacare repeal bill to the president's desk.
  • Congress passed TPA--a fast-track bill that allowed Obama's trade deal to get through congress without a filibuster. This was enabled by the GOP.
  • The GOP treated the Iran nuclear deal as an executive agreement rather than a treaty allowing for a lower-requirement of votes to pass it.
  • The GOP allowed Murkowski--a former GOP congresswoman who was defeated in a primary, ran as an independent (with write-ins!), and won--to come back to congress with her full seniority and responsibilities. They didn't even demand a loyalty pledge!
  • The GOP establishment choose establishment candidate Thad Cochran over Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel in a close primary. The GOP even (allegedly, at least) ran a racist ad campaign against Chris.
  • The GOP passed the Bush Tax cuts--a tax on the rich!
  • The GOP cut finding to Tea Party favorite Ken Cuccinelli to teach the Tea Party a lesson.
  • The GOP didn't secure the borders.

Let's seen how we can evaluate these:


Obamacare, as noted in the link, was nearly blocked by the election of Scott Brown in a surprise victory. When that failed, the Democrats passed the ACA through the process of Reconciliation--which avoided the filibuster defense. After that, without holding the White House, even if a bill to repeal O-Care made it to the president's desk, Obama would just veto it.
  1. Your Own Team Says So: NO. While pretty much everyone with any conservative cred spoke out against Obamacare, Romney was elected as the nominee in 2012 (Romneycare). While this was seen as a betrayal by the establishment, the next-runner-up was Rich Santorum who would have been a far bigger loser. In order to call Team Romney and his establishment backers traitors, you have to determine who would have been better. Your best choice from 2012? Rick Perry (had he not self-destructed). Oops.
  2. Internal Divisions: MAAAAYBE. The Insurance companies did like O-Care--at least some. How effective this was isn't clear--but you can look at the numbers here. Was the GOPe bought by Insurance Co's? It looks like around 20MM all told with maybe 14-16 of that going to the GOP. 
  3. Strong vs. Weak: YES. This is the big one. In order to get what would be considered a symbolic bill to Obama's desk (everyone admits this) the GOP controlled Senate would have to change the Filibuster threshold. They could do this--but it would be a disaster if a Democrat won in 2016. This kind of risk would be insane. It's pushing the MAD button without the mutual assurance. Secondly, trying to pull off a shutdown was, in fact, taking the US hostage (Cruz admitted as such when he said, later, of the DHS shutdown, that you shouldn't take a hostage you aren't prepared to shoot--the shooting isn't the problem here, though, it's the optics of hostage taking). The public wasn't buying that it was Obama's fault (the ACA was unpopular--but not as unpopular as a shutdown). Trying the techniques that The Base wanted would have been suicidal.
Conclusion: NOT BETRAYAL. The GOP did everything it could to stop this and simply failed. The "put a symbolic bill on Obama's desk at potentially extreme cost" is exactly the smoking gun that The Omnivore is looking at when saying the GOP Base was sold on self-destructive tactics for little more than emotional reasons.

The TPA (Obamatrade)

Before the Trans Pacific Partnership came the TPA which allowed Obama to create the large international trade agreement with a low level of congressional support. While this went down, eventually, as the defeat before the fight, it should be noted at the time that Obama's left flank (unions, Elizabeth Warren) were heavily against the TPP.
  1. Your Own Team Says So: YES. Scott Walker, ever anti-union, came out in favor of it. So did Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz.
  2. Internal Divisions: YES. The Chamber of Commerce wanted this.
  3. Strong vs. Weak: MAYBE. The negotiations pitted McConnell and Boehner vs. Reid and Pelosi. It was reported (in the link at the start) as a big win for the GOPe.
Conclusion: NOT BETRAYAL. While this is a case of divided factions, if Ted Cruz and Scott Walker are traitors all is lost.

The Iran Nuclear Deal

Before the deal was finalized, Congress voted to be allowed to have a say on it--an up/down vote--which, if it went against the president (down) Obama could just veto and carry on. This provision passed 98-1 in the Senate. It allowed the final bill to pass with a minority of congressional votes.
  1. Your Own Team Says So: KINDA. Both Rubio and Cruz spoke against the bill (Rubio wanted amendments, like forcing Iran to recognize Israel, Cruz called it a "bad bill." Both of them voted for it.
  2. Internal Divisions: NO. There doesn't seem to be an internal agent in the GOP that really wanted this.
  3. Strong vs. Weak: YES. The argument for the deal-before-the-deal was that Obama, by nature of making this an "agreement" rather than a "treaty" could go ahead with whatever he wanted anyway and this shown more light on it and gave Congress more say-so. Whether there was any other way to block this, The Omnivore is unsure--but generally sides with the Wall Street Journal on this count (the best of a bad situation).
Conclusion: NOT BETRAYAL. Why? Because if you don't hold the White House and can't override a veto in Congress you are going to have a very hard time stopping presidents from making agreements. Since this is not a treaty, it is easy to undo in 2016 when President Pataki is sworn in. On the other hand, if it's not a generic Republican? Well, there's your problem.

Murkowski, McDaniel, and Cuccinelli 

These are all internecine fights between the Tea Party and the GOPe. In each case, the charge of treason was that the RNC either abandoned the Tea Party candidate (in the case of McDaniel, allegedly running racist ads against him) or allowed independent Murkowski to come back into the fold.
  1. Your Own Team Says So: NO. The Tea Party wanted Daniel and Cuccinelli (Murkowski was a popular politician in Alaska who managed to win with write-ins. If someone can win with write-ins with the name Murkowski--they had to have radio ads to teach voters how to spell it--you best get on board).
  2. Internal Division: YES. This is pure Tea Party vs. Establishment.
  3. Strong vs. Weak: YES. The problem with Tea Party insurgents is that they often lose winnable seats. Not always--but they are higher risk. Both Daniels and Cuccinelli were weaker in the general than the primary (Ken bet it all on anti-Obamacare sentiment--which had declined).
Conclusion: NOT BETRAYAL. Sometimes the upper-leadership has to look at the big picture. In this case, with people like Todd Akin having done real damage, they were at least tactically reasonable in circling the wagons.

The Bush Cuts and The Borders

Trying to litigate this in a paragraph is a headache--but The Omnivore will just say that the GOPe's failure to come up with an elegant solution (Build a Beautiful Wall!) is at odds with reality. It's also worth noting that the Bush tax-cuts were pretty well liked by Republicans for a long time--and do seemed to have helped the wealthy as well.

Finally, SCOTUS

Before we're out of here, we should stop at the Supreme Court. Cries of treason directed at Roberts (Bush appointee) and Kennedy (Reagan) have been loud after two Obamacare rulings and the gay-marriage ruling. As it is generally hard to pin donor-influence on SCOTUS judges, the theory has been that Obama has dirty pictures of them or something.

Absent conspiracy theory, though, people who think the Congressional GOPe has betrayed them need to have a rationale for the Judicial conservatives. Is it really all the beltway social parties that's influencing them to sell out? Seriously

What if ... it's something else?


The Omnivore thinks there are far more likely Occam's Razor explanations for congressional behavior on all these points and that the GOPe (a) has more masters than The Base (and the base should recognize that) and (b) simply hasn't held a winning hand in an ultra-partisan congress with a Democrat president. The reality, that the GOP needs to win a national election and elect a Republican president, is unpopular with The Base because the kind of guys who can do that are not from The Base. 

So The Base, they get lied to.

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