Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Boehner Joins Ornstein and Mann: GOP is Extreme

Ezra Klein describes former GOP House Speaker John Boehner agreeing with Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann that his party has become an insurgent outlier in American politics on

In 2012, the congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein wrote a column for the Washington Post diagnosing what they saw to be the central problem in modern American politics.

"The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics," they wrote. "It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

"When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges."

The op-ed hit like a bomb. Mann and Ornstein were institutionalists with wide respect in both parties — Ornstein, in fact, worked (and still works) for the conservative American Enterprise Institute. For them to call out one party as "the core of the problem" in American governance was to violate all the rules of polite Washington society. Their diagnosis was controversial at the time, to put it lightly.

For the most part, Republicans dismissed the critique as motivated by the authors' personal liberalism. "The implicit premise is that Republicans are radical and partisan because they are conservative, and we’d be much better off if we returned to the days when Republicans were content to go in the direction of progressive liberalism, albeit a little bit more slowly," wrote Joseph Postell in the National Review.

In other words, for a critique like this to really have bite, it would need to come from a true, dyed-in-the-wool Republican. Someone whose loyalty to the party couldn't be questioned. Someone who clearly wanted Republicans to succeed and prosper.

Someone like John Boehner.

He had been one of Newt Gingrich's deputies amidst the 1994 Republican takeover, and he routinely racked up high marks from rightwing watchdogs like the American Conservative Union that tracked whether members of Congress voted in a routinely conservative fashion.

Boehner's most vicious fights with his party's right flank weren't ideological. Like them, he wanted to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes, ban abortion, and voucherize Medicare. The fights, rather, were tactical. He recognized that, without the presidency, Republicans didn't have the power to achieve those goals, and trying to force Obama's hand by shutting down the government or breaching the debt ceiling was likely to backfire. If Republicans were going to get anything done, they would need to compromise with Democrats — and it was that belief, more than any other, that offended Boehner's critics.

This is the core of Mann and Ornstein's critique, too. They were not simply arguing that the Republican Party has become more conservative, though it clearly has. They were arguing that it had become tactically extreme in ways that were grinding the normal workings of government to a halt.

"Rank-and-file GOP voters endorse the strategy that the party’s elites have adopted," they wrote, "eschewing compromise to solve problems and insisting on principle, even if it leads to gridlock."
They were dismissed at the time. But now Boehner is saying the same thing. And he has more than enough credibility on this point.

Zoom out, and here is the condition of the modern Republican Party. Despite significant down-ballot strength, it has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, and it looks likely to lose this one, too. The party has completely lost control of its own nominating process, and its choice now is to either elect Donald Trump, a candidate who isn't really a Republican and might be a historic disaster for the party, or risk a schism by trying to rip the nomination away from Trump amidst a contested convention. Meanwhile, John Boehner, the most powerful Republican elected official from 2008 to 2015, resigned in frustration last year and is now saying his party has been captured by idiots and zealots.

This is not a healthy political party.

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