Republican Dreams of Political Domination
“Compromise is for suckers” and other evidence of strongman fantasies
The Republican Party in Congress is acting like it’s trying to demonstrate to the American people that the country needs a dictator to get anything done.
That’s the thought that popped into my head as I read the opening of the New York Times story about what happened in the House and Senate on Tuesday of this week:
Republicans in Congress suffered a humiliating series of setbacks on Tuesday on critical elements of their agenda, turning the Capitol into a den of dysfunction that has left several major issues, including U.S. military aid to Ukraine and Israel, in limbo amid political feuding.
As Republicans in the Senate torpedoed a border deal they had demanded, the bid by their counterparts in the House to impeach Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, collapsed amid Republican defections.
Then came one last bruising blow. Minutes after Republicans fell one vote short of impeaching Mr. Mayorkas — a punishment the party has promised its base ever since winning the majority — the House defeated legislation they put forward to send $17.6 billion in military assistance to Israel. The measure fell to opposition from Democrats who called it a cynical political ploy to undermine efforts to pass a broader foreign military aid bill including Ukraine. They were joined by a clutch of hard-right Republicans, who opposed the measure because the money was not paired with spending cuts.
As the author of the piece goes onto explain, this stunning display of dysfunction follows from two facts: first, Republicans want to block President Biden at every turn, depriving him of anything resembling a victory in an election year; and second, their majority in the House is so narrow that the slightest dissension in the ranks (and there is plenty of it) renders the party incapable of working its will.
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Fantasies of a Politics Beyond Losses
But let’s push a little bit beyond the surface facts. Why have Republicans decided that they should block anything that could be construed as a victory for Biden? And why are they choosing to govern in such a way that they need near unanimity within their incredibly narrow House majority to get anything done?
The answer is that Republicans have fully bought into a fantasy that first emerged during the years of Newt Gingrich’s years as Speaker of the House during the 1990s. It took a firmer hold during the Tea Party era of the Obama administration. And it now informs everything that happens in the House and much that takes place in the Senate as well.
It is a fantasy of untrammeled one-party rule.
At any given moment, the House GOP wants to do a series of things it doesn’t possess the power to accomplish—either because its majority is too narrow, or because the presidency is in Democratic hands, or both. But rather than settling for half a loaf via compromise with at least some members of the minority party, on the rationale that getting something is better than nothing, the party decides that, in fact, nothing is much preferrable to something—because accomplishing nothing increases public disgust at the federal government and what happens in Washington.
And disgust at the federal government and what happens in Washington increases the chances of a massive defeat for the party more closely associated with the federal government and the Washington establishment (the Democrats). And a massive defeat for the Democrats in the next election implies a massive victory for the Republican Party—a victory so decisive that the GOP will finally, at very long last, get to do everything it wants without having to compromise on anything at all.