Budget deal politics: Governing versus posturing

    For a fresh take on the Republican uncivil war, check out the chasm on Capitol Hill that separates those in the party who want to govern like adults and those who want to posture for partisan gain.

    The vote tallies on the compromise budget deal truly tell the tale. On Tuesday, White House aspirants Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul joined forces with the ideological minority that sought to stop the budget deal from getting an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. Their bid to sustain a GOP filibuster ultimately failed. And yesterday, when the deal (which guarantees us two years without a government shutdown) was indeed weighed on the Senate floor, Rubio, Cruz, and Paul again joined forces with the ideological minority, this time to vote No. The deal passed anyway.

    In other words, the aforementioned threesome wanted to ensure that they stood in good stead with (a) the ’16 conservative primary voters who loathe the notion of compromise, and (b) the right-wing litmus test groups, like Club for Growth and Heritage Action and FreedomWorks, that would make their lives miserable on the eve of ’16 if they dared stray from the Correct way.

    But Paul Ryan did dare to deviate. The House conservative leader co-brokered that budget deal by actually sitting down with a Democratic senator. And lately he has said stuff that the no-compromise crowd must surely view as blasphemy – such as, “elections have consequences” (referring to the fact that the GOP controls only one half of one branch of government), and “let’s make divided government work.” And when Rubio dumped all over the budget deal, calling it “compromise for the sake of compromise,” Ryan ripped Rubio for posturing: “In the minority, you don’t have the burden of governing, of getting things done.”

    Ryan too is considered a ’16 White House hopeful, but his willingness to break bread with the opposition may well have damaged his standing among the ideologues. He did try to make amends on the Sunday TV shows, hinting that in February he might support yet another (doomed) Republican showdown over raising the debt ceiling, but his rhetorically rightward tilt just buttresses the core point I want to make:

    Any Capitol Hill Republican who thinks he can vault directly into the White House is probably high on a stash from Colorado. The taint of Congress is just too toxic for a successful presidential bid. “Washington” will be a dirty word in the ’16 festivities. Advantage, governors.

    A Washington lawmaker’s track record is too easy to shoot at, and these days the shooters are more rabid and organized than ever before. Ryan’s budget deal could hurt him on the right if he runs in the early primaries. Rubio almost had to vote No, to compensate for his previous championing of immigration reform (a crusade he has virtually abandoned, in the hopes of wooing conservative primary voters). And even though a consistent right-wing voting record (see Ted Cruz) is de rigueur for the primaries, that same record is guaranteed to nauseate the centrist voters who typically sway November elections.

    It’s no accident that the last House Republican to ascend directly to the presidency did so way back in 1880, and that the last Senate Republican did so in 1920. As Georgia congressman Jack Kingston remarked yesterday, in a classic lawmaker’s lament, “the safest thing is to not have to vote for anything. Any time you vote, there’s a plus or minus to it, and the gallery is full of critics with a vested interest.”

    All told, the party would be nuts to nominate somebody from the congressional realm – given the stench of that ideological swamp. If it hopes to reverse its losing streak (most notably, losing the national popular vote in five of the last six elections), it needs a non-Washington candidate. In other words, a governor with sufficient executive experience who specializes in non-ideological governing.

    Consider this quote from a Republican governor: “It’s one thing to engage in ideological battle on the floor of the House and Senate; it’s another thing to sit down with your Democratic mayor and say, ‘How do we go about solving these problems?'”

    So said the governor of Pennsylvania – Tom Ridge. He told me that in an interview – in November of 1998. We were in New Orleans, at a national party confab, where the GOP was trying to showcase its governors in preparation for the 2000 presidential race – because its congressional wing was an ideological sinkhole. (Sound familiar?) House Republicans had just lost seats in the ’98 midterms, thanks to their obsession with impeaching President Clinton, and the party needed to demonstrate that it could actually govern something in a positive manner.

    Ridge also told me, “We can’t change unless some folks, including governors, step and say, ‘Look, this is important, a national election cannot be won around those kinds of (ideological) issues….Do you want to win the presidency, or don’t you?'”

    Yeah, I know. Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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