If you’re snowed in and jonesing for a black-comedy war movie, forget Netflix. Just check out the tea party’s latest artillery barrage, which blasts the congressional Republican leaders who had the temerity to raise the debt ceiling and safeguard the full faith and credit of the United States.
Hell hath no fury like zealots scorned. The GOP’s saboteurs are furious that House Speaker John Boehner refused this week to gin up another crisis and drive America to the precipice of default. On Tuesday, he made it possible for Uncle Sam to keep paying the bills – via a debt ceiling hike with no strings attached, enacted with mostly House Democratic votes – so it’s no surprise that they’re hunkered in bunkers, firing salvos in their uncivil war. Boehner made the decision to embrace sanity, and they simply don’t do sanity very well. After all, what’s the point of being in government unless you can grind it to a halt?
At a time when all Republicans should be focused on defeating President Obama’s Democrats in the ’14 midterms, it’s fascinating to see how much energy the tea partyers are devoting to the savaging of fellow Republicans. As usual, they seem to care more about enforcing purity than winning elections. And apparently the leaders’ refusal to perch this nation on the brink of default was the last straw – “the nail in the coffin,” as one prominent purist said yesterday.
Ron Christie, a Republican commentator and former Bush administration aide, said it best: “Many grassroots activists would rather take out an incumbent GOP officeholder in a primary challenge for perceived disloyalty to the base, at the cost of Democrats winning the seat….What I do know is that a breach of trust has occurred between grassroots activists across the country (and) the Republican leadership in the House and Senate. What was once a happy collaboration united to defeating Democrats and Obama’s agenda has turned into a nascent civil war for control of the Republican party and the conservative movement.”
For instance, in the last 24 hours alone, at least three groups – Tea Party Patriots, Senate Conservatives Fund, and ForAmerica – have demanded that Boehner be yanked from the speaker’s chair. They all have petitions calling for his ouster.
From the Tea Party Patriots: “The American people are desperate for principled leadership in Washington, not ‘go-along-to-get-along’ capitulation.” From the Senate Conservatives Fund: “These leaders have telegraphed weakness to the Democrats.” From ForAmerica: “The so-called GOP ‘leaders’…are no better than Obama and his liberal henchmen….Americans deserve better than fake leaders who make empty promises and deliver zero results.”
On Twitter, Boehner is being variously assailed as a sellout, traitor, capitulator, and liberal – the latter, of course, being the worst of all epithets. Some of the tea-partying congressmen have weighed in as well. Paul Broun, who’s currently running for the Senate in Georgia, assailed Boehner as “highly irresponsible.” Tim Huelskamp of Kansas lamented that Boehner “gave the president exactly what he wanted.”
Given their zealotry, it would futile to tell these people that raising the debt ceiling is not a “capitulation to Obama,” but, rather, a vote for the national interest – as it was during the Reagan presidency when the ceiling was raised 18 times, and as it was during the George W. presidency when it was raised seven times. It’s twisted to say that Boehner “gave the president exactly what he wanted.” Boehner, like past Republican and Democratic leaders, merely gave the nation what it needed.
What the purists seem not to grasp is that Boehner did them a big favor. For Republicans, taking America to the brink of default is a political loser; the public blamed the GOP for last fall’s government shutdown (no surprise), and new polls showed that most Americans would blame the GOP for another debt ceiling crisis. Boehner took the crisis off the table, and spared his party another round of public abuse. Now they’re free to assail Obamacare all year long, without shooting their own feet.
And yet, when Boehner announced his decision in a Tuesday meeting, the tea partyers sat in silence. To which he reportedly said, “I’m getting this monkey off your back, and you’re not even going to clap?”
But hey, if these people want to keep waging intra-party war in the midst of an election year, Democrats will be only too happy to buy tickets and kick back with popcorn. Which is why Ron Christie is advising his fellow Republicans “to bridge the gap of trust…before conservatives form a circular firing squad that kills their chances at victory in November.”
He said it, not me.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1