Yesterday the blogosphere was full of talk about Unity ’08, a nascent third-party effort with a twist: the idea is to build a party online, agree on an agenda, draft candidates to run for president and vice president in 2008, and then get them on the ballot across the country.I found the talk especially interesting because two ol’ pols from my home state of Georgia, Ham Jordan and Gerald Rafshoon (both veterans of the Carter presidential campaigns) are in the forefront of the effort, along with Hotline founder Doug Bailey and former independent governor of Maine, Angus King. My old boss Sam Nunn is being mentioned as a possible candidate (don’t hold your breath, folks; Nunn’s got bigger fish to fry, like saving us all from loose nukes).My colleague The Moose hailed the effort but warned it would have a hard time overcoming the various institutional barriers to a third party. Over at Daily Kos, diarist Redshift notes that Unity ’08’s “crucial issues” list looks a lot like that of Democrats.My reaction was a little different: third-party efforts that begin with the concept of an agenda and the idea of a candidate tend to take its promoters through the looking glass in pursuit of White Rabbits they can never quite catch. Some of you may remember a similar effort back in 1995-96, organized by a group of former elected officials dubbed “the secret seven” (Bill Bradley, Dick Lamm, Tim Penney, Lowell Weicker, Paul Tsongas, Gary Hart and the self-same Angus King). Their deal was to promote “intergenerational equity,” a bit of a code word for entitlement reform, and the press got all excited by the possibility that the group would run one of its number for president as a third-party candidate in 1996.By a pure coincidence, I was moderating a panel at the Minnesota conference where Lamm, Tsongas and Penney showed up with the promise to reveal the “secret seven’s” plans. After much hype, the three did a long presentation on the budget and entitlement spending, admitted they had no plans for a candidacy, and then basically disappeared from view as the horse-race-deprived political media lost interest. My advice to the Unity ’08 crew is that they better get some serious candidate possibilities out there to define their effort and make sure their interactive agenda-building initiative doesn’t become a freak magnet. Otherwise, they’ll be chasing White Rabbits until their potential constituency disappears through the looking glass.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
The federal government is going to shut down this weekend, barring some miracle. And Democrats really need to make sure Americans know exactly who insisted on this avoidable crisis. It’s the House GOP, as I explained at New York.
If you are bewildered by the inability of Congress to head off a government shutdown beginning this weekend, don’t feel poorly informed: Some of the Capitol’s top wizards are throwing up their hands as well, as the Washington Post reports:
“’We are truly heading for the first-ever shutdown about nothing,’ said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. Strain has started referring to the current GOP House-led impasse as “the ‘Seinfeld’ shutdown,” a reference to the popular sitcom widely known as ‘a show about nothing.’ ‘The weirdest thing about it is that the Republicans don’t have any demands. What do they want? What is it that they’re going to shut the government down for? We simply don’t know.’”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Many House Republicans, led by a band of right-wing hard-liners, want to impose their fiscal and policy views on the nation despite the GOP’s narrow majority in the House. Their chief asset, beyond fanaticism, is that the federal government can’t remain open past the end of the fiscal year without the concurrence of the House, and they don’t really mind an extended government shutdown, if only to preen and posture. They are being encouraged in this wildly irresponsible position by their leader and likely 2024 presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But the hard-liners’ real motive, it seems, is to use the dysfunction they’ve caused in the House to get rid of Speaker Kevin McCarthy for being dysfunctional. The not-so-hidden plan hatched by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz is to thwart every effort by McCarthy to move forward with spending plans for the next fiscal year and then defenestrate him via a motion to vacate the chair, which just five Republicans can pass any time they wish (with the complicity of Democrats). Indeed, the Post reports the rebels are casting about for a replacement Speaker right now:
“A contingent of far-right House Republicans is plotting an attempt to remove Kevin McCarthy as House speaker as early as next week, a move that would throw the chamber into further disarray in the middle of a potential government shutdown, according to four people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.”
McCarthy’s tormenters would like to have a successor lined up who will presumably be even less inclined to compromise with Democrats than the current Speaker. And that’s saying a lot, since McCarthy has already bowed to the Gaetz demand that House Republicans reject even the idea of a continuing resolution — the stopgap spending measures used to forestall or end government shutdowns in the past — and instead plod through individual appropriations bills loaded with provisions no Democrat would ever accept (e.g., deep domestic spending cuts, draconian border policies, anti-Ukraine measures, and abortion restrictions). It’s a recipe for a long shutdown, but it’s clear if McCarthy moves a muscle toward negotiating with Democrats (who have already passed a CR in the Senate), then kaboom! Here comes the motion to vacate.
Some observers think getting rid of McCarthy is an end in itself for the hard-liners — particularly Gaetz, who has a long-standing grudge against the Californian and opposed his original selection as Speaker to the bitter end — no matter what he does or doesn’t do. In theory, House Democrats could save McCarthy by lending a few “no” votes to him if the motion to vacate hits the floor, but they’ve made it clear the price for saving him would be high, including abandonment of the GOP’s Biden impeachment inquiry.
So strictly speaking, the impending shutdown isn’t “about nothing”; it’s about internal far-right factional politics that very few of the people about to be affected by the shutdown care about at all. Understandably, most Democrats from President Biden on down are focusing their efforts on making sure the public knows this isn’t about “big government” or “politicians” or “partisan polarization,” but about one party’s extremism and cannibalistic infighting. For now, there’s little anyone outside the GOP fever swamps can do about it other than watch the carnage.