Over at The American Prospect, Tom Schaller goes through the various reasons that conservatives are unhappy with the Big Three Republican front-runners for the 2008 presidential nomination–Giuliani, McCain and Romney–and comes up with an interesting suggestion: GOPers could decide it’s more important to make a “statement” of conservative principle than to win, and may prove it by uniting behind a second-tier candidate that they, but not general-electorate voters, like.I’m with him on his brisk diagnosis of the problems conservatives have about the Big Three. Giuliani is unacceptable to social conservatives on the issues social conservatives most care about. McCain has accumulated a long record of heresies, concluding with his terrible mispositioning on the emerging hot-button issue of immigration. And Romney’s Massachusetts record and Mormon religion are big millstones.But the problem with Schaller’s hypothesis is that there’s not an obvious vehicle for the let’s-take-a-dive-for-conservatism bandwagon. Looking at the GOP field, Tancredo for sure, and probably Brownback, have views too extreme to qualify them for the consensus-conservative mantle.Huckabee and the Thompson Twins could each serve as conservative lighting rods, but they’d probably become viable general election candidates if they got within striking distance of the nomination.The only potential candidate who meets Schaller’s congenial-loser profile is Newt Gingrich. And just today, on Good Morning America, the Newtster invited speculation that he may indeed toss his well-worn tinfoil hat into the ring.But in order to emerge as the Good Loser candidate, Gingrich would need to make a big splash in Iowa. He’s repeatedly said he won’t announce any candidacy before the end of September, and Iowa is the worst possible place for a late start.So Schaller’s hypothesis is interesting as an abstract exercise in what a conservative party might do given a not-so-conservative field of front-runners, but perhaps not terribly relevant to the actual conditions of Campaign ’08. My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that Fred Thompson’s still the New Candidate To Watch. Check out the large, puffy profile of Ol’ Fred that recently appeared in The Weekly Standard. Remember that his proto-campaign was first launched in the media by that reliable sounding board for cultural conservatives, Bob Novak. Check out today’s report that religious conservatives are active in promoting his candidacy.And remember–particularly if you, like Tom Schaller, believe that Republicans have become the Party of Southern Identity–that Fred Thompson is from the South, and unlike Newt Gingrich, looks and sounds the part.Fred’s underwhelming by many measures, but he’s not an obvious general-election loser, and he may be the best the Right’s got in their spring of discontent.
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By Ed Kilgore
Fortunately, the federal government will stay open through the holidays, but Democrats must stay vigilant, since the nihilist forces that keep bringing Congress to the brink have not gone away, as I explained at New York:
After his success in passing a two-tiered stopgap spending bill with a ton of Democratic votes and quiet concurrence from the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House, freshly minted House Speaker Mike Johnson hastily retreated into a Thanksgiving recess with angry shouts from his erstwhile hard-core MAGA allies echoing in his ears, as Punchbowl News reports:
“Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), policy chair for the House Freedom Caucus, went to the House floor and angrily bashed the GOP leadership after members had bolted town on Wednesday, a bitter ending to a grueling 10-week marathon for the chamber.
“’I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing — one — that I can go campaign on and say we did. One!’ Roy yelled during a speech in an otherwise empty House chamber.
“’Anybody sitting in the complex, you want to come down to the floor and come explain to me one material, meaningful, significant thing the Republican majority has done besides, well, I guess it’s not as bad as the Democrats.’”
Among the “material, significant things” Roy and others among the 93 House Republicans who voted against Johnson’s plan wanted were deep spending cuts in disfavored areas of the federal government and perhaps some symbolic policy shibboleths smiting abortion providers or transgender athletes or tax collectors. Such items would have been treated by Democrats and even some Republicans as poison pills, which is why Johnson’s “clean” stopgap bill didn’t include them. The new Speaker’s support for a “clean” bill and his reliance on Democratic voters are precisely the actions that got old Speaker Kevin McCarthy tossed out on his ear. Thanks to Johnson’s past record of rigorous right-wing orthodoxy (and perhaps exhaustion following the long fight over McCarthy’s successor), his rebellious friends appear to have given him a mulligan. But it probably won’t last.
A new government shutdown threat will likely appear once the first “tier” of the stopgap bill expires on January 19. Indeed, the hard-liners are already firing shots across Johnson’s bow, as Politico reports:
“Hardliners sunk any chances of passage for two additional funding bills this week — marking a major setback for Speaker Mike Johnson less than 24 hours after working with Democrats to pass a bill that would thwart a shutdown deadline Saturday …
“GOP leadership then canceled the rest of the votes for the week, with Republicans predicting that Johnson’s spending headache won’t get any easier once they return at the end of the month.
“Instead, members of the Freedom Caucus vowed to continue blocking House Republicans’ remaining five funding bills. They urged Johnson to come up with a plan that would cut spending for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, without any accounting tricks.”
What makes this revolt even more significant is that Freedom Caucus types are really obsessed with the need to enact individual appropriations bills instead of the catchall measures they believe endemic to out-of-control federal spending. A big part of the rationale for Johnson’s two-tiered stopgap was to provide enough time — and no more — for passage of these individual bills. But now HFC leaders are sabotaging that very possibility out of a fit of pique, in an exceptional example of what it means to cut off your nose to spite your face.
The thing is, Senate Democrats and the White House aren’t going to bend to Chip Roy’s definition of what the American people want or need between now and the time the next shutdown crisis arrives (indeed, a collision over aid to Ukraine and border policy contained in the president’s supplemental spending proposal will likely come to a head before Christmas). So the shutdown threat may have simply been deferred for a bit even as House GOP hard-liners flagellate themselves for letting Johnson off the hook for the exact sins that damned McCarthy. Enjoy the holidays, federal employees. But stash away some provisions for what could be a stormy winter.