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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP “Civil War” To Stay Hot in 2015, But Could Go Away in 2016

There’s been a bunch of dubious coverage of the “civil war” between the congressional Republican leadership and insurgent conservatives, featuring even more dubious coverage of John Boehner’s decision to “sacrifice” his gavel, which in practical terms means a year of fun and sun in Florida followed by an extremely lucrative lobbying career. Beyond that, there’s a lot of misunderstanding of how this will all play out in Congress, as I discussed at TPMCafe:

[T]he blessings Boehner has vouchsafed Washington could turn out to be ephemeral. As the budget wizard Stan Collender has observed, the avoidance of a shutdown this week has massively increased the odds of a shutdown in December. And Ted Cruz could personally wreck the dreams of those who imagine a brief Era of Good Feelings where Boehner and House Democrats liberate all sorts of gridlocked legislation.
So does that mean congressional Republicans are doomed to perpetually refight the internal battles that led to Boehner’s resignation? No, not at all. No matter what happens in December, there will likely follow an intra-party election year truce in Congress (though probably not on the presidential nomination primary trail). And then, if Republicans win the White House and hang onto control of Congress, most of the fighting will go away as the party comes together joyfully to implement most of the conservative movement’s agenda.
This last conclusion may come as a shock to those used to hearing about various struggles for the soul of the Republican Party, or the many cries of treason aimed at congressional leaders from the Right and from the grassroots. But what must be understood is that virtually all of these conflicts revolve around arguments over strategy and tactics, not principles, goals or policies.
Every single congressional Republican is for repealing Obamacare. They all, even the most egregious RINOs, oppose the Iran Nuclear Deal. All but a very small handful favor defunding Planned Parenthood, criminalizing abortions to the maximum extent the Supreme Court allows, slashing upper-end and corporate taxes, dumping Medicaid on the states, and cutting safety net funding while boosting defense spending. The fighting has been over how to advance these goals when Republicans do not entirely control the federal government. If they do entirely control the federal government, the fighting will mostly go away, or will migrate to new ideological demands that are too extreme to contemplate just now.
The “moderation” in the GOP that conservatives attack and the MSM applauds will look very different if Republicans are no longer faced with immovable Democratic opposition at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. This should have been made plain back in the summer of 2012, when plans for a post-election conservative policy blitz utilizing the budget reconciliation process–which disposes of filibusters–were circulating on the breeze of GOP hopes that Mitt Romney would win and inherit a Republican-controlled Senate as well.
Since then the targets of such a single-party offensive have only grown: presidential executive orders on carbon emissions and immigration; Obama diplomatic efforts; the Obama “tilt” in judicial appointments; along with such hardy perennials as Obamacare, the New Deal and Great Society entitlement programs, and progressive taxation. And without question, the “treachery” of John Roberts has ensured that conservative litmus tests for the Supreme Court will be stricter and more focused on purely predictable conservative policy outcomes than ever before.
If, of course, Republicans lose a third consecutive presidential election, the current battles over strategy and tactics might reemerge with a vengeance, as conservatives grow frantic over the frightful damage being done to the America of their imagination by the free-spending, tyrannical, Muslim-loving, race-card-playing and baby-killing Democrats who somehow keep getting elected. And at that point pragmatic Republicans may become truly, not just strategically, moderate in counseling their compatriots that it’s time to stop pursuing the fever dreams of the Goldwater campaign.

It’s just another indicator that this is going to be a very, very high-stakes election in 2016.

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