The past week, today included, has been a tumultuous ride for the Grand Old Party. Starting from the top, President Obama sent his economic stimulus plan to the House of Representatives to be voted on. It passed, with no problems at all. But the vote was so partisan it would seem the Republican party is looking to stay in its spiral of self-destruction. The vote line was 244-188 – with every single one of the Republicans in the House voting against the stimulus plan. Not even on solitary Republican, not one from Michigan or Pennsylvania or Indiana or Ohio, some of the hardest hit states whose Northern politics would make it acceptable to cross the aisle, voted a yes to the plan. Not one Republican cared that the current president has the highest approval rating this early in his first term at +70%. And not one Republican read the memo that the US public approves of the stimulus plan with a +40% rating.
The same day that the bill was handed to the House, it was announced, through various companies across the US, that there would be upwards of 100,000 job layoffs. The Democrats, and ultimately the Senate, will have drafted a bill that is inclusive and thought out that. The Republicans up on the Hill just don’t seem to get it. If they are hoping that the stimulus package doesn’t work, they don’t have that much time to play with. Unless we are at the start of another Great Depression, recessions don’t last two to three years at the same severity. The effects will last, sure, but 100,000 people being laid off, banks being nationalised, and auto-companies asking for handouts doesn’t last two years. Once the holes have been plugged (properly or not), then the boat stops leaking. Thus, come the 2010 midterms, or Obama’s 2012 reelection bid, the economy won’t be in as bad a shape. Whether it’s the stimulus plan that does it or not, it will look like it worked. And, come campaign time, not one Republican will be able to say “I might not have agreed with the package 100%, but I thought it was the right thing at the time, and look: It worked.” Especially in those hard-hit areas. Because that’s what every Democrat who voted for it (there were 11 who didn’t – primarily for regional reasons, which is acceptable for the Democratic party at the moment) is going to say.
Now the Republicans have set themselves up with attack ads like “… didn’t vote for you to keep your job” or “… didn’t vote to save the economy” when everything looks to be safe and fixed. Whether it is truly fixed, and problems have been solved, doesn’t matter. If the image of everything being back to normal is there then the Democrats have a free ride. Even after the 2008 election, in generic party race polls that have been conducted, the Democrats have at least a 9% lead. What’s a worse number for Republicans is that while generic Congressional approval is at +20%, the Senate itself has a +40% approval (up from +23% last week), meaning that people think the House less effective than the Senate. Thus, come reelection for House candidates, they are going to (once again) have to justify some of their more important votes, and what they’ve done for the country. Some Republicans justified their vote on a ‘back to basics’ line for the party and fiscal discipline. However, the previous president ensured that no election is going to be won on an historical tailcoats that the Republicans might find – and he certainly flushed the tactic of ‘fiscal discipline’ down the drain during his 8 years. They need to change and progress their party, not step back and regress.
It’s going to be very difficult for Republicans to smear Obama as a partisan president. Right after the failed vote in the House, Obama hosted all Congressional leader, from both parties, at a cocktail dinner. A week ago, has had a sit-down dinner with right-wing pundits who appear on TV. He even says in press conferences that he is happy to negotiate some points of thee package with Republicans. The problem is that in returning to the party ‘roots’, they want a stimulus plan that reduces taxes for the rich. That’s it – a stimulus package of tax cuts. No public spending. In fact, some want a promised reduction in spending at the next budget. Does this sound familiar? It should – it was George W. Bush’s economic plan for 8 years. Do you think the US public is going to swallow it again?
For this, you don’t really need to blame the whole party if you are a Republican. You can blame just two people: John Boehner, House Minority Leader, and Eric Cantor, Republican Whip in the House. The two seem to be following the old saying of Churhill’s ‘the duty of the opposition is to oppose’. They voted against a bill that came to them that the Senate unanimously voted to pass (and the bill died because it needed a 2/3rds majority (as it was a suspension)). In one chamber, every Republican voted ‘yes’ to an Obama bill. In the other house, the whole party voted ‘no’. On another bill, about pay discrepancies between gender, 5 from 41 Republicans in the Senate voted with the Democrats (including every Republican woman). In the House, 3 from 178 voted with the Democrats. Where is the sense? Are Boehner and Cantor working for the Democrats now? They are certainly writing the scripts for the next election. It will go something like:
Obama was able to achieve this, this and this for the United States. Look how he led us through this tough time. Send him the leaders and supporters he needs in Congress for the next 4 years, not obstructionists who don’t look out for the middle class.
Or, if he doesn’t get everything done:
Obama was able to do this, but not this and this. That’s because Republicans are deliberately obstructing the process and working for the special interest groups that have no place under Obama. Kick them out of DC and send him the leaders and supporters he needs in Congress for the next 4 years, not obstructionists who don’t look out for the middle class.
It’s that predictable that even I can see it coming. How can the Republicans not? Bipartisanship is the flavour of the month. Why aren’t the Republicans showing signs of it? And how many times do you think you will her this in 2010: ‘No Republicans in the House voted for the stimulus package’. You’ll get it from a heck of a lot more Democrats than Republicans, so why set yourself up for it? And the fact that the whole party voted against it kills off any individual effort that the party would have got had some voted for it and some voted against it. There’s no individual judgement at all. Now, everyone is affiliated as a tow-the-line party person – and the party isn’t at all desirable anymore! And it certainly won’t be back up and running by 2010.
Maybe the House party thinks they should aim to appease the base. But if anything, the McCain campaign showed us all that you can overestimate the importance of the base. The base, as Obama showed, will vote for their candidate. Remember all the hype about the Obama/Clinton primary, and how the base wouldn’t turn out? Well, they did. McCain angle for the base and lost every moderate. Now, the Republican base makes up 20% of the US population (those being self-described Republicans). While the base hasn’t exactly become smaller, it’s becoming apparent that the Republican base is not winning coalition for election, and that they have shut out the non-base by excluding moderates and liberal-right wingers by adhering to such a strict and strong right-wing message. A person who objects to the message has no place in the Republican party now.
It turns into a vicious cycle. The GOP becomes more partisan and conservative. They alienate non-base Republicans. Then there are fewer that they have to appease with their message. But then their message continues to be tailored to appealing to the base more – more conservative and partisan than before. And we finish at the start, and go all over again.
Obama has shown his bipartisan efforts, which brings me to the next point. Obama has filled his cabinet, yes, primarily with Democrats, but also with a pledged Republican (Ray LaHood) and a couple of non-affiliated persons, and even continued the service of Bush’s Secretary of Defense. Now, Bill Richardson, due to state-based investigations into the financial activities of one of his lobbying companies, was forced to step down from the nomination of Secretary of Commerce weeks and weeks ago. Since then, no one has been nominated. It’s unofficial knowledge that Obama wants Richardson there, so everyone assumes that he is waiting for his name to be cleared. If it takes much longer though, or Richardson is convicted, he will have to appoint someone else. Through the week, rumours were let out that Obama was considering two names. One, John Thompson, is Symantec CEO. Not all that interesting. The other is extremely interesting. Senator Judd Gregg is a Republican from New Hampshire. This appointment would shake things up in a big way, and let me tell you why.
Secretary of Commerce is no trivial position, and certainly not now with the current economic position of the US. It would mean a Republican would be among the top 6 secretaries in the Obama administration. Nothing screams bipartisan more than having the previous Republican president’s Secretary of Defense and a Republican Senator serving at your right hand. But if you look at this as a political move, it’s genius. New Hampshire is a North-West state. It has regularly sent its electoral votes to the Democratic candidate in general elections. State-based politics, it has a Democratic governor. If Obama were to appoint Gregg, the governor would get to appoint his successor. Most likely, it would be a Democrat (perhaps even himself – John Lynch). The current Senate sits at (essentially) 58 Democrats and 41 Republicans. The race in Minnesota between Al Franken and Norm Coleman is current being decided at court, but Franken will win it. Thus, the Senate make-up is 59/41. Appoint a Republican Senator to the administration and replace him with a Democrat and the balance goes to 60/40. The Democrats will have reached the magic 60 cloture number. It means filibusters are certifiably guaranteed to be overruled and every bill the Obama sends their way gets debated. If Gregg is appointed, the last bullet in the belt is gone for the GOP. Then again, they don’t seem to be functioning like the House Republicans, so someone would have been likely to pair off from the party to break a filibuster anyway. But the symbolism of it all is worth its weight in gold anyway.
The Republicans are in serious trouble. Their chance to change the party has come and gone. They could have done it under the shadow of Obama’s meteoric rise over the past few months since he won the election. They could have even done an ad hoc job in the first few weeks to give the appearance of change. Instead, they have done nothing, taken two steps back, and already started to concede more electoral land. One can only imagine how far the party will fall over the next 3 years, especially if the stimulus package works. They stand a chance at at least looking in the right direction (not necessarily taking a step in the right direction unless they listen to the guy) if the state party leaders vote in Saul Anuzis, the current Michigan Republican Party Chairman, to the head of the Republican National Committee. The RNC will effectively be the eyes, ears, and face of the Republican party seeings how they don’t have a majority going into the midterms. Anuzis, not of the traditional ‘old white man’ image (he’s 50, has parents from Lithuania, and from a Democratic state), would be a major change from the current image the Republican Party has. The RNC is in charge of fundraising, campaigns, and targetting seats and districts. It’s a brains machine, and will be the front for the GOP for the next 2 and some years at least (until the Republican primaries begin). The other candidates are all useless, awful, or simply the wrong choice.
But Anuzis needs to be voted to the chairmanship of the RNC by, mainly, his fellow state party leaders. The same state party leaders that are in lock with teh House congressmen who are sticking to the ‘traditional’ party line. So do you really think Anuzis is going to get the votes?