GOP: Two Separate Parties

GOP: Two Separate Parties


Just days after the 2014 mid-term election while most of the pundit class was focused on the coming confrontation between President Obama and the new Republican Congress E.J. Dionne was alone in rightly predicting  the most important struggle in US politics over the next two years is still within the Republican Party itself.

Democrats may be divided between their populist and Wall Street camps, said Dionne. But these intramural antagonisms are nothing compared with  Republicans who reside in two separate parties.

The first is a traditional governing party that finds itself constantly on the defensive as it tries to avoid the Armageddon of a government shutdown or default on the national debt because "most voters don't like disruptive confrontation or fighting to the death over every disagreement," says Dionne.

The second is a right wing revolutionary party -- what Dionne dubs the "Rush Limbaugh-Ted Cruz Permanent Revolution Complex."  This party believes any Republican not willing to shut down the government or impeach President Obama "is an unprincipled squish" if that is what it takes to save America from the unthinkable fates of liberalism.

And heading into the 2016 election, the so-called Republican Establishment finds itself in a position not unlike Neville Chamberlain's at Munich when Britain's hapless Prime Minister finally awoke to find that years of satisfying the insatiable demands of right wing leaders had brought his country closer to war instead of heralding "peace in our time" as he had so complacently predicted.

Like Chamberlain, the GOP leadership has spent the past six years "engaged in a massive exercise in appeasement," said Dionne, as it tries to hang onto power by "claiming it agrees with the rebels on the right when it comes to substance and that its differences with them are primarily tactical."

What Republicans need right now, to continue the historical analogy, is a Winston Churchill who won't kowtow to the Tea Party but "challenge the far right's worldview altogether," says Dionne.  And that person, he says, is Jeb Bush.

Mitt Romney was a charter member of the Republican Establishment but he never had the guts to do what it took to retake the party for sanity. He wanted the job too much to risk the presidency over matters of principle. And so Romney convinced himself he could sell his soul to the devil to win the nomination and then wipe the slate clean before the general election stretch run -- just as his media advisor said he could by shaking his metaphorical Etch-a-Sketch.

But Jeb Bush can afford to be bolder, says Dionne, "because he will have to be."

All of the territory on the Republican right is already spoken for between Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker.  And so a Jeb Bush campaign will only work if its candidate campaigns on the idea that "Republicans won't win unless they get very serious about governing and more open to the demographic realities of the United States in 2016," says Dionne.

Others, like former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, have tried to stake out a position in the "sensible center" of the Republican primary field only to see their campaigns quickly implode.

Jeb Bush's first foray into the Republican presidential field at last month's Conservative Political Action Conference conference also resembled Daniel's visit to the Lion's Den.

As Dana Milbank reported, just as Bush was trying to explain why Republicans had to stop being the "anti-everything" party,  CPAC attendees "let it be known that, as part of their anti-everythingness, they are also anti-Bush."

It was telling, if not propitious, that Bush was met with angry boos or that what agitated the crowd most was Bush's past support for concepts like the Common Core and Open Borders.

Milbank said it was "considerably hotter" for Bush at an earlier event outside Washington where Bush became "part pariah, part piñata" when he attempted a "soft rollout" of his presidential campaign by telling the conservative audience he'd be willing to "lose the primary to win the general."

Milbank agrees it will be rough sledding for any Republican presidential candidate who tries to defy the conservative base, even in a small way. But losing a few primaries may be the only way for a candidate to remain  viable in 2016, says Dionne.

The challenge facing "moderates" like Jeb Bush in today's Republican Party is less the usual bargaining and horse-trading that goes on within any major political party and more akin to the task of parliamentary leaders who must forge a workable government by cobbling together a national coalition of separate, warring parties.

A good example of the challenge facing Republican presidential nominees is the controversy surrounding Prime Minister Netanyahu's surprise appearance to a joint session of Congress today that was arranged by Speaker John Boehner and Republican leaders behind the back of the Obama Administration.

Traditional conservatives like Robert Kagan, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, are aghast at Netanyahu's undiplomatic breach of protocol.

There have been many times in the past, says Kagan, that US and Israeli administrations have been at "loggerheads," as Obama and Netanyahu are now over the right steps to take to address Iran's nuclear development program.  

Netanyahu is urging America to flex its muscle in a far more hawkish course against Iran while Obama prefers diplomacy and sanctions. But the idea that anyone during this or earlier disputes would have conspired to tip the scales in their favor by bringing in the Israeli leadership to lobby Congress against their own nation's president "would have been regarded as laughable," says Kagan. "Now, we're supposed to believe that it's perfectly reasonable."

Kagan leaves it to others to quantify "the damage the prime minister's decision could have on US-Israeli relations going forward."  He also warns that those who care most about the "special relationship" between these two countries will have to judge for themselves whether the short-term benefits of having Netanyahu speak to Congress outweighs the potential long-term costs of this "spectacle of an Israeli prime minister coming to Washington to do battle with an American president."

From his perspective as a foreign policy expert, Kagan says "there is no doubt that the precedent being set is a bad one."

Just imagine, for example, the reaction at Fox News or elsewhere within the right wing media complex if a Democratic Congress in the 1980s had called the Nobel Prize-winning Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to denounce President Ronald Reagan's policies in Central America, says Kagan.  Imagine also what the Republican response would have been had another Democratic-controlled Congress in 2003 called upon French President Jacques Chirac to lobby Congress and the American people against President George W. Bush's impending invasion in Iraq.

"Does that sound implausible?" asks Kagan. "Yes, it was implausible -- until now. Now we are sailing into uncharted waters."

The Boston Globe's hawkish columnist, Jeff Jacoby, is clearly one of those whom Kagan would define as being a radical ready to rip up established norms and traditions because they say extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.

"Immensely more important" than concern over the propriety or potential damage of Netanyahu's visit, says Jacoby, "is the lethal threat of a nuclear-armed Iran."  

Even without the bomb, says Jacoby, "Iran is the world's most dangerous regime -- apocalyptic incubator of terrorism and jihad, ruthless suppressor of human rights, unflagging zealot for wiping Israel off the map and fanatic about bringing "Death to America."

Anyone who disagrees with this tendentious rendering of Iran's intentions, or is repelled by Netanyahu's war-mongering proposals for neutralizing them, is simply reflecting "partisan or political loyalties," says Jacoby.

This is often how people feel about the looming crises of their time," says Kagan, and we can be sure that in the future "tomorrow's urgencies will seem just as great."

The only difference between then and now, he says, "is that today, bringing a foreign leader before Congress to challenge a US president's policies is unprecedented. After next week, it will be just another weapon in our bitter partisan struggle."

Fascism is a highly-charged word that should never be thrown around indiscriminately.  Nevertheless, fascism is a real thing with a precise definition.  It is a belligerent form of nationalism, a primitive tribalism that tries to elevate an idealized conception of a people, public or "volk" above all other considerations, including a state's highest ideals of justice, fairness and equality -- if that state is a democratic one.

Given this understanding, one can detect the whiff of fascism in statements by William Kristol and Rudy Giuliani's that Barack Obama does not "love" his country - indeed, that Benjamin Netanyahu "loves America more" because he is ready to go to war for it -- or, rather, have us declare war on our own behalf.

I understand "respect" or "admiration" for ones country because these are rational qualities whereby citizens understand it is their patriotic duty to hold their nation accountable to its own noblest ideas and highest ideals.  But "love" of country can be a dangerous virtue for love is too often blind.    

Two words fascists hate most are "parliamentarianism" and "cosmopolitanism" because both celebrate differences, diversity and power-sharing -- all  concepts fascists despise.

And so what are we to make of Bill Kristol's comment in the most recent Weekly Standard that this President Obama is not just a citizen of America, he is also "a citizen of the world?"

Kristol did not mean that as a compliment for he goes on to criticize Obama for being a "disbeliever in American exceptionalism." That puts Obama squarely "in the mainstream of modern progressive thought in his embrace of cosmopolitanism and his distrust of nationalism," says Kristol.

Obama is not in the least interested "in riding a high horse equipped, as he would see it, with patriotic blinders or nationalist spurs," says Kristol. This is unlike Netanyahu who, says Kristol, "is a patriot and a nationalist."

And when Netanyahu steps to the House rostrum later today, Kristol says he will attempt to re-awaken what Winston Churchill could already count on when he spoke from the same podium three weeks after Pearl Harbor, namely (in Churchill's words) a "United States, united as never before, [that] has drawn the sword for freedom and cast away the scabbard."

This is what right wing conservatives do. They make the unthinkable, thinkable. They violate norms and traditions, destroy institutions and make regular politics and diplomacy impossible by turning both into war by other means.

Good luck to Jeb Bush or any other politician who tries to capture that untamed instinct and make it a partner in a governing coalition or party worthy of the name.