Although we rarely bother to glance at Facebook, we couldn’t help taking a peek at the disconsolate postings of our left-wing friends after Tuesday’s many Republican victories in the mid-term elections. As Conan the Barbarian famously said when asked what is best in life, “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, hear the lamentations of their women.” We also tuned into our usual right-wing talk radio fare and visited the usual right-wing internet publications, hoping to share in the expected exultations, but found a rather muted response.
Much of the credit for the Republicans’ remarkable success must be attributed to Kentucky Senator and presumptive Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, New Jersey Governor and Republican Governors Association chairman Chris Christie, and former Bush administration political boss and current activist Karl Rove, along with countless unknown professional party operatives, which takes much fun out of the victory for a certain sort of Republican. Even as the GOP celebrates a historic victory over the darned Democrats it continues to endure a civil war between the ideologically pure and rabid “tea party” and the pragmatic and wimpy “establishment,” and the most dedicated adherents to the former faction regard the aforementioned gentlemen as the worst of the latter faction. The Republican congressional leadership’s post-election assurances that there will be no government shutdowns or threats a credit default or any of the sort of brinksmanship championed by the more confrontational conservatives has already exacerbated the resentment, and their failure to acknowledge the dutiful support of their intra-party rivals has been ungracious and unhelpful, so a shared victory does not seem likely to result in a Republican rapprochement. Which strikes us as unfortunate, as we are sympathetic to both sides of the battle and can easily envision a successful alliance.
The “tea party’s” paranoid panic about the state of the nation strikes us as entirely appropriate, and we share its belief that desperate times call for desperate measures. From our prairie perspective McConnell has been too timid and too moderate in his leadership of the party’s Senate minority, the timidity and moderation of Boehner’s speakership has been all the more infuriating because he led a majority, Chris Christie is a Republican only by the appallingly low standards of the northeastern states, Rove deserves as much blame as anybody for the deficit-spending and governmental growth of the Bush years, and we regard those professional operatives with the usual Republican disdain for slick college kids in fancy suits who attend inside-the-beltway cocktail parties. The “tea party” also embodies the bedrock principles of low taxes and limited government and individual liberty and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism that we believe are the only way out of the current crisis, and we hate to think how Tuesday’s results might have turned out if like-minded conservatives had decided to sit out the election for spite rather than pitch on the effort for the candidates that weren’t entirely to their liking.
Still, we’re magnanimous enough to offer some thanks for the shrewd moves the “establishment” has made against the heated advice of their internecine adversaries. The government shutdowns and budgetary brinksmanship that the “tea party” advocated were well-justified and caused little harm in our opinion, but there’s no denying the damage it always does to Republican poll numbers and it’s a lucky break it was all long forgotten by the mid-term elections. A constant onslaught of primary challenges by newly enthused “tea party” insurgents had the salutary effect of dragging the Republicans in a more steadfastly conservative direction, but it also yielded more than a few rank amateurs who blew winnable races with amateurish gaffes that were used to tarnish the party at large. An all-out effort by the “establishment” to winnow out such troublesome candidates include a heavy-handed effort to choose a more polished state government veteran over the more fire-breathing “tea party” choice in Colorado and a downright disgusting effort to oust a “tea party” candidate prone to indelicate remarks about race in Mississippi by the most blatant appeals to cross-over-voting black Democrats, but it also resulted in a very impressive slate candidates across the nation. This time around the best efforts of a biased media couldn’t find any notable misstatements by Republicans to endlessly replay on the late night comedy shows, and all had to admit that such Democrats as Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and Kentucky senatorial hopeful Allison Lundgrem Grimes And Wisconsin gubernatorial challenger Mary Burke had descended into farce. Those right-wing talk radio hosts kept insisting the Republicans present an attackable agenda of what they are for, but the election results suggest they were right to focus on the widely unpopular things they opposed.
What the warring factions of the Republicans are opposed to is pretty much all they agree on, after all, and that should be sufficient for an effective if uneasy alliance. Given the unfortunate reality that we confront six years into the age of hope and change, holding off the most outrageous actions of a president emboldened by his lame duck status will be conservatism’s most pressing challenge and one that we expect to have a unifying effect. There’s a chance that the Republican leadership will go wobbly on the president’s promised executive actions regarding illegal immigration, in which case the civil war will be on again with a righteous vengeance, but otherwise the congressional leadership should be able cobble together an agenda palatable to the conservative base. Prompt movement on the Keystone Pipeline, cutting the corporate tax rate to a globally competitive level, repeal of certain problematic portions of Obamcare and promise of an eventual repeal of the whole damned thing, and of course resistance to whatever executive actions the president might sign regarding climate change or social justice or whatever other trendy cause he embraces should satisfy every sort of Republican and play well with the general public. With the shrewd professionalism of the “establishment” and the intellectually sound enthusiasm of the “tea party” peaceably combined, and with a promising slate of potential presidential candidates, the Republicans might stand a chance of restoring order in ’16. At such point we’ll have to fight it out between low taxes and even lower taxes and limited government and even more limited government, and there will be the usual squabbles about tactics, but we’d prefer that to fighting with Democrats.
— Bud Norman