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As the Republican Party Turns

The more politically obsessed news-readers have no doubt already heard that California Rep. Kevin McCarthy has withdrawn from the race for Speaker of the House, a position that was open following the resignation of Ohio Rep. John Boehner, and that it all bodes ill for the Republican Party. The “establishment” favorite McCarthy apparently has withdrawn, Boehner did indeed announce his resignation, and given how many things do prove to bode ill for the Republican Party that last part might also be true. Still, we’ll await the final outcome and assume that it won’t be consequential.
Much of the media has gleefully seized on the storyline that those crazily far-right and reckless “Tea Party” types in the party are in open revolt against the more cautious and accommodating and country club-going moderates that are still left, which is a fair enough assessment of the situation. All that gleefulness is because much of the media assumes that the public will be revulsed by those conservatives and their extreme positions, however, and we question the assumption. Boehner was driven to resignation and McCarthy was forced to withdraw from the race mostly because they were thought to be insufficiently resistant to executive actions throwing the borders wide open, unleashing an aggressively anti-business Environmental Protection Agency and nixing the XL Keystone Pipeline, negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran that will surely end up with nuclear weapons in that nutcase country, and various other affronts to conservative sensibilities, but none of these positions are so extreme that they don’t poll solid majority support from the public. There’s always the realistic hope they’d shut down the non-essential services of the government to get their way, which usually does not poll well, but even the most kamikaze sorts of conservatives wouldn’t do that late in an election cycle.
McCarthy’s departure was prompted by a boneheaded gaffe that will in the short term help the Democrats. Under fire from one of those conservative cable television channels, McCarthy boasted about how Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers have dropped as a result of the House investigations to the Benghazi tragedy. A better way to put it was that the Congress was committed to getting to the bottom of an important matter that involved the death of an Ambassador and four other Americans and that if the facts reflected poorly on Clinton so be it, but the in-artful phraseology seemed to confirm the Democrats’ preferred story that the Republicans are just out to get their poor woman. The same conservative pundits who had egged on the Benghazi investigation were quick to denounce McCarthy, his even more conservative colleagues in the House were happy to cite the quote as proof of his incompetence, his majority was in doubt even before the gaffe, and suddenly there’s much uncertainty regarding who will lead the Republican Party in Congress.
Although much of the media are serenely resigned to death and taxes, they have an affinity to anything uncertain. Such disorder as you find in the Republican Party of the moment is anathema to liberal sensibilities. Thus the storyline about sensible and moderate Republicans striving to stave off their more unruly colleagues will prevail, at least until the general election when those previously more sensible and moderate types are also portrayed as right-wing crazies, and the inevitability of Clinton’s scandal-plagued candidacy will be offered in soothing contrast, unless new marching orders are given on behalf of gaffe-prone Vice President Joe Biden. They might even pull it off, but it seems a hard shot.
Clinton’s poll numbers should go down as a result of the facts of the Benghazi tragedy, as well as the e-mail scandal that is closely related and all the other scandals she’s become involved in over her 30 years or so in the public eye, and we expect that will be more on the public’s mind come Election Day ’16 and that an in-artful attempt to placate a conservative cable television host by a little-remembered loser in a House Speaker will be long forgotten. Unless the Republicans wind up picking someone just awful as the Speaker of the House the whole episode will only be recalled by the most obsessive news-readers. Someone just awful is a possibility, of course, given the Republicans’ history, but it doesn’t seem likely. The most extreme conservative they might pick would still be on the winning side of all the big issues, the squishiest moderate they might wind up with
would still be far better than the last Democratic Speaker of the House, who was as far-left as a liberal might hope for and wound up giving the Republicans their problematic majority, and in any case some other issue will decide the next round of presidential and congressional elections.
There’s also faint hope the Republicans might do something right, and pick someone who can rally conservative support without provoking any futile confrontations with political reality. The name of Rep. Paul Ryan, who was once such a conservative hero that presidential nominee Mitt Romney picked him as a running to placate the base, but who has since become tarred with the “establishment” label, but he’s reportedly not interested in the job, which speaks well of him, and we have to assume that there’s someone in that Republican majority that’s up to the task. If they dispense with seniority and reject advice to let the Democrats in on it they could find someone that will help the party on Election Day ’16, and even then his or her name will probably not be widely known. Being obsessive news-readers ourselves, and suckers for any tale of intrigue, we’ll continue to keep abreast of the latest development nonetheless.

— Bud Norman

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