Did the GOP Even Want to Win The Last Election?
I usually don’t opt for this sort of baseless speculation, but they’re making it really hard on me. Look, I get that they got the stolen Supreme Court seat for Neil Gorsuch. Mostly because Democrats are by and large too stupid to think strategically about things like that, which is a whole other subject entirely. But the current debate over repealing and/or replacing and/or repairing and/or continuing to sabotage Obamacare really makes a person wonder: did they even want to win?
I know it’s hard to believe, but the current iteration of the GOP was forged mostly in the power vacuum left when they got roundly trounced in Obama’s first election in 2008. For most of the 2000s, the GOP was a united force of destruction spearheaded by George W Bush and his band of merry warmongers. In one decade they managed to embroil us in 2 wars that still show no signs of ending, turn our budget surplus into a deficit, pass sweeping tax cuts that have ballooned our national debt to untenable levels, pass a disastrous education bill…the list goes on. But they at least stood for things — admittedly, the wrong things, but things!
The last two years of the Bush era saw declining poll numbers for the President and a Congress controlled by Democrats. This is also when Mitch McConnell became leader of the party in the Senate. In 2008, they lost the Presidency and ushered in unified Democratic control for the first time since Bill Clinton’s first two years. The GOP was leaderless and rudderless and had suffered consecutive electoral defeats. With nowhere to turn and a huge leadership vacuum, they forged a new identity: the Great Obstructionist Party. McConnell happily announced that his primary goal as leader was to make Obama a one-term President. They set about blocking everything the Democrats attempted from major legislation to lower court nominees. They forced Harry Reid to nuke the filibuster on lower court nominees. They worked with the state governors to undermine the Affordable Care Act.
While they failed to make Obama a one-term President they did win back control of Congress (much like Newt Gingrich in 1994). Then their efforts increased. They shut down the government in 2013. They threatened to impeach Obama and even drew up articles to the same effect. They passed the same Obamacare repeal bill fifty or sixty times. Their entire guiding ethos under Mitch McConnell was that of a party that could criticize and call out and offer zero original ideas.
This brings us to the aforementioned stonewalling of Merrick Garland’s nomination. It’s worth noting that Garland was an older judge, a white man, and relatively centrist on most issues. He wasn’t the kind of vat-grown jurist that Neil Gorsuch is by any means. But McConnell had an identity: obstruct unto death. So they obstructed this as well. In my layperson opinion, Obama could have appointed Garland anyway and claimed that the Senate violated their “advise and consent” duties in the Constitution. But he didn’t. The irony is that the open SCOTUS seat had a deliberate and positive effect on the 2016 election. By a 20-point margin, GOP voters believed this was an important issue compared to Democratic voters.
But I think secretly McConnell was planning to lose the election. Trump wasn’t polling well, but Clinton wasn’t exactly popular. He probably anticipated a lot of split-ticket voting. His best-case scenario was for Clinton to win but for the GOP to remain in control of Congress. Then he would get four more years of attacking an easy target that riles up his base, useless investigations, meaningless protest legislation, and pure uncut oppositional bullshit.
Until Trump won.
For seven years, the GOP had lived and died by the single idea that everything Obama did was bad and given the chance they would ride in on a white horse to fix it. The Iran deal? Fixed! North Korea? Done! White people’s declining power as a force? Tada! And so on and so forth. Just give em a chance, went the argument, and all of your wildest fantasies would come true. A chicken in every pot and a unicorn that shits rainbows in every driveway.
In a very real sense, American voters called their bluff. Enough talk, let’s see it. The ACA has issues, you know how to fix it, let’s see it. Tax reform sounds great. Do it. We want a 6% GDP growth. We want the deficit shrunk. We want to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Please, we’re hurting. 55% of America thought we were on the wrong track. Please, GOP, bring us your glorious ideas and end the age of American destruction and carnage. Make Us Great Again. You promised. I mean even Trump believed them. He was furious when he found out that the protest bill they sent Obama 50+ times wasn’t actually viable. He legitimately thought that he could sign that bill and be done with ACA repeal.
We just passed the 8 month mark of unified GOP leadership. The situations in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria haven’t improved. Trump crowed about a plan in Afghanistan but he was short on details. North Korea has deteriorated materially. We haven’t done anything to counter the Russian influence that helped elect Trump in the first place. The GOP remains a rudderless party whose main animating presence is simply hatred of liberals. As it turns out, that’s not a viable strategy for governing.
They seem poised on the brink of failure of Obamacare repeal — the fourth or fifth such failure depending how you count it. Because corralling a party is hard work. Figuring out trade-offs is hard work. Withstanding public scrutiny is hard work. Democrats should know — we did the hard work to get the ACA passed. Hundreds of hearings, hundreds of amendments, backroom dealmaking when it was necessary. Democrats traditionally have been a big tent party, but our party leadership under Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi understood how to govern. McConnell and Ryan have no idea how to do anything except lambast Barack Obama. Trump’s entire political ideology is based on attacking Obama’s legacy. Hillary Clinton is a bogeyman for the GOP without equal. If she had won, McConnell would have continued to do what he’s best at: obstructing the functioning of government. Now the GOP members in Congress are fleeing. God forbid they actually do the fucking job of legislating.
All of the lies they told for seven years, all of the ideas they promised that would fix all of the problems they blamed Obama and Clinton for…it was all bullshit. It was all smoke and mirrors. The party of personal responsibility had a glorious run of not taking responsibility. Now America is holding them to task. They deserve to be run out of Congress and the White House. They deserve sweeping electoral losses. McConnell and Ryan’s leadership deserves to be challenged. This is a party adrift, a party without ideology, a party repeating the same boring platitudes and quoting the same Thomas Jefferson maxims. Their only ethos is a weak attempt to say “Hey at least we don’t have Hillary Clinton right?” This sad, pathetic, raison d’etre is wearing thin. Every politician breaks promises. The GOP in its current iteration is a party founded on promises they never intended to keep, bills they never intended to write, solutions they secretly knew they never had.
Stop voting for people who think government is bad, that governing is hard, and that life is easier shouting from the sidelines. Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican back when it fucking meant something, famously said:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
If McConnell is the man in the arena, perhaps he can find justification in his defeat, convince himself that he has spent himself in a worthy cause. But the reality is that his role is best served not in the arena, but as a critic. He and the rest of his party are an embarrassment to the kinds of politicians who knew what it meant to have devotions and to triumph greatly. Obama’s achievements will not be undone by them. Their time in the arena will only lead to failure and defeat, without even the poetry of Roosevelt’s daring greatly.
They may have failed to lose the last election, but they have set themselves up to lose a great many elections to come.