What the Republican Crazies Don’t Get, And What We Don’t Get About Them
Maeve Reston and Stephen Collinson for CNN accurately spell out the reasons why John Boehner’s woes in the House could mean trouble for candidate “Jeb!” Bush, who sits on top of an underwhelming 9% or so in the polls (a good number if you’re George Pataki, but a bad number if you were at one point strutting through life as the presumptive nominee as was “Jeb!”). Furthermore, influential House Republicans Paul Ryan (of failed Mitt Romney runningmate fame) and Jeb (not to be confused with “Jeb!”) Hensarling have endorsed cray-cray Tea Party wacko Tom Price of Georgia for the position of House Majority Leader.
Of course, Price may be a stalking horse to see how far to the right the party as a whole can get away with in terms of doling out influential leadership positions to the hardliners. As Kevin McCarthy locks down the Speakership, he may be testing the waters vicariously to see if he is going to be a governing-and-compromising moderate speaker (if he is using his brain) or a never-compromise-shut-down-the-government-every-week rabid Tea Party speaker (if he is using his heart).
Whatever sane Republicans remain (and there are a few in the Republican presidential contender cohort, including “Jeb!” and Gov. John Kasich, the latter of whom vociferously praised the outgoing Tea-Party-Hated Boehner) must be astounded. Don’t they understand that by advancing their principled-but-crazy hard-line agenda they are going to lose 2016 for everybody? they must be thinking. Don’t they understand that government shutdowns are deeply unpopular? Don’t they understand that Planned Parenthood is actually popular? Don’t they understand that they are practically giving away the White House, risking a Democratic takeover of the Senate, and stand to see significant Democratic gains in the House?
The short answer to all of that, I think, is no. They don’t understand that. At all.
I don’t have any hard empirical evidence, but I think that a study must be commissioned in short order to test the degree to which Tea Party activists believe that their agenda is actually popular, mainstream, and representative of middle America. Because I think they think that their viewpoints are popular.
I realize this is anecdotal evidence. My oldest brother is a Tea Party style right-wing hardliner who hates immigrants, Obama, liberals, you name it. But for years he described his views as “center court,” to use the exact phrase he used. Center court. Think about that.
We progressives often, to a fault, have no illusions about our place on the political spectrum and the degree to which our viewpoints sometimes fail to align with centrism. Furthermore, I have absolutely no self-deluded illusions about where I stand on the political spectrum. I’m a lefty and I know it. I don’t have a problem admitting that because I don’t happen to think that being a lefty is a bad thing.
But the hard right is deeply invested in the idea that they are representative of America. That their feelings about immigrants, that their racism, that their intolerance of religious minorities, their misogyny and misogynist policies, and their antipathy toward the sitting president, whom they consider illegitimate, are in fact the mainstream American orientation politically. They are deeply invested in the idea that they are the real America. That they are “center court.”
So when you assume for the sake of argument that this is their orientation, they are completely oblivious to the idea that they could lose elections by taking what they think are principled center-court stands for things in Congress. Shut down Congress over Planned Parenthood? I suspect they think that’s a winning issue for them. They hate Planned Parenthood, so everyone must hate Planned Parenthood. And the only people hurt by a government shutdown would be people on “entitlement” programs, and they hate “entitlement” programs, so, in their calculus, everyone must hate “entitlement” programs.
What they’re not getting is how out of step with the mainstream they really are. How many Tea Party crazies who live in a bubble of Fox “News” and A.M. Hate Radio were convinced up to the last that Romney was going to win in 2012? Even smart conservatives had to publish primers on how to explain Romney’s loss to the dummies.
What we’re not getting is how much they think that they are the mainstream. That’s why they behave as they do. It’s not that they see how crazy their actions are— like potentially shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood funding— and are going the cray-cray route anyway. They don’t think they are crazy. They think they have America behind them. They think that America is going to rally to their side because the principled guys on the white horses have finally cut through the B.S. and stopped Planned Parenthood at last and kicked a bunch of people on “entitlement” programs to the curb. They think they’re going to gain in the House and Senate and win the White House.
In other words, they think they’re “center court.”
It’s the only explanation.
UPDATE 9-29-15: For support of the central thesis of this article, look no further than this comment by Senator Ted Cruz, throwing a tantrum on the floor of the Senate yesterday as his attempts to shut down the government went up in smoke:
“The Speaker of the House John Boehner announced he was going to resign. There was lots of speculation on the media as to why [Boehner] resigned. Mr. President, I’m going to tell you why he resigned: It’s actually a direct manifestation of this disconnect between the voters back home and Republican leadership. Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell had promised there will be no shutdown, so therefore they will fund every single priority of Barack Obama.”
It’s exactly as I’ve maintained. Ted Cruz and his ilk think that they represent mainstream America, i.e., “the voters back home”; it is— in their minds— only a hopelessly, deeply entrenched Washington D.C. corruption that thwarts things that mainstream America so obviously wants, like a government shutdown, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, war with Iran, and an open rebuke to President Obama (who was inexplicably elected twice).
Loathe though I am to praise John Cornyn, you know, the other Senator from my state of Texas, it should be duly noted by Texans everywhere that Cornyn (R-Sanity) was instrumental in knocking down procedural attempts by Cruz (R-Insanity) to get his shutdown. That’s what it has come to for the Republicans: Cornyn must know that there is actually a contingent of Tea Party Texans sympathetic to Cruz, whom he risks alienating. Cornyn took one for the team yesterday so that the grown-ups can remain in charge, so the Republicans might actually stand an electoral chance in 2016, and, most importantly, so the government, which so many widows, widowers, orphans and people with disabilities rely upon, can continue to function.