A couple of weeks ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) showed some of his frustration about Capitol Hill gridlock and Congress’ inability to govern, acknowledging his own party’s role. “You might notice,” Boehner told reporters, “I have a few knuckleheads in my conference.”
The complaint is well grounded in fact. By some quantitative measures, the House Republican conference is the most ideologically extreme since the post-Civil War reconstruction era. “Knuckleheads” is obviously a polite way of describing some truly radical lawmakers who often dominate GOP politics.
It’s tempting at times to take comfort in the belief that conditions couldn’t get worse. Congressional Republicans, the theory goes, have reached some kind of ideological apex, and though there’s no reason to think they’ll shift towards the American mainstream anytime soon, at least they can’t move any further off the far-right cliff.
This assumption is, of course, wrong. Jonathan Weisman had a terrific report yesterday on the coming crop of GOP freshmen.
One nominee proposed reclassifying single parenthood as child abuse. Another suggested that four “blood moons” would herald “world-changing, shaking-type events” and said Islam was not a religion but a “complete geopolitical structure” unworthy of tax exemption. Still another labeled Hillary Rodham Clinton “the Antichrist.”Congressional Republicans successfully ended their primary season with minimal damage, but in at least a dozen safe or largely safe Republican House districts where more mild-mannered Republicans are exiting, their likely replacements will pull the party to the right, a move likely to increase division in an already polarized Congress.
The number of congressional Republicans who could reasonably be described as “moderate” is almost comically small – and even they really only appear centrist because they’re compared against the rest of their GOP colleagues – but several Republican incumbents who are retiring this year are at least “mainstream” within their party.
Their successors won’t be.
Weisman’s piece is worth checking out in its entirety, but note that the list of retiring Republicans who’ll be replaced with more extreme members isn’t short. John Ratcliffe is to the right of retiring Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas); Gary Palmer is to the right of retiring Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.); Mark Walker is to the right of retiring Rep. Howard Coble; Ryan Zinke is to the right of retiring Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.); Barbara Comstock is to the right of retiring Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and so on.
My personal favorite is in Wisconsin, where Rep. Tom Petri (R) is stepping down.
Mr. Petri, one of the last of the veteran Republican centrists, is likely to be replaced by Glenn Grothman, one of the most conservative members of the Wisconsin State Senate. Mr. Grothman has explained his opposition to equal-pay legislation by saying, “You could argue that money is more important for men.” He has also suggested that some gay teachers “would like it if more kids became homosexuals.”
And these are just the examples of extremists likely to replace mainstream GOP incumbents. When we consider far-right lawmakers who’ll be replaced by equally far-right successors – Jody Hice replacing Paul Broun in Georgia; Ken Buck replacing Cory Gardner in Colorado – it’s a reminder that “knuckleheads” will be even more plentiful in 2015 than in 2014.