In late 2010, after the midterm elections but before far-right Republicans took office, a variety of pundits made confident predictions about GOP modesty. Americans need not fear Republican extremism, many commentators said at the time, because GOP officials realized they would have no choice but to be constructive and open to compromise.
Shortly after the 2010 midterms, for example, David Brooks insisted that Republicans were feeling “cautious.” They’re “sober,” the center-right columnist said, adding that the GOP wouldn’t “overreach.” The same week, Jacob Weisberg made a similar prediction, arguing that GOP leaders “will feint right while legislating closer to the center.” These Republicans, he added, “don’t think working with Democrats is evil. On the big picture tax and budget issues, they plan compromise with President Obama.”
We now know, of course, that these predictions were painfully inaccurate, and the 2010 elections helped propel Republican politics to radicalism unseen in the United States since the 19th century. But some in media are reluctant to learn the appropriate lessons.
Take, for example, the Denver Post’s endorsement of far-right Rep. Cory Gardner (R) in Colorado’s U.S. Senate race.
If Gardner wins, of course, it could mean the Senate has flipped to Republicans. However, that doesn’t mean it will simply butt heads with President Obama as the Republican House has done. As The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib recently pointed out, “A look back shows that eras of evenly divided power – Congress fully controlled by one party, the presidency by the other – have turned out to be among the most productive” because both sides temper their policies.
The Denver Post’s editorial is among the strangest pieces of political analysis published in 2014. The paper’s editorial board included sloppy factual errors; it glossed over the issues on which the editors are convinced the congressman is wrong; it lamented Washington gridlock while choosing to ignore Gardner’s role in making matters worse; and it complained about Sen. Mark Udall (D) pointing to aspects of Gardner’s record that happen to be true.
But it’s this notion that radicalized Republicans will become less extreme once voter reward them that stands out as genuinely bizarre.
The basis for the Post’s endorsement seems to be a curious theory: giving Gardner a promotion will cause a dramatic shift in how he approaches his responsibilities. The Republican congressman hasn’t compromised with rivals on any issue, but, the paper’s editorial board suggests, once he’s rewarded for his failures, maybe he’ll start being more responsible.
Indeed, the Post extrapolates to apply this line of thought to Republicans in general. For four years, GOP lawmakers have refused to govern, even going so far as to shut down the government and hold the debt ceiling hostage, threatening to crash the global economy on purpose unless their demands were met. Every worthwhile legislative initiative has been killed, regardless of merit or popularity. Cory Gardner has gone along with his party every step of the way.
But, the Post believes all of that might change if only voters agreed to give Republicans more power, not less. For the first time in the history of democracy, the paper’s editorial board believes, a radicalized party will suddenly become constructive and open to compromise, not following an electoral rebuke, but in the wake of electoral success.
House Republicans, in other words, will stop acting like House Republicans just as soon as they become Senate Republicans – because this worked out so well for the country four years ago.
And what of Gerald Seib’s argument that Republicans will be forced to be responsible once they control both the House and Senate? Jon Chait recently tackled the subject.
A more subtle problem, in addition to the lack of incentives, is that Washington already has divided control. Now, to be sure, Republicans control just one chamber of Congress at the moment. Seib argues that the calculus might change if they win control of the other chamber as well.For this to be true, you would have to imagine that there are deals that could be struck between the Republican House and President Obama that the Democratic Senate would block but that a Republican Senate would agree to. […]Washington is awash in nostalgic memories of congenial dinner parties and tales of Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan knocking back drinks together, and largely blind to the cold rationalism undergirding its current circumstances. The good old days are not coming back.
Well, no, they’re not. In fact, those days can’t come back so long as a radicalized party is rewarded for its extremism.
Indeed, even some cursory research – from the Denver Post’s editorial board or anyone else – makes clear that if given control of both chambers, Republican leaders have no interest in working in good faith towards centrist compromises. And why would they? Once the electorate responds to the GOP’s recklessness by giving the party even more power, what possible incentive would Republicans have to become more responsible?