GOP gets mixed message from party leaders

A man jogs past the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30, 2013.
A man jogs past the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30, 2013.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a relative moderate among congressional Republicans, knew many of his GOP brethren would react strongly to President Obama's immigration policy, but Dent urged the party not to fly off the handle. "Don't take the bait, and don't have a hysterical reaction," the Pennsylvania Republican said. "We can be strong, rational and measured."
As Robert Costa reported, Dent is hardly the only Republicans worried about hysteria from within the ranks.

For Republicans the roiling debate over the president's decision is not only a fight with the White House, but a test of whether they can contain some of the unhelpful passions among their swelling majorities in both chambers. The task is keeping on-message and away from the controversial and sometimes offensive comments that have traditionally hindered attempts to bolster support for the party among Hispanics. Coupled with the desire to avoid the heated rhetoric is an effort to avert another showdown over government funding, weeks after the GOP made gains in the midterm elections and a year after a 16-day shutdown significantly damaged the party's brand.

Both House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Washington Post report added, spent time yesterday "urging calm in their ranks."
The article came on the heels of a related Politico piece that noted Republican leaders are urging the party not to talk about presidential impeachment, "fearing it would give Democrats a message to rally around as the president's party is split over the hugely controversial move."
So, how's this working out? Not too well, and whether GOP leaders understand this or not, they're partly to blame.
Betsy Woodruff talked yesterday to Rep. Mo Brooks (R) of Alabama, who clearly missed the memo about Republicans remaining "strong, rational and measured."

Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, one of the lower chamber's most energetic critics of comprehensive immigration reform, suggested that the president's move could potentially be grounds for impeachment, or even prison time. Brooks said there is a federal statute ("I don't have the citation for it at the tip of my tongue") making it a felony to aid, abet, or entice a foreigner to illegally enter the U.S. "At some point, you have to evaluate whether the president's conduct aids or abets, encourages, or entices foreigners to unlawfully cross into the United States of America," he continued. "That has a five-year in-jail penalty associated with it."

So much for remaining "calm."
But over-the-top rhetoric from the likes of Brooks and his cohorts, while needlessly inflammatory, is predictable. What seems lost in the conversation is the fact that it's arguably a direct result of Republican leaders egging them on for the last several years.
Whether Boehner and McConnell appreciate this is unclear, but they're the ones who keep arguing -- out loud and in public -- that "Emperor Obama" is engaging in tyrannical abuses that undermine our constitutional system. The result is a mixed message: GOP leaders tell rank-and-file Republican lawmakers that Obama is an out-of-control dictator, but in the next breath, those same leaders tell their members not to even think about impeachment. Boehner and McConnell tell their members the president's policies are shredding the Constitution and putting our system of government at risk, and then they tell their members it's not worth shutting down the government over.
The party's leadership can't have it both ways. When they get irritated by Republican "knuckleheads" going too far, Boehner and McConnell need to realize that when they condemn Obama's "lawless" presidency, GOP lawmakers actually believe the nonsense and act accordingly.
In other words, Republican leaders created this monster -- and as Frankenstein discovered, keeping a monster under control isn't always easy.