The sudden resignation of House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and decision by Rep. Kevin McCarthy to drop out of the race to succeed him, reveal the stark divisions and anarchy enveloping House Republicans.
Will this state of affairs have a bearing on the future of the Republican Party and outcome of the 2016 elections?
Divisions between more moderate and extremist wings within the GOP are historic. But moderates are all but disappearing and the real divisions are between the far right and extremists.
About 40 Tea Party extremists from the so-called Freedom Caucus undid Boehner. They are also known as the “crazies” or “hell no” caucus, because they refuse on principle to compromise with President Obama.
The Freedom Caucus has been in open collaboration with outside right wing groups and hate-talk radio, which have mobilized the right wing base, cowing Republican House members generally.
The Freedom Caucus has the votes to prevent anyone from getting the needed 218 votes to succeed Boehner. Whoever is elected will be forced to compromise with them, guaranteeing the turmoil and obstruction will continue.
Paul Krugman calls it “The GOP gone mad.”
After 2010 and 2014 elections the Tea Party believed it had a mandate to pursue its agenda. Their mantra was “government shutdown” to get their way, which proved a disaster in 2013. The Tea Party doesn’t have the votes to prevail. To get anything done, Boehner relied on the Democratic minority, which was seen by the extremists as the ultimate betrayal.
Boehner’s exit is an acknowledgement that right-wing obstruction and scorched earth politics have failed. But the GOP extremist base, detached from reality, has been worked up in an irrational anti-government frenzy. It refuses to back down from their no-compromise, no-surrender stance.
After taking down Boehner, the Tea Party and ultra right groups feel emboldened. The new Republican leadership will fear going against the Tea Party, all but guaranteeing continued threats of government shutdown later this year.
This means huge battles over government funding, including renewal of the surface transportation bill and raising the debt limit if their demand to defund Planned Parenthood, Obamacare and the EPA is not met. This poses a crisis for democratic government, its role and ability to fund basic functions.
“With so-called budget sequestration, funding of basic functions has already taken a huge hit. Outside of guaranteed programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, veteran’s pensions and the like – (funding) has been slashed by about 17 percent since 2010. Support for K-through-12 education – the utterly essential support that goes to schools in impoverished neighborhoods – is down 20 percent,” writes Robert Borosage.
Impact on 2016 elections
But the turmoil in the GOP also raises an opportunity to deal the right wing a setback in the 2016 elections, to block their ascent to the presidency and undo majorities in the Senate and possibly the House, although unlikely that the latter can be accomplished. While the GOP is also doubling down on voter suppression and efforts to control state governments, this also requires that progressives pay attention to openings there. Right wingers always seem to have their “plan B” and have shown for years now their ability to do great damage to the people’s interests on the state level.
Some moderate Republicans are alarmed by developments. As conservative consultant Geoffrey Kabaservice noted in a New York Times analysis, the anarchy taking place in the House, and especially the “anti-government” frenzy, is spilling over into the Republican presidential primary.
At this moment the three leading candidates, Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson, are supported by 52 percent of Republican primary voters. None have any governing experience but are riding the anti-establishment, anti-government wave.
As Ben Adler of Grist.org writes, “The GOP’s increasing preference for callow, reckless candidates represents a culmination of the anti-government, anti-politics, anti-intellectual direction of the conservative movement. Although it overlaps with the GOP’s rightward shift, it presents a unique threat to American democracy because it espouses not mere preference for smaller government, but a visceral hatred of functioning government and the practice of politics.”
The GOP establishment is trying to reassert control by undercutting Trump who they know is not electable. They would prefer Marco Rubio or Carly Fiorina as part of the ticket that draws women and Latino votes, making the GOP competitive in swing states.
The battle in the House and the primaries will go a long way to define the “identity” of the Republican Party as anti-government, anti-intellectual, irrational and intolerant on top of racist and misogynist.
GOP right wing positions may play well in the Republican primaries and GOP gerrymandered districts, but it is running counter to majorities coalescing around taxing the rich, raising the minimum wage, support for unions, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, action on climate change, protecting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, support for same-sex marriage and background checks on gun purchases. Seventy two percent support continued funding for Planned Parenthood.
Pope Francis’ widely heralded address to Congress was a direct challenge to the ultra right agenda.
Despite the existence of a deeply divided electorate, Kabaservice is concerned the Tea Party zealotry may set up a repeat of the 1964 debacle, when extremist Barry Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson in a landslide and dragged down GOP candidates at the Congressional and state level.
Tactical flexibility needed
The 2016 campaign is fast-changing and unpredictable. The Iowa caucuses are five months away and much can happen between now and then. A flexible tactical approach is needed.
Sections of the Democratic Party establishment worry Hillary Clinton’s campaign has not taken off, her negatives continue to be high and she is bogged down in the email controversy.
Despite the endorsement of eight internationals, including the NEA, the AFL-CIO has similar concerns. Sanders has significant support too and the Federation may also be waiting to see if Vice President Joe Biden enters the race. It Biden does, he and Clinton would compete for the same votes, most likely dragging out the primary fight.
Clinton and Sanders are evolving and responding to public opinion and mass movements. Witness Sanders’ response to the Black Lives Matter movement and Clinton’s opposition to the TPP trade pact and support for gun control that takes direct aim at the NRA.
To defeat the GOP, a broad multi-class, multi-racial coalition backed by the democratic movements, including even the establishment wing of the Democratic Party, must be amassed. It is crucial for this coalition, with its contested and contradictory parts, to emerge from the Democratic primaries united around the objective of defeating the right wing.
The Sanders campaign is generating growing grassroots excitement centered on attacking Wall Street and vast wealth inequality. Sanders is exposing millions of people to left and advanced democratic ideas. Whatever happens, seeds are being sown for the general election and future struggles, helping to build majority support around key issues.
Clinton has a big advantage with historic ties to key organizations and leaders in the African American and Latino communities and women, and among those generally inspired by the prospect of the first woman president. These constituencies will become a bigger factor after Iowa and New Hampshire.
To guarantee the defeat of the right wing, it is imperative to not only deepen understanding of how the ultra right danger poses to democracy but to galvanize the broadest unity around the progressive democratic agenda being forged in the streets and elevate the fight against voter suppression. In this way, the door will be opened post 2016 for a new balance of class and social forces and new struggles for a more radical restructuring of society.
Photo: Labor and its allies are shedding no tears over the bad days being experienced by House Speaker John Boehner and House Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy who quit the race for the job Boehner wants to vacate. The chaos in the Republican Party is the direct result, they note, of that party’s continued catering to its extreme right wing fringe. | Evan Vucci & J. Scott Applewhite/AP