The Real Anatomy of an Implosion

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Submitted by Glen Downs, from Capitol Hill

The Real Anatomy of an Implosion


Today’s “National Journal Daily” – a publication by and for Washington, DC insiders – features an article entitled “Anatomy of an Implosion – How the House GOP’s fiscal plan fell apart”.  In it they give their analysis of the House Republican leadership’s futile efforts together cobble a debt and spending bill together that could garner the 50% +1 needed to pass it.

While much was written about legislative  horse trading and political intrigue, as usual the Washington establishment has a hard time seeing the forest for the trees.  As such, they miss the larger point – namely that the seeds for this ‘implosion’ were sown three years ago when the newly reestablished GOP House majority fundamentally misread the situation they found themselves in.

Republicans failed to grasp the changed nature of the new Republican majority, and thus tried to run their  caucus the same way as in the past, which was doomed to be problematic at best.  Recognizing the need for change will be a key determinant of success or failure in battles to come.

In 2010, House Republicans were unexpectedly propelled back into the majority by an electorate that still had not gotten over its mistrust of the Republican brand.  Yet, the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, and Barney Frank, fueled a populist wave that led to a historic Republican sweep.  Fear of Democrats triumphed over dislike of Republicans.

For the most part the GOP establishment in Washington did not understand the forces that propelled them back into the majority – and to the extent that they did, they did not like them.  Say the words “Tea Party” to long-time Republican powerbrokers and watch the eyes start rolling.

The committee chairmen, staffers, leadership aides, and the leadership themselves ( the individuals who really set the agenda, strategy, and tactics for House Republicans) who took control of the newly-Republican House were seasoned Washington hands, but had little or nothing in common with the forces that – on the margin – were responsible for handing them the reins of power.

Consequently , they didn’t really understand that they were not handed a “Republican” majority, but rather what in parliamentary system would be described as a coalition government.   The more monolithic official “Republican” line of thinking seen in the majorities of the 1990s had been replaced with the multiple worldviews of the Wall  Street/K Street Republican block, the Tea Party/Main Street Republican Block, and of the emerging Liberty/Libertarian block.

Democrats are accustomed to coalition politics and governing.  It is natural for Nancy Pelosi, for instance,  to not even dream of taking a particular legislative tack without prior sign-off from the Black Caucus, or the Hispanic Caucus,  or any of the other alphabet-soup groups that together comprise Democratic Party.

That style of governing is foreign to the follow-the-leader culture of Washington, DC Republican establishment.  I n fact, it was largely resisted – even to the point of refusing to recognize the new post-2010 Republican reality.

The consequences?  Over time, efforts to lead House Republicans  as if they are not the ‘majority of coalitions’ that they are have proved increasingly less effective.   The now-ending debt/spending/Obamacare battle is a case in point.

Failing to fully acknowledge that they are effectively dealing with coalition government partners – rather than an integrated truly single-party caucus – Republicans embarked on an Obamacare strategy that avoided high stakes showdowns, and ultimately forced a day of reckoning with the Tea Party coalition partners.

The decision not to satisfy the Tea Party Block’s desire to attempt to defund Obamacare via the appropriations process in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 election sweep (in which Obamacare was a central theme) sowed the seeds of this week’s implosion.

The GOP leadership, having never felt that previous showdowns were the time or place for a defunding strategy, were faced with the now-or-never Hobson’s choice on the eve of full Obamacare implementation.    Risk losing a bruising spending battle with Obama and the Democrats, or risk losing the closest thing to a ‘no-confidence’ vote that exists in our system of government.

The results were inauspicious at best.

What’s next?

The current deal merely  kicks the can down the road until after the first of the year.  At that time, Republicans will be confronted with another version of “surrender or showdown”.  Will that end any better?

It will depend to a significant degree if the GOP leadership comes to understand the nature of the coalition it is leading.  Otherwise, get ready for “Anatomy of an Implosion II – The Sequel”