If Republicans go along with the Democrats on these issues, it means admitting they were wrong, it means they lose issues they can bash the Democrats with, and it means their crazy rightwing base will punish them with primary challenges.
But if they fight the Democrats on these issues, the sane 90 percent of the country will reject them at the polls, they way they just did on election day.
This is playing out on a number of fronts.
On budget policy, the tea-party caucus is pushing John Boehner to defy Obama and take us over the fiscal cliff, which forces the Republicans to reject their low-tax pledges and become the party that raises taxes on the whole country, a toxically bad idea for any Republican who ever wants to run for office. But if Boehner does the sensible thing and negotiates with Obama, his own caucus will fire him and replace him with Cantor or Ryan in a heartbeat, or that woman with three names. Boehner has had to deal with this push-pull ever since he became Speaker: that’s what happens when your leader can’t lead.
On Obamacare, it is becoming more and more obvious that Americans really do want the provisions in the plan, getting affordable care, preventing insurance corporations from chucking you out when you get too old or have a preexisting condition. Republican governors are trying to screw with implementation of the program, because they hope it will deprive Obama of a historic victory, but it will also anger a lot of voters by taking away affordable health care. So do they admit that their three years of scare tactics about dead grandmothers were a load of crap, and stop fighting it? Or continue to resist changes that the voters want?
On foreign policy, Romney realized too late that trying to fight Obama on foreign policy was going to lead him straight into quicksand, and a public spanking by Candy Crowley. After that scarring experience, Romney simply agreed with all of Obama’s foreign policies while also attacking Obama as a failure on foreign policy, which fooled nobody. So now, as the Israeli-Palestinian crisis cranks up yet again, the Republicans are in a jam: how can they criticize Obama for following the same pro-Israel policy that every President since Truman has pursued? The funniest thing about Republican foreign policy is that, as hard as they try to sound like street-corner badasses ready to fight Iran, they have totally failed to see the hand of Iran in what is going on in Israel. This is a pattern that has played out many times over the last thirty years: whenever the international community puts pressure on Iran, the same thing happens – the world is suddenly distracted by the eruption of new violence further west. An explosion of civil conflict in Lebanon, then the intifada, then Palestinian shelling of Israel, again and again. All concocted by the Iranians. And the Republicans, instead of correctly hollering at one of their favorite targets, Iran, insists on hollering at Obama instead, for doing….exactly what they would have done.
Even on the election itself. Republicans have been hollering for a week that Obama won the election on a foul, by promising illicit goodies to gullible, greedy, lazy women and blacks and Latinos. But in 2014 and 2016 the party will need to win over those same gullible, greedy, lazy groups, who aren’t stupid and will surely remember these post-election insults. So do the Republicans blame minorities for screwing up the 2012 election, or begin sucking up to them for 2016? They can’t do both. And in fact they may not be able to do either: nobody really believes the “minorities wrecked the election” meme except the wingnuts, and minorities and women are not going to fall for any Republican snake-oil salesmen in 2016, even if the two people hopping out of the snake-oil wagon are Piyush Jindal and Nikki Haley. Romney, who will never run again, stuck to the “minorities ruined everything” meme, but many big party players who do have further electoral ambitions slapped him down for insulting minorities. And this makes it easier for us to figure out who is most desperate to exploit these groups for future elections: some of the most vociferous violators of the “thou shalt not criticize fellow Republicans” rule, spanking Romney for being mean to brown people, are Chris Christie, Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, Nikki Haley…
So now Republicans must decide whether they would rather admit they were wrong, and lose elections. Or stick to their guns and try to destroy all of the popular policies that Obama ran on, and lose elections that way.
This isn’t the first time the Republicans have been in this jam. For most of the last century, the American people wanted Democratic policies. So Republicans had to figure out a way to champion the same policies as Democrats, while attacking the Democrats who had championed them first. “I agree with everything my opponent wants to do, and if we elect him it will be a disaster for America!” Eisenhower got away with campaigning as a “New Deal Republican” because he was Eisenhower. Nixon tried the same thing in 1960 and was branded as a laughable purveyor of “me-too-ism”: Nixon only won when he sang the racist sheet music to a temporarily terrified nation in 1968, running against a divided Democratic party.
And now, the Democratic hand is arguably stronger than it was forty years ago. As Ulysses Grant once said, sometimes the only way to kill a bad idea is to try it out. So for the better part of thirty years we tried out Reagan’s Laffer-curve supply-side trickle-down strategy for giving trillions to millionaires and hoping they’d give it all back, and unsurprisingly it was a disaster. Only when Clinton steered us back to the left did we get the ship back on an even keel and create twenty million jobs. So now America knows: we’ve seen both parties run the economy, and we know that the Democratic path leads to jobs and growth.
But when will the Republicans admit it?