November 1, 2016
Throughout the fall campaign, journalists have repeatedly asked Republican Congressional candidates whether or not they will vote for Donald Trump. While seemingly consequential, it actually is the wrong question to ask since it reveals nothing about what they will do come January 2017 when the Donald likely will be a political footnote.
The more important question is: do they intend to govern or will they merely continue the politics of obstruction?
Birth of the Republican Taliban
Eight years ago, Barack Obama came to office in a historic election with the highest Democratic vote percentage since Lyndon Johnson. On inauguration day, leading Republicans met with pollster Frank Luntz and former Speaker Newt Gingrich as the nation was reeling from the Great Recession (661,000 Americans lost their job in December 2008 alone).
Who did the Republican leadership look to as a model during this challenging time? The Founding Fathers? Guess again. Abraham Lincoln, the party’s first President? Not even close. Instead, Republicans looked for inspiration to the religious extremists terrorizing Afghanistan – the Taliban. Republicans cited the Taliban and its ongoing fight against the Afghani government to conclude that they should not be legislative partners in governing, but rather insurgents challenging the regime at every turn.
The answer to every Democratic proposal was “no” — even before it was proposed. As former Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich explained, if President Obama was for something “we had to be against it”. Voinovich added that
All [Republican Leader Mitch McConnell] cared about was making sure Obama could never have a clean victory.
The Math of Sabotage
The end result of the Republican’s Taliban strategy was that (i) to the extent President Obama’s major initiatives passed it was with few, if any, Republican votes; (ii) the Republicans shut down the government and pushed the country to the brink of default over the once routine practice of raising the debt limit; and (iii) the United States Senate, once known as the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, was tied in knots over record filibusters.
The party consciously decided to sabotage the workings of government knowing full well that by “sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner“. It worked to an extent with Republicans retaking the House and Senate in 2010 and expanding their majorities in 2014, but failing to regain the White House in 2012.
Kabul on the Potomac
The culmination of the Republican insurgency is the ongoing refusal to even consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland. Republican Senator Orin Hatch once praised Judge Garland as a “fine man” who could “easily be confirmed,” but not with the current Republican leadership.
People forget that Supreme Court nominations normally are not political rugby matches, as 96 percent had a Senate vote within three months and Justice Stevens, O’Connor, Scalia and Kennedy were among the recent Justices confirmed unanimously.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell says “[l]et’s let the American people decide,” by selecting a new President, but Republicans are already signaling they might continue their embargo on the Supreme Court should Hillary Clinton win. Senator John McCain recently revealed
I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.
It is a pretty sad statement that the candidate who ran in 2008 on the slogan “Country First” is now promising four more years of Kabul on the Potomac. It is no mere errant statement by an 80-year old Senator, as Senators Cruz and Lee have made similar comments.
Do Your Job
This electorate is screaming for change. They want to have their voices heard and they want a government that works for them. It matters little to them whether Kelly Ayotte or Pat Toomey vote for Clinton or Trump, but it does matter if they will vote for Senator McConnell, who famously said his number one priority was ensuring that President Obama was a one-term President, as their party leader.
It does not matter if Richard Burr or John McCain reject some of Trump’s outrageous statements if they are going to continue the Gingrich-McConnell era of treating opposition party status as equivalent to a low grade civil war in which advancement of the party is more important that addressing the needs of the nation.
A more modern day Patriot, Bill Belichick, leads his NFL team with the mantra “Do Your Job.” With a week to go until the election and early voting well in progress, now is the time for the media to demand that Republican Congressional candidates answer the question of whether they will do theirs.