“A Plan to Save the Republican Party,” is the headline for Daniel Altman’s latest article in Foreign Policy. In it, the economics professor at the Stern School of Business describes the growing rift that began with primary challenges to Republican incumbents and most recently climaxed with the standoff over defunding the Affordable Care Act. Altman argues that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and the rest of the leaders of the GOP’s mainstream wing should essentially deploy the political nuclear option: a view that formally distances them from the Tea Party in hopes of saving the party in the long term.
Altman comes to the bleak conclusion that the GOP will “probably blow it.” If Boehner and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have any sense, they will find a way to save the party in the long term. That solution is a split. Encouraging a split in the GOP is not synonymous with the left’s long-held dream that such a split will eventually occur. A more moderate and economically focused Republican Party would not only pose a challenge to the Democrats, but would salvage the broken political system the GOP’s radical wing has created.
The Obama years, like them or not, have undeniably altered the makeup of the Republican party: Beginning with Sarah Palin’s mobilization of the Tea Party in 2008 (and the McCain-Palin ticket’s subsequent epic failure), the Republican party has become increasingly divided over opposition to the Obama administration’s agenda items, from social to economic issues.
Nowhere is this split more evident than in the culmination of the shutdown and debt ceiling debates. Boehner, who has even privately admitted he would be willing to risk his speakership to prevent a default of the nation’s debt, seems to implicitly recognize that such a split is coming. Even Grover Norquist, the pioneer of the infamous “no new taxes pledge,” was not hesitant to ridicule Tea Party Republican Ted Cruz for “push[ing] House Republicans into traffic and wander[ing] away.”
A slew of weekend polls put Congress, and more specifically the Tea Party, at all-time lows in the polls. Midterm elections loom, as does the presidential election in 2016. A split now would prevent the nightmarish loss of mainstream Republicans’ seats to more right-wing primary candidates, as was the case for Richard Lugar in Indiana last fall. Moreover, it would insulate moderate GOP presidential hopefuls such as Gov. Chris Christie from the damage done by radical candidates such as former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. Instead, the current GOP makeup bundles them all together, and election results such as President Obama’s resounding defeat of Mitt Romney, who was pushed too far to the right by the primary season, will be the inevitable result.
The division would also move the country forward politically. This is not to suggest it would make it easier for Democrats to push their agenda down the throat of Republicans, but rather to suggest that GOP opposition would become more rational, productive and effective. In the case of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a slew of ad-hoc attacks on the path to citizenship provisions by the party’s more radical wing virtually obliterated the gains of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” which saw both parties come together to craft legislation that incorporated the goals of each. In a world where the GOP smartly endorsed a split from the Tea Party, comparatively more things would happen for the American people — and they wouldn’t necessarily be more liberal policies.
If Ted Cruz gets to read Dr. Seuss on the floor of the Senate, John Boehner should play more Taylor Swift on the floor of the House. The Republican Party is never, ever getting back together — and it will be better for all of us.
Nathaniel Haas is a sophomore majoring in economics and political science. His column “A House Divided” runs Thursdays.
Follow Nathaniel on Twitter @Haas4Prez2036