We all watched in amazement and horror as the Democratic Party led its minions off the cliff and made them vote to jam through Obama’s health care law. We knew it was mass suicide, but we watched with incredulity as they bravely stepped up to drink the Kool-Aid. Now it is the turn of the Republicans freshmen — the very people who inherited the seats of those who walked the plank — to march off a cliff of their own.
The electorate that impelled the GOP triumph in 2010 will not tolerate a breaking of the Republican promise to cut $100 billion from the budget. They will accept, of course, the pro-rated share of the advertised total — $61 billion over seven months — but not anything less. It is a simple matter of keeping one’s campaign promises.
Any freshman who votes for a budget deal below $61 billion will face a primary and likely defeat either for the nomination of in the general election. That is just the fact of political life.
The Tea Party supporters and the aroused Republican electorate will not stand for it. The myopia which obscures Boehner’s and Cantor’s view of this reality is as blinding as that which made Pelosi, Obama, and Reid sacrifice their majority over health care.
If Boehner comes to a deal below $61 billion, he will face the massive defection of his own party. A fundamental split between Tea Party and establishment Republicans will have opened up and will not heal for the balance of the session. If Boehner needs to cross the aisle to borrow Democratic voters to pass the deal, he will become a coalition speaker — a coalition of donkeys and RINOs. The real Republican conservatives will be in the minority. But they will have with them the vast bulk of the GOP electorate, a re-alignment which will become painfully clear in 2012’s primaries.
If senior Republicans back a deal of less than $61 billion, they need to pay heed to the fates of Utah Senator Bennett, Delaware Congressman Mike Castle, and Florida Governor Charlie Crist. And they need to note as well the legion of senior Democrats from seemingly invulnerable districts who lost their seats in 2010. That may well be their fate.
And why are Boehner and Cantor marching off the cliff? The Republican Party will win a government shutdown. It will be the defining event of the 2011-2012 cycle. Faced with a choice between more spending and less spending, the American people will back less spending. The lessons of 1995-1996 do not apply. Clinton won that shutdown (in which I was instrumental) because the fight was about Medicare. Had the battle been merely quantitative — as this fight would be — the Republicans would easily have prevailed.
When John Boehner and Eric Cantor sit down to decide whether to take a deal or not, here are the stakes:
If they take a deal below $61 billion, they will split their party, alienated their supporters, trigger a mass of primary fights, lose their ability to strike deals over the debt limit or the 2012 budget, and terminate the revolution of 2010. And Obama will be re-elected.
If they reject such a deal and shut down the government, they will galvanize their supporters, paint Obama into a liberal corner, force the Democrats to accede to their budget cuts, and win the fights over the debt limit, Obamacare repeal, EPA, NLRB, and the 2012 budget because the Democrats will be too petrified to weather another shut down. And Obama will be defeated.
Those are the stakes for the leaders.
For the members, the decision as to whether to follow their leaders off a cliff is simple: Do you value your seat in Congress you worked so hard to win?