Just when you think the Republican Party can’t possibly be more chaotic and disorganized, another internal brawl breaks out. Except for opposition to President Obama, what do these people have in common?
The latest GOP fight is over how to express meaningless, ineffectual rejection of the president’s nuclear deal with Iran. The House leadership was ready to offer a simple resolution of disapproval, which the big Republican majority could easily pass. It might not clear the Senate’s 60-vote margin – and if it did, Obama would exercise his veto. Still, the House’s view would be on record.
But no, that would be too easy. Rebellious far-right members balked, favoring instead a set of three related bills meant to voice, I suppose, extra-special triple disapproval. One measure would accuse the president, absurdly, of making some kind of secret side-deal with Iran. Another would block Obama from lifting sanctions. The third would ask the House to approve the deal rather than disapprove it – a way of forcing Democrats to vote affirmatively for a controversial policy.
It’s unclear how such an overstuffed package would be received in the Senate. But it’s crystal clear that even if some or all of it passed both chambers, Obama would use his veto and that would be that. With 42 senators on record as supporting the deal, the president could not be overridden.
Plus, the three-headed approach is illogical. The whole point is to give Republicans in Congress a chance to show their rejection of the agreement. Passing a resolution saying “we don’t like the deal” would at least accomplish that symbolic goal. Voting down a resolution that says “we like it just fine” is not quite the same thing.
Why did Speaker John Boehner and his team agree to even consider taking this roundabout route to nowhere? Perhaps because two presidential candidates – billionaire Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas – headlined a rally Wednesday at the Capitol to rail against the Iran pact and charge that the GOP establishment is not fighting hard enough to thwart the president. Mentions of Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell drew boos from the passionate crowd.
It’s nothing new for House Republicans to tilt at windmills; they’ve passed more than 50 bills repealing all or part of the Affordable Care Act, not one of which had the slightest effect. But this long-standing disagreement over legislative tactics is hardly the only schism dividing the GOP these days.
Now, thanks largely to front-runner Trump, there is also an increasingly sharp divide over economic policy. Plutocrats, free-traders and supply-siders are on the defensive – and rapidly losing ground.
Trump, of course, is an unabashed plutocrat. But his ideas about the economy are pure heresy, as far as the party establishment is concerned. He believes the rich should pay more in taxes. He complains that free-trade agreements have been disastrous for American workers. He defends entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security. He charges that his opponents for the nomination are bought and paid for by powerful corporate interests.
The keepers of Republican orthodoxy, such as the Club for Growth, and the party’s donor class are aghast. But Trump’s message is definitely connecting with GOP voters.
How can I be so sure? Because the most establishment-friendly candidate of them all, Jeb Bush, issued a tax-reform plan this week that would eliminate the “carried interest” loophole. That’s the sweet gimmick that allows wealthy hedge-fund managers and some other investors to pay taxes at a lower rate than their limousine drivers.
“The new normal is a comfortable ride for the affluent people that live off their portfolios,” Bush said at a factory in North Carolina. “My plan will help those who live on their paychecks, who haven’t seen a raise in a while.”
I repeat: That’s not socialist Bernie Sanders talking. It’s Jeb, the patrician-born presidential scion.
Meanwhile, the intra-party fight over immigration continues. Trump, again, threw the first haymaker with his proposal to deport 11 million undocumented men, women and children. The idea is cruel, completely unworkable, probably fatal in the general election – and quite popular with the Republican base.
Establishment-backed candidates have been forced to denounce reasonable solutions on immigration and come out in favor of border walls that will never be built. But many GOP voters have deeper questions about the impact of large-scale immigration.
It’s healthy for a party to have robust internal debate – but not to devolve into a giant political fight club.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.