Three events occurred in the tight confines of Capitol Hill last week that underscore the Republican Party’s extraordinary institutional decline and its responsibility for the Congress’ fully deserving its ‘do-nothing’ label.
First, early in the week, all but seven Republicans in the GOP–controlled House of Representatives voted to give Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio the go-ahead to sue President Obama because they claim his executive orders are in violation of the constitution. The purpose of that “political stunt,” the president’s words for the lawsuit (which he and the Democrats have come to relish for the 2014 campaign), is to keep alive the GOP’s rhetoric about impeaching the president if the November elections give them control of the Senate.
Secondly, later in the week Boehner was forced to give up on a GOP-drafted bill to authorize emergency funds for the government’s efforts to cope with the sudden crisis of undocumented immigrant children massing at the U.S-Mexico border. The first-level reason for that stunning rebuke of a Speaker of the House by his own party members was that GOP hard-line conservatives made it clear they wouldn’t vote for their own party’s bill.
But what made the rebuke to Boehner even more humiliating was the week’s third noteworthy event, which was actually a facet the second. That was that the hard-liners had been urged on by the Tea Party’s favorite U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. According to numerous media reports, Cruz had met with a dozen or more of the House hard-liners the night before the scheduled July 31 vote to declare his opposition to it. The next day, Boehner, clearly seeing he didn’t have the votes for passage, pulled the bill from consideration.
Boehner allies in the House pledged to try to get a spending measure enacted before Congress broke for the summer recess. But the real point of the week’s developments had been made, reinforcing what has been evident since President Obama took office.
First, in the midst of a crisis, when America’s national government needs to act swiftly, count on the Republican Party, driven by its reflexive anti-Obama mania, to oppose any positive action. Secondly, the GOP, which still boasts about its adherence to tradition and conservative principles, remains wracked by an internal battle between conservative extremists and establishment regulars only slightly less vicious than its war against the president.
That civil war these past six years has produced the electoral primary defeats of such staunch GOP veterans as former Senators Robert Bennett of Utah and Richard Lugar of Indiana and, in June, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor—all deemed not conservative enough by the GOP’s Tea Party reactionaries.
Cruz, who’s been running for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination since his election in 2012, has waged the war of disruption against the GOP congressional establishment in both the House and the Senate in unprecedented fashion. From the first, he’s been eager to show his disrespect of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and Boehner. His meddling in House matters last week marks the second time he’s undercut Boehner in order to grab the spotlight and build support among the GOP’s reactionary base. Last year, he was among the loudest voices urging GOP hard-liners to stand fast for a government shutdown.
Cruz’s sabotage last week led New York Republican, Peter T. King, to complain to a New York Times reporter, “I do wish that Ted Cruz would stay in the Senate. Nobody elected him Speaker. It’s really a cheap shot to be coming in from the side. To have some guy come in from the outside like the Pied Piper is wrong.”
And yet, Cruz’s behavior perfectly represents the political game going on with the conservative side of American politics these days, a game whose goal is sowing chaos. Cruz and his Tea Party confederates must disrupt the GOP’s own time-honored political processes and lines of authority, sow internal party chaos, if they’re to seize power from establishment figures like Boehner and McConnell.
That strategy has both intensified and yet, ironically, also undercut the commitment the GOP leadership itself made at the very beginning of Obama’s first term to reflexively oppose his administration proposals (to sow governmental chaos) in order to re-capture the White House.
Those two dynamics adopted by the conservative movement and the Republican Party are the major reasons why the American politics of this era is so polarized: because, for them, political chaos is the goal.
(Lee A. Daniels is a longtime New York journalist. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.)