COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., October 20, 2013 — Following the GOP surrender last week, the meme has been that the GOP suffered a huge defeat and that the Tea Party is dead. Not only did Congress pass an increase in the debt ceiling, but it also erased the 2011 sequester. It seems that the cause of fiscal responsibility — the cause that sparked the Tea Party movement — has suffered a big defeat. But is it dead?
A sports team can go from victory to victory and eventually win a championship. Sooner or later, however, opponents figure out the secret to their success and devise effective strategies to counter it. At the same time, the winning team will continue to use the same plays, the same strategy, until they exhaust it. They will become victims of their own success.
So it is in politics.
The Democrats won this round of budget negotiations because they devised a winning strategy. It had nothing to do with the issues and nothing to do with the legislative process. It was naked power on display. The president refused to negotiate. He staked a position and he did not waver. The House of Representatives, who own the power of the purse, made a dozen or more budget proposals. The senate blocked every single one.
Something else happened, too. Democrats began attacking Republicans in their home districts. In Colorado, Representatives Gardner, Tipton and Coffman all caved. Two out of three defeated Democrat incumbents in 2010 and were re-elected in 2012. They have big targets on their backs and they know it. Their votes don’t mean they’re not conservative, only that they believe they are vulnerable.
Only Rep. Doug Lamborn stood firm. In the reliably red Fifth Congressional District, he has been a consistent fiscal conservative, one of the best in the House. The Democrats attack him too, but letters to the editor in the failing local newspapers have little real effect.
Enough Republicans nationwide felt threatened enough to get the House to capitulate. Politics is the art of the possible and stopping Obamacare, reining in the deficit spending, and restoring fiscal sanity all at once just wasn’t possible this month. That’s not to say it will never be possible.
Political pressure applied outside the framework of governing forced the GOP to give up its effort. The resulting bill gave the president everything he wanted — for now. All that happened is that the day of reckoning was kicked down the road once again, now to February 2014. Each time the kind of decision that needs to be made is put off, the reckoning becomes ever more terrible.
It’s like a family over their heads in debt. The husband blames the wife for spending too much and the wife blames the husband for not making enough money. Perhaps the roles are reversed. The bickering continues until they agree to see a credit counselor. The counselor advises cutting up the credit cards. Does one spouse then blame the other for negotiating “with a gun to the head”? Are the credit cards being “held hostage”? Is the credit counselor a “terrorist”?
That kind of rhetoric makes no sense, but that scenario is exactly what was on display for Americans outside the beltway. Fiscal conservatives lost this round, but we learned some important lessons that will bring us closer to victory in the next round if we learned them well.
First, we learned who our friends are and who our friends are not. We all know that radicals in the administration are transforming our country by bringing large segments of the economy into the public sector and regulating the life out of what’s left of the private sector. No surprise there. But when vocal Republicans like McConnell and McCain slam fiscal conservatives in the same way that radical Democrats do, their colors stand out.
Friday the Senate Conservatives Fund endorsed Matt Bevin for U.S. Senate in Kentucky and has already raised over $83,000 for his campaign against Mitch McConnell. McConnell, who has been wooing grassroots conservatives and fellow Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, can no longer even pretend to be a conservative. The SCF also endorsed Chris McDaniel against Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran.
While the Republican establishment lost two very good opportunities to turn the senate in 2010 and 2012, conservatives gained ground in both elections. If Republicans do take the senate in 2014 or 2016, it will be with a conservative majority.
Second, all Americans learned that a federal government shutdown is not the end of the world. The boogeyman of “government shutdown” turned out to be nothing. In the middle of negotiations, Democrats realized that they were taking a lot of heat for their infantile and petty harassment of American citizens.
They changed the story to “government default.” This is an out-and-out lie because the federal government has more than enough money to pay its obligations — but it was a new lie and Americans fell for it this time. Perhaps in February the Republicans will need to blow past this boogeyman, too.
Dies Irae: When the day of reckoning comes, Americans will remember who advocated for fiscal sanity and who insisted on driving the debt train full speed ahead. The result will not be pretty for radical Democrats and squishy Republicans.
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