Opinion | The House GOP is high-risk, but low-energy
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Political energy is hard to define but easy to recognize. Observant citizens can usually tell which side is rising, dominating public discussion and giving ownership of the future. Such dynamism can wear off quickly, but it is unmistakable when it appears.
Since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, conservatives have been better than liberals at claiming this kind of momentum, even though Republicans have won the popular vote in a presidential election only once in the past three decades. Democratic presidential victories in 1992, 2008, and 2020 were each followed two years later by a GOP takeover of the House that stymied progressive legislative advances and complicated any claim that history was moving leftward.
But this moment in our politics is very different from Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution of 1994 and the Tea Party rebellion of 2010 — and not just because we can’t get Donald Trump out of our heads.
Especially in Gingrich’s case, but even after the tea party wave, journalists and pundits struggled to make sense of the new big conservative thing that had just happened. Democrats defensively adjusted to what they saw as a new reality (“The era of big government is over,” declared President Bill Clinton in 1996), and Republicans boasted that they knew exactly where the public wanted to go.
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Shortly before the 2010 election, three then-Republican members of Congress, Paul D. Ryan, Eric Cantor, and Kevin McCarthy, published a book called “The New Guns,” with the confident, even Kennedy-like subtitle, “A Generation the new Conservative Leaders.”
(Interestingly, McCarthy, who had first come to Washington as a House staffer in 1987, called in the book to “bring back the American idea and stop careerism.” I guess that makes him an anti-careerist. – careerist.)
The new Republican majority McCarthy leads has none of the forward-looking air of its predecessors, and not just because the party’s nine-seat haul in the House in November pales in comparison to the GOP’s 63-seat gain in 2010 or 54-seat advance in 1994. .
For starters, the coalition it relies on is old. Voters younger than 40 overwhelmingly support Democrats; Republicans are strongest among Americans 65 and older. In Reagan’s time, young Americans were drawn to conservatism. Not any more.
His ideas are also old. It’s surprising that the main excitement of the next Congress is likely to come from the renewal tactics drawn from those previous GOP Congresses that did more harm than good to conservatives.
It was Gingrich’s 1995 Congress that pioneered the government shutdown as a means of forcing budget cuts. Instead, Republicans gave Clinton one of the central arguments in his successful re-election campaign a year later: that he protected the country from GOP cuts to “Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment.”
The fact that President Biden and the Democrats will have a very similar list to recite (plus saving Social Security and blocking a 23 percent sales tax) makes you wonder why conservatives can’t come up with any new material. .
The threat not to raise the debt ceiling — made more urgent by Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen’s announcement that the administration would begin taking “extraordinary measures” this Thursday to keep the government from breaching the limit — is back. at the 2011 Tea Party Convention. .
Again, you want to ask Republicans if they have bigger goals than cutting programs (when the Democrats are in the White House) and holding the full confidence of the United States hostage – and if they aren’t tired of doing the same. things. and over and blowing up in their faces.
The lack of creative energy on the right means that the battle for control over the country’s political agenda is very likely. That’s all the more true because Biden and a still-Democratic-led Senate have a confidence in the wake of the weak GOP mandate that their 1995 and 2011 predecessors didn’t do after being attacked.
The president and his party will also be able to show the projects across the country that they funded in the last Congress – building infrastructure, investing in the fight against climate change and promoting new technologies. This shifts the debate over the role of government from the abstract to the concrete (literally, in many cases).
Overriding moderates and progressives at the federal and state levels last week, I found continued enthusiasm to build on what happened over the past two years and take on new challenges in areas such as child care, the elderly and housing. Republican governors, after all, regularly boast about projects funded largely by federal money recently funneled from Biden-backed programs. Whenever they do, they make the constant attacks on Washington as a wasteful giant no less compelling.
That won’t stop House Republicans from reconsidering such arguments. But voters, as music lovers, get tired of hearing the same old songs and nothing else. The Young Guns of yesteryear are no longer young. Neither are their ideas, objectives or methods. The excitement is gone.
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