GOP reels from self-inflicted wounds

HUMBLING TEA PARTY: Republican House Speaker John Boehner (centre) at the US Capitol on Wednesday. His strategy always involved a gamble that his members would come away from the clash chastened.


    Oct 18, 2013

    GOP reels from self-inflicted wounds

    The New York Times

    FOR the Republicans who despise President Barack Obama's health-care law, the past few weeks should have been a singular moment to turn its problem-plagued rollout into an argument against it.

    Instead, in a futile campaign to strip the law of federal money, the party focused harsh scrutiny on its own divisions, hurt its national standing and undermined its ability to win concessions from Democrats. Then they surrendered almost unconditionally.

    "If you look back in time and evaluate the last couple of weeks, it should be titled 'The Time of Great Lost Opportunity'," said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, among the many Republicans who argued that support for the health-care law would collapse once the public saw how disastrous it really was.

    "It has been the best two weeks for the Democratic Party in recent times, because they were out of the spotlight and didn't have to showcase their ideas," Ms Graham added.

    Now, near the end of a governing crisis that crippled Washington and dismayed a nation already deeply cynical about its political leaders, Republicans are struggling to answer even the most basic questions about the cause and effect of what has transpired over the past few weeks.

    They disagree over how, or even whether, they might grow from the experience. Many could not comprehend how they had failed to prevent such avoidable, self-inflicted wounds.

    Others could not explain why it took so much damage, to their party and the millions of people inconvenienced and worse by the showdown and the shutdown, to end up right where so many of them expected.

    "Someone would have to explain that to me," said Senator John McCain "I knew how it was going to end."

    Said Senator Lisa Murkowski, still in disbelief that many of her fellow Republicans could not grasp that this was a losing battle: "I'm trying to forget it... Here we are. Here we are. We predicted it. Nobody wanted it to be this way."

    All the while, they had the public on their side on the other issues that they could have litigated in the court of public opinion, like the need to get control of the nation's long-term debt.

    The question so crucial to the Republican Party's viability now, heading into the 2014 congressional elections and beyond, is whether it has been so stung by the fallout that the conservatives who insisted on leading this fight will shy away in the months ahead when the government runs out of money and exhausts its borrowing authority yet again.

    It is not an abstract question. The deal reached on Wednesday would finance the government only through Jan 15 and lift the debt ceiling through Feb 7.

    Speaker John Boehner's strategy always involved a gamble that his members would come away from this clash chastened.

    He intentionally allowed his most conservative members to sit in the driver's seat as they tried in vain to get the Senate to accept one failed measure after another - first to defund the health-care law, then to delay it, then to chip away at it.

    His hope was that they would realise that the fight was not worth having again.

    The worry among many Republicans is that the Tea Party flank will not get the message, mainly because their gerrymandered districts are so conservative that they do not have to listen.