At least that’s the case if you have the temerity to run for office without paying homage to those who would shut down the government in the interest of doing away with the Affordable Care Act — also known as “Obamacare” — among other extreme actions.
With Congress enjoying the dog days of summer at home, leaving the rest of us with a short respite from their chaos, the focus will be on the latest drive to overturn the giant health-reform plan by defunding it, even at the perilous cost of shutting down the government, a tactic with extremely dangerous results for its supporters.
The stress factor is already building for one of those fiscal cliffhangers Congress loves these days. Four conservative Republicans — Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky — are leading the defunding call. Will it happen? Probably not, but what might occur is serious damage to the electability of Republicans in next year’s important mid-term congressional voting and further violence to the GOP’s hopes of recapturing the White House in 2016 and beyond. Those signs are already on the horizon.
To meet the demands of the far right, GOP moderates must take positions untenable with general-election success. If they don’t, they stand to lose to primary candidates from the far-right fringes.
It’s pretty simple. Take Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for instance. Most observers count him a staunch conservative, but that might not be radical enough. He has refused to sign on to the defund movement, so he faces a rabble-rousing true believer in the primary who might just put him in harm’s way in the reddest of states.
Even if McConnell survives, he could face in the general election a bright, charismatic woman who is Kentucky’s secretary of state and already shows a flair for tough campaigning. She recently quipped that if McConnell had a kidney stone, he would refuse to pass it.
A bit farther south and east, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham also is being challenged for refusing to subscribe to the defunding drive. Businesswoman Nancy Mace wants to upend Graham, contending that neither Republicans nor Democrats want Obamacare and that denying it the necessary funds is a great idea.
The big plan has failed to win popular appeal even now, on the eve of its installation. But totally disrupting the government to end it would be, most agree, an economic and political disaster.
This leaves Republican centrists concerned that it could cost the party dearly, as did unwise choices in the 2012 election. Then, the GOP failed to gain control of the Senate because of losses by hard-right candidates: In Indiana, former Sen. Richard Lugar lost the primary to Richard Mourdock, who lost in the general election; in Missouri, Rep. Todd Akin couldn’t unseat the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, considered highly vulnerable. Both Republican candidates lost because of extreme positions on women’s health issues, namely rape and abortion.
Rubio is among several Republicans expected to be in the thick of the scramble for the party’s presidential nomination. His participation in the defunding scheme has all the earmarks of trying to recoup some lost ground with the ultra-conservatives he lost by pressing the Senate’s adoption of an immigration reform bill.
So when Congress reconvenes in September, expect the chaos that has been the hallmark of the legislative process for the last decade to get worse. Republicans interested in winning elections to effect change can well see the future is not terribly bright, unless there is some acknowledgment that the American electorate has changed dramatically. Americans vote mainstream — sometimes a little right or a little left, but not too far either way.
Democrats seem to have only to wait quietly as the opposition disintegrates. While that may seem extreme, it is not so much as the political miscalculations emanating from the GOP’s far right.
Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.