A small group of Teahadists, including our very own Doug LaMalfa and Tom McClintock, have managed to seize control of the House Republican caucus and bring the government to a halt. But like the dog that finally succeeds in catching a car, they’re not sure what to do next.
The Teahadists say their goal is to defund ObamaCare, something Democrats and most Republicans don’t think is going to happen. Senator Ted Cruz, who apparently has more clout with House Republicans than Speaker John Boehner, admitted at a private Senate Republican lunch that he doesn’t know how the defund strategy and subsequent shutdown will lead to a GOP victory.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R., Ind.) expressed his own frustration: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
The Democrats laughed and the Republicans grimaced, but that raises a question: How did we reach the point where mindless ideologues can seize control of a branch of government? Because we have permitted redistricting that emphasizes partisanship over balanced representation, the only thing office holders have to fear is intraparty revivals who are farther to the left or right than they are.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates only 90 of 435 Congressional districts as competitive, meaning those seats have a partisan rating that falls within five points of the national average. That’s down from 164 competitive districts–more than a third of the House–since Cook first started keeping track in 1998.
But the situation is actually worse than that. Of the 90 competitive districts, Cook rates only nine of them as tossups, most of them seats now held by Democrats. Just five of the 234 House Republicans represent districts with a Democratic tilt, Cook estimates, with 15 Democrats representing predominantly Republican districts.
This lack of competition has caused many lawmakers to keep a wary eye on the views of their party’s most ideologically driven voters, who have a large influence in primary elections. The situation is exasperated by outfits like the Senate Conservative Fund and Heritage Action, which know there aren’t many dollars in attacking Democrats. As columnist Kimberley Strassel wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal:
“There are…a lot of conservatives who are angry that Mitt Romney failed to win the presidency, that Republicans failed to win the Senate, and that…the GOP has failed to roll back any of President Obama’s liberal agenda. Groups like SCF have used this to their advantage–ginning up a militant defund strategy, beating up conservatives opposed to the tactic as sellouts, and cashing in on grass-roots fury.”
Democrats are hardly innocent bystanders. Many of them believe President Obama has been too willing to compromise with Republicans, something that will come as a surprise to most conservatives. Don’t expect reason and compromise to resurface in Washington as long as elected Republicans only have to fear being perceived as too liberal, and Democrats have to avoid looking like conservatives.
ONE MORE THING: House Speaker John Boehner has shown that he can’t lead a hungry dog to a juicy steak, but he can do what’s right for the country by scheduling a “clean” vote on funding the government. He says it won’t pass. Let’s find out the democratic way.