The Right Opinion

A New Strategy for the GOP

By Charles Krauthammer · Jan. 18, 2013

WASHINGTON – It has become conventional wisdom that Republicans are suffering an internal split that President Obama is successfully exploiting to neuter the Republican House. It is not true, however, that the Republican split is philosophical and fundamental. And that a hopelessly divided GOP is therefore headed for decline, perhaps irrelevance.

In fact, the split is tactical, not philosophical; short-term, not fundamental. And therefore quite solvable.

How do we know? Simple thought experiment: Imagine that we had a Republican president. Would the party be deeply divided over policy, at war with itself in Congress? Not at all. It would be rallying around something like the Paul Ryan budget that twice passed the House with near 100 percent GOP unanimity.

In reality, Republicans have a broad consensus on program and policy. But they don't have the power. What divides Republicans today is a straightforward tactical question: Can you govern from one house of Congress? Should you even try?

Can you shrink government, restrain spending, bring a modicum of fiscal sanity to the country when the president and a blocking Senate have no intention of doing so?

One faction feels committed to try. It wishes to carry out its small-government electoral promises and will cast no vote inconsistent with that philosophy. These are the House Republicans who voted no on the “fiscal cliff” deal because it raised taxes without touching spending. Indeed, it increased spending with its crazy-quilt crony-capitalist tax “credits” – for wind power and other indulgences.

They were willing to risk the fiscal cliff. Today they are willing to risk a breach of the debt ceiling and even a government shutdown rather than collaborate with Obama's tax-and-spend second-term agenda.

The other view is that you cannot govern from the House. The reason Ryan and John Boehner finally voted yes on the lousy fiscal-cliff deal is that by then there was nowhere else to go. Republicans could not afford to bear the blame (however unfair) for a $4.5 trillion across-the-board tax hike and a Pentagon hollowed out by sequester.

The party establishment is coming around to the view that if you try to govern from one house – e.g., force spending cuts with cliffhanging brinkmanship – you lose. You not only don't get the cuts. You get the blame for rattled markets and economic uncertainty. You get humiliated by having to cave in the end. And you get opinion polls ranking you below head lice and colonoscopies in popularity.

There is history here. The Gingrich Revolution ran aground when it tried to govern from Congress, losing badly to President Clinton over government shutdowns. Nor did the modern insurgents do any better in the 2011 debt-ceiling and 2012 fiscal-cliff showdowns with Obama.

Obama's postelection arrogance and intransigence can put you in a fighting mood. I sympathize. But I'm tending toward the realist view: Don't force the issue when you don't have the power.

The debt-ceiling deadline is coming up. You can demand commensurate spending cuts, the usual, reasonable Republican offer. But you won't get them. Obama will hold out. And, at the eleventh hour, you will have to give in as you get universally blamed for market gyrations and threatened credit downgrades.

The more prudent course would be to find some offer that cannot be refused, a short-term trade-off utterly unassailable and straightforward. For example, offer to extend the debt ceiling through, say, May 1, in exchange for the Senate delivering a budget by that date – after four years of lawlessly refusing to produce one.

Not much. But it would (a) highlight the Democrats' fiscal recklessness, (b) force Senate Democrats to make public their fiscal choices and © keep the debt ceiling alive as an ongoing pressure point for future incremental demands.

Go small and simple. Forget about forcing tax reform or entitlement cuts or anything major. If Obama wants to recklessly expand government, well, as he says, he won the election.

Republicans should simply block what they can. Further tax hikes, for example. The general rule is: From a single house of Congress you can resist but you cannot impose.

Aren't you failing the country, say the insurgents? Answer: The country chose Obama. He gets four years.

Want to save the Republic? Win the next election. Don't immolate yourself trying to save liberalism from itself. If your conservative philosophy is indeed right, winning will come. As Margaret Thatcher said serenely of the Labor Party socialists she later overthrew: “They always run out of other people's money.”

© 2013, The Washington Post Writers Group

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9 Comments

Tex in Oklahoma in Oklahoma said:

"offer to extend the debt ceiling through, say, May 1, in exchange for the Senate delivering a budget by that date"

In these Patriot Post articles, I've read of ample experiences of agreements with progressives wherein conservatives such as Reagan or GW Bush agreed to give in on an issue in return for a postponed compromise. Those postponed compromises did not happen. The progressives simply lied. The same scenario is a high probability with 'raise debt-ceiling now' and 'establish budget later'. I have not observed that virtue among progressives is more prevalent now than in the past. So, where is the optimism that an "utterly unassailable and straightforward" offer is possible?

Friday, January 18, 2013 at 5:14 AM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

All spending stops now-HOUSE RULE- FOR 2013! RINOS come to the right, or we dont need you, in 2016! Millions of Dems,will flock into our corral, once the blinders come off. 16 more quarters of Godzilla, and THEY WILL SEE THE LIGHT-trust me Patriots!! EVIL SOCIALISTS will run out of money, time, and talent! "What's their talent you ask---dividing, downsizing, demoralizing, demagoging, and debt making! LOL.

Friday, January 18, 2013 at 6:37 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

I can see Mr. Krauthammers point to a certain extent. Lay the onus on the Demorats to pass a budget. Make sure it is publisized so they can't deny the fact they haven't passed a budget in over 3 years. Don't rely on them to honor any agreement to cut spending because they won't follow through. It's time to let them own the fiscal disaster they have created.

Friday, January 18, 2013 at 6:52 AM

Ct-Tom in NC said:

Excellent! Republicans should do a lot of voting "Present." The people chose Obama, now let them (us) have him. It is unlikely that the country will be utterly dissolved by 2016, and the people, even some democrats should have this guy's number by then. And, there will be no way they can hold the GOP responsible. "Hey, we let him have his way...."

Friday, January 18, 2013 at 8:36 AM

Tony in Texas replied:

I truely believe we have to hit rock bottom before this mess is ever turned around. That doesn't mean we should stop educating whomever we can but I don't ever see this country again being our country that we knew. Let them own it, it's what they wanted and voted for.

Friday, January 18, 2013 at 9:53 AM

wjm in Colorado said:

Thats the ticket, play dead and let the traitors complete their Transformation! FORWARD over the precipice, collapse the economy, ruin our currency, and who will bail us out? Maybe Chairman Obamao has a cozy deal with China, and the government he envies so much and would emmulate in a heartbeat. No wonder he wants gun control, his takeover and transformation demands it.

Friday, January 18, 2013 at 10:42 AM

Tex Horn in Texas said:

Please, good doctor. While you make some seemingly reasonable points, isn't what you're suggesting the way things have been for years now? Do the Republicans keep rolling over and to what end? Many say that the Republican Party should go left on social values, but doesn't a position on social values define what a conservative is? Do we want a Republican Party that isn't conservative? Frankly, I'm for the conservative so-called Tea Party set to be that thorn in the side of the socialists currently running this country. Hey, Tea Party conservatives in Congress: cause more trouble, not less. Fight the beast the entire way down.

Friday, January 18, 2013 at 11:44 AM

Howard Last in Wyoming replied:

It is not true, however, that the Republican split is philosophical and fundamental. Bovine Manure. You have the Republican Leadership (still an oxymoron) composed of RINO's and wannabe democraps. Then there is the base which is conservative in most cases. The fiscal mess is caused by the leadership. They kept going along with the continuing budget resolutions instead of voting NO and shutting the government down. Instead of funding the Jack Booted Thugs (ATF) just cut their funds to zero. And when was the last time you heard a Republican Big Shot (they are not leaders) say Barry is a communist, where is the birth certificate and college transcripts? What they never said it!

Friday, January 18, 2013 at 4:14 PM

Robinius in Broomfield, Colorado replied:

Howard, suppose the Republicans in the House can shut down the government - who will be blamed for the stopped social security checks and all the other inconveniences? Democrats? Of course not. The Democrats can just sit back and watch the Republican Party disintegrate. They could wait as long as it takes with no political costs for themselves. In the end the Republicans would crack and cave - and for what? Also, please give the birth certificate and college transcripts a rest - Obama is the POTUS! It doesn't matter anymore. As conservatives we need to be pragmatic; suicide is not the answer.

Monday, January 21, 2013 at 12:51 AM