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David Harsanyi / October 2, 2015

The GOP Is Overmatched

If for some reason you needed additional evidence that the Republican Party is deeply incompetent, unprepared, uncoordinated and inexcusably lazy, then try watching Cecile Richards’ appearance in front of Congress earlier this week. Now, I get that these kinds of hearings are normally a waste of time, but in this instance, the GOP had some good reasons to project competence. This is, after all, the issue that’s generated so much tension within the party of late. An effective showing — something resembling a smart prosecution — might have allayed a bit of the percolating discontent. Yet there Republicans were, facing a CEO whose organization performs vivisections on humans and harvests baby brains, and the best they could do most of the time was alternate between slow-pitching Richards some hangers and ensuring her martyrdom.

If for some reason you needed additional evidence that the Republican Party is deeply incompetent, unprepared, uncoordinated and inexcusably lazy, then try watching Cecile Richards’ appearance in front of Congress earlier this week.

Now, I get that these kinds of hearings are normally a waste of time, but in this instance, the GOP had some good reasons to project competence. This is, after all, the issue that’s generated so much tension within the party of late. An effective showing — something resembling a smart prosecution — might have allayed a bit of the percolating discontent. Yet there Republicans were, facing a CEO whose organization performs vivisections on humans and harvests baby brains, and the best they could do most of the time was alternate between slow-pitching Richards some hangers and ensuring her martyrdom.

Most of the committee’s Republicans followed Jason Chaffetz’s lead in aimless grandstanding — which seems to be the purpose of these show trials. Self-preservation. Others spent their time chastising Richards over finances, demanding she answer questions about “market penetration” and “unit prices.”

*Ms. Richards, will you send over those figures?

Sure. I’ll do my best!*

If you’re arguing about decimal points, Planned Parenthood is winning. Democrats aren’t concerned about spreadsheets or fungibility, because they’re too busy accusing Republicans of hatching a plot to eliminate pap smears and mammograms for every poor woman in the country.

Republicans brought up Richards’ compensation, which was fine, as she and the fetus disposal business she manages benefit generously from taxpayer handouts. But they should have brought it up once. Going back to her salary repeatedly became badgering, and it means Politico and other media organizations can now ignore the most vital parts of the proceedings and headline their pieces “GOP chair attacks Planned Parenthood president’s salary.”

Yet these Republicans kept “strenuously objecting” — over and over again.

Naturally, Democrats — who offered a stream of ludicrous assertions themselves, but who can really blame them for doing their job? — immediately unsheathed the “war on women” canard, accusing the GOP of engaging in “misogyny” for asking Richards questions. Carolyn Maloney declared, “The entire time I’ve been in Congress, I’ve never seen a witness beaten up and questioned about their salary,” even though Maloney was there when CEOs — people who don’t subsist on taxpayer funding — were grilled far worse.

Not that any Republican called her out on it. Republicans, in fact, had no answer for this line of attack other than some tepid protestation. That’s another problem, considering Mia Love, who should be leading the defense on this issue, used her time to inarticulately re-ask a bunch of questions that had already been proved to be ineffective.

It’s worth pointing out that unlike most of the GOP members of the committee, Richards actually earns her salary. She exhibits impressive composure and rhetorical discipline, never wandering off her chosen focus for too long, and basically does everything Jim Jordan does not. The Ohio rep looked as if he was about to hop over the lectern, grab her by the arms and demand answers. The optics were horrible, and the trivial gotcha that made him act like a transmuting Bruce Banner — whether Richards had actually apologized for the videotapes or not — was also irrelevant.

He could have tricked Richards into acknowledging she had lied when she said that Planned Parenthood “never claimed” to offer mammograms. That would have taken preparation and research rather than yelling. Republicans never, setting aside all the hysterical parsing of the media, got Richards to admit that Carly Fiorina’s comments regarding human fetuses being delivered intact and alive during abortions were irrefutable. How about offering some examples and quotes from real people? Richards got away with pretending she knew nothing about such events. Broadly speaking, we don’t even know whether Richards believes there should be any gestational limit on abortions. If she’s in line with the Democratic Party, she believes abortion should be legal until crowning. That radicalism was never on display — which is inexcusable.

With the exception of Tim Walberg, none of the representatives made anything close to a compelling moral case for life. They rarely do. They probably can’t.

Chances that anyone is defunding Planned Parenthood are remote, if there’s any chance at all. And yes, the base often has unrealistic expectations about what Congress can do without the presidency. But if you can’t do a better job in these skirmishes, the ones that lay the groundwork for future battles, you’re projecting ineptness — or, in this case, you’re proving it.

If you can’t induce the CEO of Planned Parenthood to feel even slightly uncomfortable about defending videos that find her employees talking about humans as if they were commodities, you have the wrong people asking the questions. And because it’s clear that there was zero coordination and there was minimal preparation (repurposing some graphs from pro-life groups is hardly work), voters have no reason to believe that their concerns matter very much to you. The first step to not performing this badly is acting as if you do care, even if we all know you’re just engaged in theater.

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