As the world’s financial system teetered on the edge of collapse in September 2008 and the country stood on the brink of a recession that would turn out to rival the Great Depression, President Bush proposed a $700 billion package that was an attempt to stabilize the markets and the economy by ensuring banks stayed solvent. In what even David Brooks declares was the “revolt of the nihilists”, only 65 House Republicans voted to support the bill, delivering a shocking defeat to Bush that further roiled the markets.
A few days later, congressional leaders tried again and this time the bill passed the House, with Democratic votes providing the margin of victory and again a minority of House Republicans supporting the bill. A few months later, in January of 2009 with Democrats in control of Congress and the White House, every House Republican voted against what would become the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). With Wall Street having already been taken care of, ARRA, insufficient as it was, was designed to bring relief to the American people but still no House Republican could vote for it.
Similarly, in February 2018, with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and Trump in the White House, the government again imminently faced running out of money as well as running up against the debt ceiling. Again, it was 73 votes from the Democratic minority in the House that offset the 67 no votes from Republicans that allowed the budget deal to pass and avoid a government shutdown.
What all these incidents show is that Democrats, even in the minority, have consistently taken the tough votes for the country while Republicans wouldn’t. And now, again, we are seeing Democrats having to do the dirty work that the Republicans refuse to do, even when it ultimately benefits the Republican party. The responsibility of removing Marjorie Taylor Greene, a conspiracist who recently and consistently advocated for the assassination of Democratic leaders, from her committee assignments clearly lay with the Republican party. But the nihilists and now insurrectionists in the GOP caucus couldn’t even bring themselves to do that. So the Democrats are cleaning up their mess once again. And the Republican response is that they will retaliate when they regain control by doing the same to members of the Squad.
While some GOP Senators like Cornyn and McConnell took the opportunity to criticize Greene with the knowledge that they would have nothing to do with actually disciplining her, those same Senators and their Republican colleagues will be given yet another chance by the Democrats to repudiate the extremism that has infected their party with the upcoming impeachment trial. As they did with the impeachment trial a year ago, it is expected that Trump will again be saved from conviction because enough Republican Senators will vote to acquit.
A recent poll showed that 64% of Republicans would follow Trump if he formed a third party. But why would Trump create a third party when he clearly still controls the Republican party and all the branding and infrastructure that comes with it. The people who clearly need to form a third party at this point, and who also clearly haven’t processed that fact yet, are the 36% of the GOP that wouldn’t go with Trump as well as the handful of real moderates in the House and Senate who have voted for Trump’s impeachment. Some Republicans have seemingly gotten the message, with over 30,000 Republicans changing their registrations in the days after the insurrection. And that number comes from just the small number of states that report such registration information in sufficient detail.
Once again, however, Democrats are giving this rump of moderate Republicans another small chance to improve their situation. Extreme partisan gerrymandering has created a situation where most Republicans in the House fear a primary challenge rather than the general election. As a recent study from the Mercatus Center noted, “The data exhibit a trend that is at the very least consistent with increasingly effective gerrymandering. Specifically, the data show that intraparty primary contests are becoming more competitive relative to general elections; this shift tends toward polarization by increasing the electoral value of a candidate’s appeal to a plurality of his or her own party’s voters, while decreasing incentives to accommodate the concerns of independent or opposition-party voters”. The data is inconclusive whether such a trend fuels extremism and party polarization, simply because the country is more spatially polarized as illustrated by the clear urban/rural divide. But, as Mercatus notes, “to the extent that other societal factors fuel partisan polarization, it becomes even more important that gerrymandering not worsen these divisions and that legislative district lines be drawn to mitigate these trends where possible”.
If that 36% of the GOP and the handful of moderates in Congress were smart, they would be supporting Democrats in passing democracy reform, especially the requirement for independent redistricting commissions for redrawing state congressional districts. That alone would open up a few races to moderate Republicans who could challenge their more extremist Republican incumbents in the primary as well as becoming more competitive with Democrats in the general. In fact, the moderate GOP governors in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maryland show the possibilities of such a path. Yes, redistricting reform would probably initially cost Republicans about 20 or so seats in the House. But it would also allow the moderates a small opening to take back their party or to start building one of their own. Yes, there would still be some GOP loons like Greene, but less of them.
Democrats have given the Republican party plenty of opportunities to renounce the extremists, nihilists, and insurrectionists within its own ranks and the party has consistently failed to do so. With their party’s membership decreasing every day, Republican moderates now have an opportunity to work with Democrats to reform the electoral system in order to provide an opportunity for those moderates to expand their numbers, either within the Republican party proper or as a separate third party. If they again renounce this opportunity, they may soon see the national GOP fall into the same irrelevance as the state party in California. In fact, we can already see the irrelevance of the Republican party when it comes to actual policy ideas, perhaps best illustrated by the fact that party couldn’t even put together a platform when it come to the 2020 election. Today, the policy contest today is between the progressive and centrist wings of the Democratic party.
Originally published at https://thesoundings.com on February 7, 2021.