, Salem, MA


January 12, 2013

Shribman: Identity crisis in the GOP


These lawmakers will oppose any compromises with the president and will do so with political impunity. Some of them won Republican primaries against establishment figures who might have been lured into a grand bargain, or even an itty-bitty bargain. Their financial supporters and their districts will back them — will cheer them on — if they foment rebellion.

Capitol Hill hasn’t seen a generation of newcomers like the ones from the last two elections since the Watergate class of 1974, and those Democrats changed Congress indelibly. If you doubt it, consider whether the phrase “campaign finance reform” would have any meaning whatsoever if those Watergate babies hadn’t been elected. Five of these political mastodons remain in Washington 38 years later. Their average American Conservative Union rating for 2011, the latest year for which figures are available, was under 6 on a scale of 100. (Two of the three members of the Utah House delegation won ratings over 95.)

All of this ferment on the right would be startling to a visitor from another age, accustomed to viewing Republicans as bland oatmeal, preoccupied by debts and deficits (but in many cases being dependable — in fact, indispensable — advocates for measures to extend rights to Americans left out or falling behind).

And yet the beginning of all wisdom in today’s Republican Party is that the party’s record against President Barack Obama is 1-4.

The GOP’s lone victory came in the 2010 midterm congressional elections, which is not insignificant; it changed the chemistry of Congress. But its defeats are perhaps more important: The president’s two election triumphs, the passage of Obamacare and last month’s fiscal cliff. Obama, the only Democratic president in three-quarters of a century to win a majority victory twice in a row, may not have a ferocious fastball, but he has mastered the slider and the curve.

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