Last Thursday, the Republican House leadership released their 21-page “Pledge to America,” a document containing more rhetorical flourishes and safe sentiments to “uphold the purpose and promise of a better America,” than substantive — or even conservative — solutions.
Pundits from across the spectrum were left dissatisfied in the wake of its release, from New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman, who found few concrete proposals to harp on amid pages of “nonsense,” (“Downhill With the G.O.P,” Sept. 23) to Erick Erickson of redstate.com, who dismissed it as “dreck” for its lack of Tea Party-inspired proposals to eliminate Social Security or pass a balanced budget amendment (“Perhaps the Most Ridiculous Thing to Come Out of Washington Since George McClellan,” Sept. 22). Predictably, though, other conservative media outlets found it bold and refreshing, with “National Review” calling it a “shrewd political document” (“We’ll Take the Pledge,” Sept. 22).
The Pledge — in particular, the reactions to it by Erickson and “National Review” — perfectly illustrates the problem faced by the Republican Party: It is a house divided against itself.
The GOP knows it has the votes of the Tea Party, but its K Street ties, keep it from being fully embraced by the nominally still-independent group. Similarly, the GOP knows it has the votes of the American corporatocracy, but big business sees the potential for the populist and anti-establishment attitudes of the Tea Party to backfire against them once Republicans take the wheel. Above all, the Republican leadership knows that it will take more than these constituencies to carry them to victory in the midterms and beyond.
After a decade of unity under the banner of neoconservativism, the GOP is rather new at dealing with party division that Democrats have dealt with — in the form of Blue Dogs — for decades. Though the Pledge makes efforts to “sound insurrectionist,” as the New York Times opined Saturday, it is “the same old Washington elite” trying to unite the side of its party steadfastly opposed to government spending with the one that profits largely from that spending.
The Pledge places highest priority on three things: repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, though keeping its most popular provisions in place; extending the Bush tax cuts, though Obama has already extended them for 98 percent of taxpayers; and cutting federal spending, though there are some “common-sense exceptions.” Each of these points clearly demonstrates the conflicts within the party’s key constituencies and with the general public.
The first point, rolling back big-government meddling in our health care system, is largely to appease the Tea Party. However, the GOP seeks to broaden its stance’s appeal to the general public — simultaneously leaving a sour taste in the Tea Party’s mouth — by keeping in place the most popular provisions of big-government meddling. It still outlaws discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, bans insurance rescission and eliminates annual and lifetime benefit caps.
On the other hand, the expansion of Bush tax cuts and other tax-reduction proposals seek to cull the votes of K Street contributors, yet grate against the beliefs of a plurality of the country who think that tax cuts should not be expanded to the rich (couples making more than $250,000 or individuals making more than $200,000 per year).
Going hand-in-hand with the tax cut proposal is deficit reduction. Arguing for deficit reduction is a point that everyone loves to hear, but no one seems to want to put into place; the tax cuts Republicans propose extending will cost $700 billion more than the Democratic plan, yet the Pledge proposes only $100 billion and cuts and promises not to touch Social Security or Medicare. In striving not to alienate those conservative columnist David Frum referred to as the “older, richer, whiter electorate” of midterm elections, the GOP has taken a stance bound to disappoint the anti-entitlement Tea Party constituency.
Sixty percent of Americans disapprove of congressional Democrats, and by all accounts, it seems Republicans are going to make massive gains come November. But can it last? Disappointment with Democrats can only do so much for the GOP, themselves viewed with disapproval by a stunning 68 percent of Americans. Frantically rehashing old — dare I say Democratic — ideas to win over a disparate electorate may work through November, but given the time for its major constituencies to grow apart and the sluggish economic recovery predicted no matter who is elected, the GOP will need something new come 2012.