Split Personality Disorder
Kurtz, Howard, Newsweek
Byline: Howard Kurtz
The clash over the debt has exposed the gulf between GOP purists and pragmatists.
However the debt-ceiling standoff is ultimately resolved, the trench warfare between House Republicans and the Democratic president has shown the country that the GOP is caught between its antigovernment fervor and the need to keep the lights on.
The populist Tea Party movement that helped the Republicans capture the House last year is fueled by a loathing for government and a refusal to support a deal with Democrats offering what once would have been unthinkable budget cuts. Republicans have even turned on their own, treating the party stalwart Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell like an ideological traitor for proposing a last-ditch plan to allow President Obama to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling rather than watch the federal government slide into default.
"McConnell needs to be sent home," says Mark Meckler, cofounder of Tea Party Patriots. "It's an embarrassment. It's an abdication of governing responsibility." He is just as dismissive of such House GOP leaders as Speaker John Boehner for their willingness to compromise: "These guys are out of touch with reality."
But compromise is a Washington reality, which is why McConnell first broached his plan with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who promised not to trash it. More telling, perhaps, was his call to Grover Norquist, the conservative crusader who has gotten most Republican members of Congress to sign a no-new-taxes pledge. "I think it makes sense," he told the senator. Norquist tells NEWSWEEK he would rather have Obama "own the whole thing" than see Republicans accept "a phony budget deal that looked like you were cutting spending."
What remains of the party's pragmatic wing is nervous. John McCain says independent voters "are now up for grabs," and that "too many new Republicans are already committed to not raising the debt ceiling no matter what." And how times have changed: Bruce Bartlett, a onetime aide to Ronald Reagan, says that "Reagan couldn't get elected dogcatcher these days. He raised taxes at least 11 times. …