A Republican Party No One Can Control

By Zakaria, Fareed | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), October 14, 2013 | Go to article overview

A Republican Party No One Can Control


Zakaria, Fareed, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


NEW YORK - In trying to explain how Washington got into its current mess, some have focused on ideology. Pundits and politicians note that the country has become more polarized, as have the political parties, particularly the GOP. That diagnosis is accurate, but another distinctive cause of today's crisis might have even more long-lasting effects: the collapse of authority, especially within the Republican Party, which means threats and crises might be the new normal for American politics.

On the surface, the behavior of Republicans today looks a lot like that in 1995 and 1996, when the party took a strong, ideologically-oriented position, stood its ground and shut down the government. But that movement was inspired, shaped and directed by House Speaker Newt Gingrich from start to finish. Today, Speaker John Boehner, by contrast, is following rather than leading. In the 1990s, the crisis proved easier to resolve because Gingrich had the power to speak for his side. Boehner worries that, were he to make a deal, he would lose his job. And he is right to be worried: Tea party members repeatedly warn Boehner not to cut a deal on Obamacare, the budget or immigration.

What's happening is quite unlike the "Contract With America" movement of the 1990s. The tea party is a grass-roots movement of people deeply dissatisfied with the United States' social, cultural and economic evolution over several decades. It's crucial to understand that they blame both parties for this degeneration. In a recent Gallup survey, an astounding 43 percent of tea party activists had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party; only 55 percent had a favorable view. They see themselves as insurgents within the GOP, not loyal members. The breakdown of party discipline coupled with the rise of an extreme ideology are the twin forces propelling the current crisis.

This explains why the Republican Party has seemed so unresponsive to its traditional power bases, such as big business. Part of the problem is that businesses have been slow to recognize just how extreme the tea party is. (They remain stuck in an older narrative, in which their great fear is Democrats with ties to unions.) But even if big business got its act together, it's not clear that the radicals in the House of Representatives would care. …

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