Republicans Don’t Know How To Handle Power-By Warner Todd Huston

…It’s just that simple.

The GOP has been out of the channels of power since FDR’s Democratic Party co-opted socialism to remake their party into the “Party of the people” at the end of Hoover’s term. That was in 1933, for those keeping track.

Previous to 1933 the Republican Party had long stretches of and often a choke hold on political power in Washington for most of the 74 years between the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, was elected in 1860 and Hoover’s disastrous last days in office in 1933. The Democrats had to suffice with brief periods during Woodrow Wilson’s immensely disappointing term and Grover Cleveland’s barely remembered days in office.

But the GOP lost their potency when socialism became King and FDR became the patron saint of the Democrats. Again, that was 1933, 71 years ago. Nearly as long a stretch of time as the years during which they were the Party of power the Republicans have been out of power and they have grown prosaically used to being so powerless.

Some may say, “Now hold on a minute, aren’t they the power players today?” Well, one might think so by looking at the ascendance of the Party locally as well as nationally or by listening to the conniptions of the mainstream media moaning about Republican excess. One could be excused for imagining that the GOP had retaken the controls of Lincoln’s powerful machine and that they were ready to focus their sites on wielding that power.

One would also be mistaken to believe it, too.

Since the GOP began to get serious about winning elections in the 1960’s with Barry Goldwater’s abortive attempt to capture the White House, the Party has claimed that things would change if they ever got in power. No longer would Democrats run roughshod over them and no longer would the Dems set the agenda and run the show as if the GOP wasn’t even in the theater. When Bush won a second term, the GOP claimed victory and said NOW was that time … they had arrived at long last.

Then Bush sent some judicial nominees to Congress and the wheels came off the bandwagon before the music was fairly struck. The Democrats played their tune of obstruction without sending the Republicans the sheet music and the GOP found that they had forgotten to even tune their instruments much less make sure to see that they were all starting on the same page of music.

The symphony of political power that the GOP assured us that they were ready to conduct has turned from a Beethoven masterpiece to the caterwauling more befitting a Yoko Ono. As John McCain croons in an off key imitation of Tom Daschle, saying he will support the Democrats in this judicial filibustering fight instead of his own Party, and as several other Republicans in the Senate run for the hills we are witness to Republican ineptitude at power politics.

Here is a challenge for the readers. Can you name a major political show down during which Democrats abandoned their Party and supported Republicans when they were in a position of national power? I would say that you won’t be able to find very many examples. In fact, you have to go all the way back to the days of Scoop Jackson or the absurd Democratic nomination of McGovern in 1972 to find any real dissention among Democrats. It’s because they don’t do it. They know that unity is the key and that they can haggle within their party for their pet issues after the victory celebration. THAT is how to play power politics.

The Democrats know that they don’t have to worry about 2 years from now, or 10 years or 100 years if they don’t win the fights today. If they need to get something done they get it done now. And they don’t snipe at each other in the process. Politics is about compromise for the most part, but someone still has to set the agenda, to write the rules, so that the issues are clear enough for compromise to have a starting point. Democrats are experts at this.

Republicans have for over 70 years been the Party led by the nose. They have been the henpecked husband of the domineering Democrat wife. They have smiled meekly for nearly three quarters of a century and made what minute gains they could as the Democrats set the agenda and offered the GOP some scraps from the table as an after thought. The GOP is apparently used to this role and they haven’t the spine to break out of it even when they have majorities in power all across the country.

In this judicial fight, the GOP has allowed the Democrats to set the agenda they have allowed them to create the goals and they have pleaded with them for a few scraps from the table just like they have done for 70 years. Senators like John McCain are more interested in being loved by the press corps than standing for the gains of his Party, one that a majority of Americans have supported.

This will lose the GOP the hard fought points that they have gained since 1994. And with no obvious presidential candidate to offer the voting public in just a few short years this could see a Democrat winning the White House in a cake walk in 2008.

After all, why vote for a Republican when the Democrats are controlling the agenda anyway?

By Warner Todd Huston

Copyright Publius Forum 2001