Are House Republicans Capable of Governing Themselves?

(Tribune News Service) -

The House of Representatives is in crisis. House Speaker John Boehner announced his resignation after a faction of conservative Republicans threatened to withdraw their support for him. His designated successor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, withdrew from consideration after those same conservatives signaled their discontent. The leading remaining candidate is Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, long a conservative star — only now House conservatives are signaling that he, too, might be too liberal for their tastes.

Can Congressional Republicans get their act together? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.

Joel Mathis

Republicans these days are great at throwing hissy fits, but they’re lousy at governing.

It’s odd, because the GOP is ostensibly the party of “limited government” — yet self-proclaimed conservatives these days seem to recognize no limits on their party’s power to implement the agenda of its right-most faction of members. They apparently believe that the Republican-led Congress should be able to dictate, without compromise, terms of governance to a Democratic president — and they believe the failure to achieve that dominance somehow constitutes a failure of will.

These congressional Republicans believe they’re in Washington D.C. to “check and balance” President Obama — only to find out that he has the power to check and balance them as well. The nerve!

Which is why Boehner was cast to the side. And it’s why McCarthy — who raised a lot of money to get help conservative congressional Republicans get elected — was similarly rejected. It would almost be understandable if Rep. Paul Ryan, a reliable conservative, wasn’t also being deemed “too liberal” by this group.

Folks: If Paul Ryan isn’t conservative enough, ain’t nobody conservative enough.

The impulse that drives congressional Republicans, incidentally, is the same that pushed Donald Trump to the top of the GOP presidential polls: Nobody will settle for a partial victory anymore — that is, to win some of your goals and live to fight another day. The other side is evil, and you can’t compromise with evil.

Right? Too bad such thinking is childish fantasy, at best.

The American government has lasted more than 200 years in part because Washington, D.C. was long populated by adults who knew how to give and take. It doesn’t mean they liked compromise. It just means they recognized that half a loaf was better than none. It’s not a difficult concept.

But it’s a concept House Republicans must re-learn. Until they’re willing to get just some of what they want, their quest for ideological purity is more likely to get them a lot more of what they don’t want. They should try governing, instead.

Ben Boychuk

Some conservatives have forgotten Ronald Reagan’s “80 percent rule.”

“My 80 percent friend,” he would say, “is not my 20 percent enemy.”

Every Republican [bows] before the icon of Ronaldus Magnus, conservative champion, but few remember his skills as a statesman. Allying with “80 percent friends” — and sometimes 60 percent or even 50 percent friends — is how the 40th president won historic tax reforms, revitalized the military and secured the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviets, a crucial step toward ending the Cold War.

The left despised Reagan for much of what he did. They thought he was too bellicose. But few remember the hits Reagan took from the right, especially in pursuit of nuclear disarmament. They thought he was too conciliatory.

It was ever thus.

Reagan had principles. He was a solid Republican. A conservative. But he was not a purist. He made compromises — tactical moves and prudential judgments in the service of a greater political strategy.

Some of those compromises didn’t work out. Amnesty springs immediately to mind. Amnesty springs to mind for a lot of people nowadays. Many congressional Republicans favor a “path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants as part of a comprehensive reform.

Paul Ryan is a conservative. Really, he is. Unfortunately, he’s a conservative in a populist era and at a time when Donald Trump is a viable candidate for president.

Ryan is one of the few Republicans who have sought ways to alleviate poverty other than more government intervention. Unfortunately, he supports immigration reform that includes a “path to citizenship.” That makes him a 20 percent enemy. Or, if immigration is your only issue, that makes him a 100 percent enemy.

At some point, Republicans forgot that politics is the art of the possible.

Would Ryan be a speaker in the mold of John Boehner? Probably not. But he would be tarred as a Boehner knockoff just the same. And to think, just a few years ago, Ryan was “one of us.”