Dear Beltway Journalists: Stop The Horserace Journalism
January 4, 2017

Carl Hulse of The New York Times thinks the future for congressional Republicans is potentially perilous:

It’s put-up or shut-up time for Republicans.

After a tumultuous decade that has seen profound changes in the makeup and character of their party, Republicans are poised to complete their slow but steady climb back to power as they seize control of the House, Senate and the White House for the first time since 2006.

That political triad will leave them with a splendid opportunity for success. But there is little room for failure if they hope to satisfy their impatient constituents and deliver on bold promises to reshape the nation’s health care delivery system, restructure the tax code, drive job creation, muscle up American foreign policy, rebuild a crumbling infrastructure and set America on a new course.

Where's the evidence that there's "little room for failure"? The GOP's constituents may seem impatient, but they always come back to the party. They come back for the tribal solidarity built around opposition to gun control, multiculturalism, and social programs that seem to help Those People. Every so often these voters reject the GOP -- a conservative Democrat won the governorship in Louisiana after the disastrous rule of Bobby Jindal -- but Republican control of government at all levels in this country just gets more and more entrenched, even as all this heartland discontent seems to increase. Why shouldn't Republicans in D.C. just keep winning even if -- when -- they fail to make the country better? They'll pass bills that make liberals howl. That's all that matters.

... Now they must show they can deliver. And they know it.

“When you have both houses and the presidency, there is no acceptable excuse for not passing major legislation,” said Representative Tom Cole, a senior Republican from Oklahoma. “There is a lot of pressure on Republican members to produce and to produce quickly.”

That will not be easy. There is a mutual wariness between many Republicans in Congress and President-elect Donald J. Trump, leaving it unclear how often their interests and priorities will coalesce or collide. Some of the biggest fights might well be between Republicans on Capitol Hill and the White House occupied by a man who campaigned against the establishment and some of the very Republicans running Congress.

Since Election Day, where have we seen evidence of conflict between Trump and the congressional GOP, at least with regard to legislation? Both are clearly determined to engage in extreme levels of deregulation and transfer massive amounts of money to the rich. Trump is engaging in blatant acts of self-dealing and congressional Republicans don't care; the House just voted to gut its own ethics oversight and Trump doesn't care. Everyone seems very cozy.

Oh, yeah, a few grumblers in the GOP don't like the pro-Russia tilt of the incoming administration. But this discontent barely goes beyond John McCain and Lindsey Graham. The rest of the party will mostly roll over.

... Perhaps most important, Republicans themselves are going to need something of an attitude adjustment....

Republicans who have shied from the responsibility of government will now be called upon to support increases in the debt limit, approve annual budgets, endorse spending bills and back other must-pass measures that they formerly left to the Democrats and some of their more compromising colleagues. With Democrats unlikely to help on many of those votes after being castigated for them by Republicans, the Republicans who belonged to the “vote no, hope yes” caucus when it came to critical legislation in recent years now will have to vote yes and hope things go well.

They'll remake this legislation in their own image, and it'll pass and be signed by a willing president. And if the ultras refuse to support increases in the debt limit, what price will they pay? There was a debt ceiling crisis in 2011 and a government shutdown in 2013. Political cost to congressional Republicans? Zero. And the Gingrich shutdown of the 1990s didn't cost Republicans control of Congress, either. As long as any crises are resolved well before an election day, non-GOP voters will forget their anger, because they -- we -- routinely do.

This is horserace journalism extended past the election. It's an effort to gin up a sense of conflict where there's actually very little. Republicans will cooperate with one another, and they won't lose the loyalty of heartland white voters until those voters think things are unspeakably awful. That finally happened in the Bush era, but it took about six years. I expect it to take about as long in the Trump era.

Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

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