Bolstered by their lofty 12 percent job-approval rating — a 10-point drop just since April — congressional Republicans are itching to pick another fight with President Obama, this time by forcing another shutdown of the federal government come Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. That’s a little more than two weeks from now.
And if House Speaker John Boehner isn’t willing to lead the party over the cliff and into the abyss — if he and other Establishment Republicans keep issuing their boring warnings that anger and obstinance are no substitute for a strategy — then House Republicans are making it clear that they’ll find somebody else to take them into holy battle against the forces of darkness.
A similar dynamic is playing out in the presidential race. According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, the candidate of the party establishment, the well-funded, well-organized Jeb Bush, is now the preferred candidate of a whopping 8 percent of GOP primary voters. The leading candidate is real estate magnate Donald Trump, at 33 percent, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 20 percent. In short, more than half of GOP primary voters are so alienated from their own establishment that they prefer presidential candidates that have never even run for dogcatcher.
“He’s going to change America,” one Trump fan told the Dallas Morning News at a raucous rally attended by 15,000 people. “Everybody wants someone other than a politician.”
I watched — or tried to watch — Trump’s speech last night. This was the crux of it:
“We’re going to have so many victories that at some point they’re going to come out of your ears! … We’re going to have so many victories, and they’re going to be great victories, and we’re going to have them all the time, because we have an amazing country. We have a country that is dying to, that just wants to have victory. We don’t have wins anymore. We don’t have it.”
And the crowd went crazy. Policy, issues, platforms, government experience — none of it matters. What matters is the strong man on the white stallion, promising to make things better by simply being the strong man on the white stallion.
I’ve never witnessed the dissolution of a major political party — it’s been something that you only read about in the history books, like steamboats and dueling. But watching the GOP leadership crisis bubbling up in Washington, and the continued dominance of Trump out on the campaign trail, I’m beginning to wonder if this is what it might look like. History tells us that it doesn’t happen because the opposing party, in this case the Democrats, is so successful. It happens because of tensions and differences within the party itself that turn out to be irreconcilable with reality.