By Bill Collier Jr- The conservative base of the GOP wants Boehner and McConnell, the respective GOP heads of the House and Senate, to go. They want them to go because the base believe these men, indeed the entire leadership of the GOP, are quislings at the helm selling their soul to special interests on a number of issues, including the Affordable Care Act (so-called Obamacare) and “Immigration Reform”. The conservative base feel un-represented in DC and they are, as Democratic pollster Pat Cadell has claimed, “ready to bolt the party.”
Average Americans do not closely follow the minutae and nuances of the political scene and do not have an in-depth working knowledge of the American political process. This does not mean they lack the acumen to understand these things, it’s only a matter of how much time they have: and understanding these things to the granular level takes time.
The truth is, as I see it anyway, that “realpolitik”, the art of the possible in the political process set before you, is not very simple or straightfoward. One might argue convincingly that in many ways Boehner and McConnell are masters of the art of realpolitik. Their ceaseless manuevering cannot be discounted as a factor in their party’s stunning successes in the last election cycle, though they’d be mistaken to assume they take the sole credit for those successes. They are indeed playing chess while it seems the President is still playing checkers, or at least that is the argument.
Some would counter that Americans are fed up with “realpolitik”, that they are becoming incresingly anti-establishment, regardless of their political persuasion. They want politics to be up front and simple, and people-powered instead of being driven by elites and special interests who buy access and influence. All this is grist for the populist mill on both sides of the political spectrum, but it is not entirely true that this sentiment drives dissatisfaction with leaders.
Far from populist sentiment driving dissatisfaction with leaders who master realpolitik, I would argue that dissatisfaction with leaders drives populist sentiment. And I say this as someone who, on principle, embraces a more populist politics driven by consensus of the People, especially at the local level.
The real problem is not whether or not Boehner and McConnell understand realpolitik, the real problem is whether they can be both masters of that art and dynamic leaders of their own potential supporters. We should, I propose, take it as a given that if 60% or more of members of the Republican Party, this according to Pat Caddell’s polling, reject their own leaders then there is a leadership problem. When leaders must take to sniping their own allies and friends who demonstrate a lack of confidence in their leadership, then those leaders should step aside. When your own support base canot stand you then you cannot blame them and call them names in a petulant act of whining.
Already, Boehner is retaliating against those 25 House members of his own party who voted against him. And it is remarkable to see the number of House members who voted for him trying to excuse their vote to angry constituents who have been raising royal hell on the phone lines for the past few days. It would seem to the average American conservative that the GOP are far more afraid of harsh editorials by the New York Times than they are of angry constituents who have lost confidence in their ability to lead.
I am not arguing that Boehner and McConnell are in fact liberals in disguise plotting with the Democrats to move American down the road to socialism, as many angry conservatives are. I actually believe they are playing realpolitik in a skilled manner that will ultimately unravel the plans of their opponents on the left. I do not believe these men are not conservatives. But the reality is that these two men are focused on the traditional roles of leading a caucus of elected Republicans, a role that, arguably, is what their positions have normally entailed, and not on also being the leaders of PEOPLE on the street level who are looking for a symbol of their values and their opposition to their political opponents on the left.
The traditional role of merely being the leader of a Party Caucus is just not sufficient in the 21st century. In times past, people barely knew who these party leaders were, but not so today. Everything they do and say is published and broadcast to the Party base without any party filter- it is transmitted by bloggers and conservative news sites who are constantly looking for re-assurance that their leaders are towing their line. That those leaders have tended to just assume that if you tell your own base about the nuances required in realpolitik while assuring them of your shared goals that the base won’t get it is unfortunate.
The conservative base, up to 60% of the Republican party, no longer believes party leadership have the same vision or represent the same values they hold dear. This is not the fault of the followers, it is the fault of the leaders. And for this reason alone Boehner and McConnell should step aside from leadership and help find leaders who know how to both master realpolitik AND rally and inspire their Party’s core of supporters- and they should do this before that base just up and walks away.