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August 13, 2013 11:16 AM Will “The Base” Stand Down On De-Funding Obamacare?

By Ed Kilgore

So the big buzz in Washington today is that House Republican leaders have turned the corner in tamping down sentiment for a suicidal drive to shut down the federal government unless the administration and Senate Democrats suicidally agree to “de-fund” (or as some argue, systematically delay) implementation of the Affordable Care Act. National Review’s well-sourced Robert Costa offers a tick-tock on the House GOP leadership’s campaign against a shutdown, concluding with Eric Cantor’s appearance at “the Weyrich lunch,” the regular Washington gathering of “movement conservatives” named after its original convener, the late Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation and ALEC.

Later Wednesday, around noon, Cantor headed to the Weyrich lunch, an off-the-record gathering of conservative-movement leaders chaired by Morton Blackwell, the president of the Leadership Institute. Cantor reiterated what Boehner had told the conference that morning, and he talked about the shutdown question in a clinical way, telling the conservatives that he was with them on tearing apart and delaying the law wherever possible, but he didn’t want to risk the House GOP’s political capital on an unwinnable play for Senate votes. If the votes for defunding somehow emerged, he said, he would bring such a continuing resolution to the floor; but if the votes were not there, he’d advise against it.
There was disappointment at the Weyrich lunch, just as there was disappointment in the Capitol basement. But there was no uproar. A day later, on August 1, the “Big Four,” as the group of four top-ranking House Republicans is known, met to go over the events of the previous day and the state of play, pre-recess. Boehner reflected on the relative peace of the conference meeting, and Cantor relayed stories from his lunch. Whip Kevin McCarthy of California and conference chair Cathy McMorris-Rodgers of Washington relayed what they were hearing from members. The consensus from the Big Four was that they’d keep moving ahead with their soft push to avoid a shutdown. They’ll aim to nudge the GOP caucus in this direction, and hope members will see it their way once the House reconvenes.

After a while, you get used to reading these insider accounts of Republican leaders talking to representatives of their own party’s “base” as though they are small children with learning disabilities, who must be calmed and coaxed into rational behavior and then rewarded with condescending praise and a sugary snack. I honestly can’t think of any parallel on the Left in recent memory; Democratic leaders are more likely to lecture “base activists” on responsibility and the awful alternative of Republican rule when they resist the party line. Lord knows there are plenty of things the federal government spends money on that are offensive to liberal activists. But even in the rare occasion when they’ve demanded a hard line on, say, funding the Iraq War, the debate has been over the possibility of discomfiting the Pentagon or interrupting “funding for the troops,” not the apocalypse of a government shutdown or debt default. And intramural disputes have largely been conducted in the open, without the strange and duplicitous tactics we are seeing today as Republican leaders claim to share the same atavistic goals as their activists but are simply pursuing a smarter, more “adult” strategy.

Whatever Costa is hearing, moreover, it’s not clear that the “adults” are winning the internal war even if they manage to win the immediate battle. One child who clearly hasn’t been given enough sugary snacks to stand down is RedState’s Erick Erickson, who pitched a veritable hissy fit today under the headline “Wimps, Frauds and Charlatans:”

The whole of the GOP save a handful is so intent on winning reelection they’re perfectly happy to lose the country. They will not do what is right because they might put in awkward positions. When groups like the Heritage Foundation pressure them, they send out Jenn Rubin to bad mouth the Heritage Foundation on the Washington Post’s website.
On Sean Hannity’s radio program yesterday, Senator Mike Lee and Karl Rove debated defunding Obamacare. Lee just devastated Rove and made the point, which had to be conceded, that the GOP always caves. Leadership, Jenn Rubin, and Karl Rove say the President will never blink. They presuppose that they themselves will blink.
Why?
As Ted Cruz said at the RedState Gathering, it is very simple. Just don’t blink.
It is time conservatives throw out their own bums. It is time to stand with the challengers. It is time to replace the wimps, frauds, and charlatans with men and women who will stand up and do the right thing. It’s time for a change. Until conservatives collect scalps from their own side, nothing will change. Obamacare will be funded. The GOP will keep claiming they oppose it. And conservatives will keep being lied to.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz goes to Iowa and is treated like a conquering hero and a “unifying” figure for Republicans.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for any concession to sanity in the GOP ranks, and am happy to hear that Boehner and Cantor may well be able to negotiate the next few months without bringing Washington to a standstill or wrecking the economy. But they will pay a price for any success in “tamping down” activist hysteria, whether it’s quiet concessions on the next policy battle in Congress, or primary challenges, or a revolt against Boehner’s speakership, or a broadly accepted “stab in the back” myth that makes today’s sensible accomodations of reality a legendary “abandonment of principle” that will keep the rightward pressure on the GOP ratcheted up for years to come.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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