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October 19, 2013 1:38 PM Riding the Tiger

By Martin Longman

It seems like almost every major news organization in the country is running an article about how the business community is frustrated with the Tea Party and contemplating how they can wrest back control of the Republican Party from the nihilists who almost destroyed the full faith and credit of the United States. In the Washington Post, Jia Lynn Yang writes specifically about the leaders of the trade organizations and why they aren’t too eager to just abandon the GOP.

Why don’t these business trade groups abandon the Republican Party altogether, as some have asked? Besides shared policy goals like lower taxes, there’s a long personal history between Boehner and the leaders of the biggest trade groups. Since the 1990s, Boehner has been carefully nurturing the party’s relationship with these organizations —and it shows. Nearly every Republican lobbyist I interviewed in the last week couldn’t say enough nice things about Boehner, that he was loyal, decent and wouldn’t let them down. These lobbyists never doubted he would raise the debt ceiling. And they were right.

Aside from being further vindication of my theory that the debt ceiling hostage was never a real hostage, this coziness between the trade organizations and the House Republican leadership is no longer yielding the expected results. To see why, we don’t need to look any further than the debate over the repeal and replacement of the medical device tax that is used to partially fund the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act.

In this vein, the most telling moment this week was when a compromise surfaced that would have eliminated the medical device tax. The idea should have been a no-brainer for a traditional pro-business Republican to support. Instead, it was pilloried by Michael Needham, chief executive of Heritage Action for America, who said that killing the tax would amount to “corporate cronyism.” The deal quickly died.

The medical device tax repeal briefly gathered steam near the end of the shutdown as the debt ceiling deadline approached, but it was opposed by the Tea Partiers before the shutdown even began. On September 30th, RedState.com’s Erick Erickson opposed it in very strong terms:

Republicans want to repeal this tax and will see doing so as a big win. Democrats, with them, call it a stupid tax. Conservatives, preternaturally disposed to support the repeal of any tax, want to support it. Heck, I want to support it.
But we should oppose it with every fiber of our being.
It is crony capitalism at its worst and, more importantly, repealing it expands the precedent of nibbling away at Obamacare to make it more palatable. Repeal the medical device tax and lose just another portion of the coalition that supports repeal of Obamacare because their issue has been taken care of.

I suspect Mr. Erikson’s second rationale for opposing the tax repeal carries a lot more weight than his first. Perhaps the Tea Partiers are sincere when they argue that medical device company lobbyists shouldn’t get their concern addressed while less powerful citizens get nothing, but, more importantly, the ObamaCare repeal movement didn’t want to lose those powerful lobbyists as allies in their quixotic quest. They didn’t want to improve the law because that would increase the law’s popularity. Ironically, by taking this hardline position, the Tea Party severely damaged their alliance with not only the medical device company lobbyists, but with the whole trade organization community.

Signs of civil war within the Republican Party are everywhere. Like here:

“We are going to get engaged,” said Scott Reed, senior political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The need is now more than ever to elect people who understand the free market and not silliness.”
…The strategy of primarying people like Thad Cochran is more of the same and it means more Senate minorities in the future,” said David French, the top lobbyist in Washington for the National Retail Federation. “I question the judgment there.”
…“There are incumbent Republicans who are on the wrong side of some of these issues,” said French, whose organization spent more than $300,000 on races in 2012. “There are definitely some incumbent Republicans we’re not going to support again.”

And here:

Fred Zeidman, a Texas-based bundler who supported Mitt Romney and George W. Bush, is among those who don’t want to give to party committees right now. “Why do I want to fuel a fire that’s going to consume us?“ he asked.

For Jon Lovett, this consuming fire is like a tiger who eats his handlers because he isn’t being fed enough gazelles.

…the tiger got sick of waiting for the gazelles it was promised, the gazelles that were always one election away. The tiger was hungry and angry and tired of being used and the longer it waited the more appetizing the elite on its back became. So the tiger got a radio station and a news channel. The tiger got organized and mobilized. And finally the tiger realized it didn’t need someone kicking its sides telling it which way to run and who to eat and when to eat and why it wasn’t time to eat and the time to eat would come, don’t worry, you’ll eat soon enough.
So the tiger ate its master and now here we are.

Seen in this light, perhaps the following debate occurred too late.

The GOP establishment has embarked, once again, on a round of soul-searching. But this time, the question is: What will it take to save the Republicans from the self-destructive impulses of the tea party movement?

The best time to ask such questions is before the tiger eats you.

The Republican Establishment created and nurtured this beast. I don’t think they can tame it.

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