It’s a High Noon moment in Wingnut World, as conservatives do everything possible to sabotage a deal to increase the debt limit even as their congressional leaders negotiate behind the scenes to make a deal possible. Yesterday’s near-party-line vote in the House passing the “Cut, Cap, Balance Act” represented a particularly vivid demonstration of conservative inflexibility and its grip on the GOP. CCB would write directly into the U.S. Constitution the Right’s current contention that fiscal problems are always and invariably the result of excessive spending, and that a fixed, ideal ratio between spending and GDP can be deduced and legislated forever.
But extreme as the CCB exercise appeared in terms of all precedent, from the perspective of many conservative activists it was a bit of a wimpy compromise. CCB suggests, after all, there is a circumstance—an insanely remote circumstance, to be sure—under which a debt limit increase would be appropriate. That’s offensive to those who earlier staked out a “just say no” position Indeed, two of the nine votes cast by House Republicans against the CCB bill were from presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul. Bachmann had just, earlier this week, become the ninth candidate (everyone in the race other than heresiarch Jon Huntsman) to sign the Cut-Cap-Balance Pledge, after adding a proviso that she wouldn’t support a debt limit increase until such time as the Affordable Care Act of 2010 is repealed.
With CCB going nowhere in the Senate, Wingnuts now have at least a few days to fulminate against, and then to oppose, any actual debt limit deal. Their public rationales for obstructionism vary: Many conservatives are default denialists, who claim there are actually no significant economic consequences to a failed debt limit increase because the feds will figure out some way to pay creditors until something can be worked out. Others are what might be called bullies-and-bluffers, who are convinced (like some of their brethren on the Left) that the president and congressional Democrats will always and invariably surrender in any negotiations on any subject, making the maximum hard line the appropriate GOP starting point. And still others profess to believe that excessive federal spending—and/or the continued existence of entitlements like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—is the real threat to the economy and indeed to human liberty, making some short-term global economic collapse a small price to pay for a return to the lost Eden of the Coolidge Administration.
If, of course, a deal is struck and somehow can be maneuvered through Congress with just enough Republican votes to obtain a majority, we’ll see a whole new cycle of recriminations against this fresh “betrayal” by “RINOs”, complete with threats of primary challenges and maybe even third parties. That any such deal will almost certainly involve unprecedented Democratic concessions on spending, bipartisan “cover” for unpopular changes in entitlements, and abandonment of longstanding Democratic demands for higher taxes on the wealthy, won’t cut much ice on the Right.
As the countdown to default continues in Washington, two very different countdowns are underway on the presidential campaign trail: the countdown to the first real contest of the cycle, the August 13 Iowa GOP Straw Poll, and the countdown to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s decision on whether to join the race.
Michele Bachmann continues to be the favorite to win the Straw Poll; she’s using her hard-line position on the debt limit to maximum advantage in Iowa, making it the subject of her first statewide TV ad (entitled “Courage”). But she’s now undergoing the first real rough patch of intense media scrutiny and personal questions, some undoubtedly inspired by her opponents. At present, the chattering classes are buzzing over anonymous claims that she is frequently incapacitated by migraine headaches and/or treatment for that condition.
Meanwhile, speculation mounts that Perry will soon jump in (though it’s no more definitive than earlier claims that Haley Barbour and Mitch Daniels were minutes away from candidacy). The implications of a Perry run depend on how you see his appeal. Some observers appear to think that the combination of his fundraising prowess, his Tea Party connections, and the “story” of Texas’ economic success, is simply unbeatable. The Hill’s Christian Heinze, for example, who is following the race full-time, appears to think Perry would almost immediately create a one-on-one battle for the nomination with Mitt Romney as Tea Partiers abandoned Bachmann and Cain for the pretty-boy Texan. But as Heinze himself notes, some New Hampshire Tea Folk, however, are raising questions about Perry’s chronic resistance to anti-immigration laws and rhetoric (a smart stance in Texas, but not necessarily elsewhere) and his staunch support for Rudy Giuliani in 2008. And Texans do not quite seem to share the national conservative belief they are living in an economic paradise engineered by Perry’s determination to give corporate executives absolutely everything they want.
If Perry does run—before or after his August 6 prayer-a-thon event in Houston that is certain to raise some questions about his relationship with the theocratic wing of conservative evangelicalism—he will face an immediate strategic decision about whether to plunge into the Iowa Caucus campaign full-bore (it’s already a bit late for a Straw Poll bid by Perry, though the Iowa GOP could put him on the ballot for the event), or instead lay a trap in South Carolina for whoever wins Iowa and New Hampshire (say, Bachmann and Romney). A complicating factor for a Dixiefied strategy by Perry is that wingnut kingmaker Sen. Jim DeMint has successfully convinced most Palmetto State pols and donors to hold off on any candidate endorsements or financial commitments until after Labor Day, apparently to increase his own leverage over the field. Leave it to virulently anti-union South Carolina Republicans to make Labor Day a signpost for keeping rightward ideological pressure on their party and its presidential field.
Photo credit: Bonzo McGrue