GOP Calculus

The GOP made a big show of not cooperating with President Obama’s passage of the stimulus bill last week. No Republican member of the House voted for the bill and only three GOP Senators did so. There are three major political implications of the way the bill was passed:

  • Legislative power in the government rests largely in the hands of three of the remaining Northeastern GOP Senators: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Once Al Franken is seated as Senator from Minnesota (and it seems more than likely that he will be), any one of those GOP Senators can be the decisive vote to invoke cloture and prevent a Republican filibuster of Democratic legislation. The Democratic majority in the House is so large as to make it functionally irrelevant, unless there is a major Blue Dog revolt. Thus any critical legislative action from the White House is likely to be tailored to those Senators.
  • The calculations of the Republican leadership are those of politicians in a tight spot. After getting soundly thumped in two straight elections and still saddled with the horrendous legacy of the Bush-Cheney Administration (much to Democratic delight, Vice-President Cheney has refused to go quietly into the night). Voting for the bill, they likely figured, gained them nothing. Any success would be credited to President Obama and the Democrats. Voting against the bill set them up as the voice of opposition in case of failure, and offered them a (however hypocritical) way of reasserting their status as the fiscally conservative party. That much of this required the most stringent short and long-term political amnesia–amnesia bad enough actually to provoke the normally-compliant media into noticing–was simply a burden to bear. The criticism that they thus put party interests above national ones is misplaced, as the GOP leadership knew that there was no way they could prevent the bill’s passage in the House and none of the three GOP Senators who voted for it in the Senate have been punished by their caucus. Essentially, the Republicans were playing political theater and they knew it.
  • The regionalization of the Republicans continues. Voting against the auto bailout bill in the last days of the Bush Administration should effectively destroy the GOP brand even further in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. The effective conversion of northeastern GOP Senators into conservative Democrats means that the GOP presence in the northeast is even more reduced, and it is likely that some if not all Senators will lose their next election. Certainly, Arlen Specter is probably doomed in his 2010 campaign in Pennsylvania, if he’s not picked off by a primary challenge. The GOP has become a party of the South and the Great Plains, able to contest states in the West and Midwest, but losing more than they win. The Democrats have now won the popular vote in 4 out of the last 5 Presidential elections, and the GOP’s regionalization means that it will be unlikely to produce a nationally-viable candidate in 2012. Certainly neither Sarah Palin nor Bobby Jindal seem to have country-wide credibility.

What emerges from these three implications are a set of questions. How well will the Specter, Snowe, and Collins work with the Obama administration going forward? Will the GOP’s gamble on being the Party of “No” work? Can the GOP avoid becoming a regional party without the ability effectively to contest national elections?