God bless the Freedom Caucus.
Well, okay, sorta. Thanks to the House Deplorables, who resisted Ryancare because it didn’t drown enough puppies, the whole bill came crashing down, and we’re enjoying a bout of tantric schadenfreude that even Sting would envy.
Heck, we may yet escape this Administration alive.
We’ve seen from the start that Donald Trump sucks at running the government. We didn’t see until this week that Paul Ryan sucks at running the House. All those fire-breathers, free at last to turn These United States into scorched earth, and all they can do is immolate themselves, bless their shriveled hearts.
Which leads us to wonder whether this was ironically inevitable: Is extreme gerrymandering, the source of Republican power in the House, also the source of its weakness?
Our intern took the night off, so we don’t have research at hand to back this up (or doughnuts, damn intern), but let’s play out the psychology.
Republicans swept state legislatures in 2010, just in time for redistricting. Always a Dark Art in American politics, by this decade it had become Dark Science, aided by computer programs designed to draw wildly tentacled amoebas across the continent. The aim was to create not merely traditional Safe Seats, but Impenetrable Seats, seats so red a Baboon would fuck them.
Hence arose a new fear in the paranoid Republican heart: Getting Primaried. The general election might be a formality, but the primary was now fraught with terror, nightmares that someone even more rabid might come at you — and in primaries, there are no centrists to protect your rosy flank.
Power shifted Right, as intended — but in some places it shifted wayyyyy right. The Freedom Caucus only claims some three dozen members, but Paul Ryan can only afford to lose twenty-one votes for a given bill. And if he appeases hardcore demands, he loses votes at the Blush end of the spectrum, Republicans who still need to squat closer to the middle for their own survival.
To update Marx — yes, let’s go there! — Republican power contains the seeds of its own destruction.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. While we were growing up, the dominant political theology was two-party centrism: In the competition for power, both parties would run toward the middle to claim the most votes, giving swing voters an effective veto against extremists at either end. Play too much to your Party Loonies, saith the Gospel, and the Fickle Middle flees to the other team.
Thus, Barry Goldwater and George McGovern were trounced, and the Gods were appeased.
(Oh, and LBJ and Nixon were subsequently dashed upon the rocks, but that’s a different chapter.)
The corollary was that both parties would also hold the center while governing, even to the point of — please, sit down — compromising with their opponents to achieve at least some portion of their desired goals. This is the source of enduring Pundit Wet Dreams about Grand Bargains that we’ve been suffering for decades.
Honestly, incessant Gipper & Tip anecdotes make us want to drown puppies.
But if you paint your opponents as the Devil Incarnate for the sake of achieving power, you’re not going to see compromise as a welcome solution in a pinch. And if you’re successful enough to change the conditions of your future elections — not just through gerrymandering, but by denying the Franchise to voters you don’t like — you won’t have to worry about compromise to begin with.
You also won’t get anything done, but that’s somebody else’s problem.
As it happens — as we’re seeing — even with all the power our Constitution affords a party with sole control of all branches of government, that power is still not unlimited. Judges can get in the way, citizens cannot be ignored entirely. and mere competence still counts for something. The system may not be functioning as intended, but its dysfunction is sparing us the worst consequences.
And besides, if it comes down to it, there’s always heads on pikes.