Frontline, among others, reported on the Republican gathering just before Obama’s inauguration:
On the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries quietly gathered in a Washington steakhouse to lick their wounds and ultimately create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration.
“The room was filled. It was a who’s who of ranking members who had at one point been committee chairmen, or in the majority, who now wondered out loud whether they were in the permanent minority,” Frank Luntz, who organized the event, told FRONTLINE.
Among them were Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan.
After three hours of strategizing, they decided they needed to fight Obama on everything. The new president had no idea what the Republicans were planning.
True to their word in this instance, the Republicans have spent the entirety of President Obama’s two terms obstructing nearly every agenda item possible. POLITICO, as of late December, counted 101 openings for the most senior level administration jobs in the Cabinet-level agencies, out of a total of 379 positions.
Catherine Rampell reported on vacancies at the federal court level noting that last year, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed just 11 federal judges, the fewest in any year since 1960. Only one appeals court judge was confirmed, the lowest number since 1953.
The Affordable Care Act is the most obvious legislative example of GOP stonewalling. At every turn, Republicans have tried their hardest to prevent President Obama from achieving even the most modest of desired outcomes.
Let’s ignore opinions of whether or not this was the correct course of action. What were the results of these efforts for the GOP?
First and foremost, look at those congressional power brokers mentioned by name above and where they are now:
- Jim DeMint: Resigned from the Senate in 2013 to become president of the Heritage Foundation
- Jon Kyl: Left the Senate at the end of his term in 2012; now works as a lobbyist
- Tom Coburn: Resigned from the Senate, citing declining health
- Eric Cantor: Resigned his congressional seat after losing in the primary of 2014; now vice chairman of an investment bank
- Kevin McCarthy: Failed run for Speaker of the House after the resignation of John Boehner; still a member of Congress
- Paul Ryan: Currently Speaker of the House, succeeding John Boehner who resigned due to internal pressure from party members
Based purely on these results, one could conclude that the Republican leadership made a fundamental miscalculation in their approach to President Obama. Indeed, many of these members were forced out of Congress because of their failure to stop Obama’s accomplishments completely.
Current State of the Party
That brings us to today. The vast majority of the Republican leadership that promised so loudly to fight President Obama on everything are now gone from the political landscape. President Obama remains, with Hillary Clinton promising to implement a third term of Obama’s policy agenda.
As for the current GOP leadership? It is in disarray, to say the least. After years of attempting to convince Americans that President Obama was destroying the country, that he is a secret Muslim, that the ACA is destroying health care, that America is on the verge of collapse, the Republican presidential nomination is about to be won by Donald Trump.
This GOP primary season has been marked by almost no substantive discussion of issues, no discussion of how to improve the lives of everyday Americans. Instead, it has been marked most visibly by constant name-calling. The race actually hit a new low last week with Marco Rubio asserting that Trump may have ‘wet himself’ while Trump responded by making fun of the size of Rubio’s ears, among other things.
How has Trump enacted a stranglehold on the nomination?
The NYTimes reported this week:
Despite all the forces arrayed against Mr. Trump, the interviews show, the party has been gripped by a nearly incapacitating leadership vacuum and a paralytic sense of indecision and despair, as he has won smashing victories in South Carolina and Nevada.
“A nearly incapacitating leadership vacuum” might be due to the absence of those same Republican leaders who vowed to fight Obama on everything.
What if they had approached the Obama presidency differently? What if they had not portrayed him as the Antichrist and instead prepared to work with him, extracting important concessions on policies that matter to the GOP?
Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Maybe they would have been driven out of Washington just as fast as they were in this reality. Maybe Trump would still be the candidate of choice.
But… maybe it could have been different.
In that same NYTimes article, GOP strategists actually discuss potentially running ads against Donald Trump in the general election. The unnamed strategists explain:
A Trump nomination would not only cause Republicans to lose the presidency, they wrote, “but we also lose the Senate, competitive gubernatorial elections and moderate House Republicans.”
It didn’t have to be this way.