If you want to know why Boehner and McConnell have lost the trust of so many Republican voters, it isn’t because they failed to accomplish impossible task of getting Obama to agree to the destruction of Obamacare. It is because many Republicans know that the Republican establishment works very hard to accomplish some goals (passing comprehensive immigration reform, reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank), while doing the bare minimum on other issues of importance to Republican voters.
This creates the impression that politics is just a show. Who even believes Republican senators who claim that they want to build the “dang” border fence? It isn’t even about success or failure. The Republican establishment has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform – so far. What is important is that people who support a combination of upfront amnesty, expanded low-skill guest worker programs, and delayed (or nonexistent) immigration enforcement know that the GOP establishment is doing all it can to move the ball forward.
The other elements of the coalition (tea partiers, pro-lifers, supporters of improved immigration enforcement) feel like the GOP establishment is giving them a simulacrum of representation. The GOP establishment is willing to give these other group show votes, but isn’t willing to be nearly as creative and daring as they would be on issues near and dear to the Chamber of Commerce.
Immigration is the most obvious case of a disconnect between Republican voters and the Republican establishment, but let us look at abortion. What is the implicit deal between pro-lifers and the Republican establishment on enacting something like the popular ban on late-term abortion? The conditions of the deal appear to be something like this.
1. A Republican president.
2. A Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
3. A Republican majority in the Senate.
4. Actually. you need sixty Republican votes in the Senate. This isn’t like the vote on partial-birth abortion. The Democrats are much more united and radical on abortion than they were in 2003, and we aren’t going to nuke the filibuster over your pet issue. So you need a Republican president, a Republican House, and sixty Republican senators.
5. Actually. you would need sixty pro-life Republican votes in the Senate. You can’t expect pro-choice Republican senators to vote for cloture on a significant abortion restriction that might actually be enacted can you? So you need a Republican president, a Republican House and sixty pro-life Republican senators.
6. Actually. you need sixty strongly pro-life Republican senators. Sure, we are a mostly pro-life party, but even some of our pro-life members discover that they have all kinds of problems with the details of pro-life legislation when it looks like the abortion restriction might actually occur. If a restriction on abortion came to a vote, a few of our deeply principled, pro-life members might discover that they can’t vote for this or that, or some other bill to ban abortions after twenty weeks. The porridge will always be too hot or too cold. It is all very complicated and personal. So you need a Republican president and a Republican House and sixty strongly pro-life Republican Senators.
7. Actually, you also need enough legislative calendar days. Congress doesn’t meet all the time. We have to deal with important issues like passing a budget, making sure employers in the construction industry don’t have to offer higher wages to get enough willing workers, and finally reauthorizing that Export-Import Bank. That is the bipartisan leadership America needs. If we get all that done, maybe we will have some time for your stuff. So you need a Republican president and a Republican House and sixty strongly pro-life Republican Senators, and enough legislative days after we are done with everything else.
8. Actually, you also need to keep a muzzle on your own people. If one pro-lifer in Congress, or one leader of a pro-life organization, or one Assistant Republican County Vice-Chairman goes Akin, then the media will turn on us, and we aren’t going to destroy the party just to pass your little pet bill. You have to think of the rest of us. Stop being so selfish. We will get to it after the heat is off. No later than a couple of decades. So you need a Republican president and a Republican House and sixty strongly pro-life Republican senators, and enough legislative days after we are done with everything else, and an ideal political environment.
I am obviously exaggerating for effect (I hope.) Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed, and Republican governors have signed bills restricting late-term abortion. On the other hand, the Republican leadership has been much more clever and persistent about immigration reform than about restricting late-term abortion. The division between Republican elites and Republican voters is much more bitter at the federal-level. It will get worse as long as the GOP establishment treats the concerns of GOP voters as a distraction from what should be the priorities of the Republican Party.