Capitol Idea: Progressives, You Can Break The Republicans’ Spirit

Progressives and Democrats have been thinking — a lot — lately about the potential for Republicans to retake control of Congress, wondering what would happen were the GOP able to install Rep. John Boehner as the next speaker of the House.

This is entirely expected and understandable, given the precarious political situation they’ve found themselves in, of late.

But being a longtime fan of science fiction, I’m a big believer in things like “alternate histories” and “alternative timelines.”

With that in mind, I’d like to consider a different outcome when we all wake up on November 3, the morning after Election Day.

What if Democrats are able to consolidate, and build upon, their recent gains in the polls, such that voters turn back many of this year’s tea party-fueled challengers? What if, instead of the crimson-red wave predicted just weeks ago, Republicans pick up just a handful of seats in the House, and aren’t able to make much of a dent in the Senate?

If that were to transpire, instead, what then might happen?

Allow me to offer a few thoughts.

Assume for the moment that Republicans this year have vastly overplayed their hands — as they did banking on impeachment winning them more seats 12 years ago. Let’s assume they succeed in picking up a net of a dozen or fewer seats in the House, and perhaps just a seat or two in the Senate.

Rather than force a Republican turnover, the election leaves the Democratic majorities shrunk only marginally. Nancy Pelosi will return as speaker in January, still with a very workable Democratic caucus. Ditto for Harry Reid in the Senate.

The GOP, meanwhile, would have thrown everything they had at this election — and still come up short. The repercussions of that for the party would begin immediately.

The futures of Boehner, and his deputy, Rep. Eric Cantor, to hold leadership positions would come very much in doubt.

More than that, though, a full struggle would begin within the Republican Party over the degree it has aligned itself with the tea party movement. (This especially will be true if, as expected, Democrat Chris Coons trounces tea party favorite Christine O’Donnell for a Delaware Senate seat when mainstream Republican Mike Castle would have won that race handily.)

As internal GOP recriminations mount, frustrated incumbent Republicans who had been holding on just to see a return to majority status would begin heading for the exits. Beginning in a trickle, Republican retirements would soon pick up speed as lawmakers look to move on to greener pastures. (These retirements alone would seriously hurt Republican chances to retake majorities in 2012 and subsequent elections.)

But, as important as all of these consequences would be, a Republican failure this year would have even an even far-reaching significance: it likely would call into question the GOP’s entire longstanding strategy of obstruction.

Almost since the day he took office, Republicans have stood shoulder-to-shoulder, nearly unanimously trying to stand in the way of even the most modest of President Obama’s initiatives. They have done this out of calculation that if they thwart progress — and deny the Democratic president credit for success — they will frustrate voters. That frustration, Republican thinking goes, would then compel voters back into the GOP camp.

But, in our potential scenario, that thinking would have failed to produce the majorities Republicans crave. And, given how central pure obstruction has been for their political game, I don’t think it could be underestimated how damaging it would be to the GOP should it fail.

In other words, I’m not sure Republicans would know what other cards to play. A failure of obstruction to win back a majority would cause a massive crisis of confidence inside the GOP.

That crisis of confidence for Republicans only would be amplified should Obama see any uptick in his approval ratings, for even an incremental improvement in the economy.

Quite simply, Republicans’ spirits would be broken.

All of that would provide them a new incentive, one to cooperate even somewhat more with Obama and the Democrats, which in turn, could improve the prospects for such stalled initiatives as climate legislation and immigration reform.

All of this is enough to put a smile on nearly any progressive’s face.

And, hopefully, it also is enough to get them out and voting in November.

Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as Progressives, You Can Break The Republicans’ Spirit on Blogcritics.

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