The Party of Zilch

With Democrats sagging, Republicans are missing an opportunity to fill the leadership void.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The Republican Party stands for nothing. As Barack Obama threatens to fumble away his presidency along with the Democratic Party's reasons for existence – championing an active, efficient government—the GOP lurches into the leadership breach with … zilch.

Rather than be the party of solutions in a gridlocked capital, appealing to a leadership-starved public, the GOP is the party of obstruction, ensuring that its putrid approval ratings nose dive apace with Obama's.

The country needs sensible immigration reform that brings 11 million or so undocumented residents out of the shadows. No, says the GOP.

The country needs to tame a massive debt that will be 100 percent of the gross domestic product by 2038 unless Congress raises revenue and trims entitlements. No, says the GOP.

The country needs fair debate and compromise around existential issues such as climate change, income inequality, and a deteriorating 20th century infrastructure. No, says the GOP.

A small but recent example of Republican obstinacy came Monday when Senate Republicans blocked Obama's third consecutive nominee to the country's most important appeals court. Their argument is ludicrous: The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit does not have a caseload to merit filling the vacancies, Republicans claim. They failed to shrink the court by three seats, so they are blocking the president's nominees.

This is not about caseloads. Republicans had no trouble with the size of the court under President Bush. The data contradicts the case for fewer seats. And all three of Obama's nominees are qualified for the job. This is pure politics of obstruction.

It brings to mind what House Majority Leader Eric Cantor offered as an excuse for blocking a vote on the Senate's immigration bill, or even a debate on the subject. "We don't want a repeat of what's going on now with Obamacare," he said.

That's the GOP motto: If Obama is for it, we're against it. That may be enough to appease Obama haters who make up a considerable core of the Republican midterm voting bloc. It may be a strategy that works in the short term, given the president's management failures and deception. But this is the exact wrong way for Republicans to win the emerging generation of voters, the Millennials, who polls show are far more tolerant and practical than GOP leaders in Washington.

In fairness, Democrats encourage bad behavior. For example, Senate Democrats in 2003 blocked President Bush's nominee to the same District of Columbia Circuit that Obama is now trying to fill. Democrats were in the minority then, and no less narrow minded or political as Senate Republicans today.

Republicans also are emboldened by the knowledge that Obama's political standing is slipping. A new Washington Post poll shows that both his approval ratings and the public's view of Obamacare are at record lows. Most disturbing are his rankings on personal attributes that have buoyed him in the past.  According to the Post:

On three measures of leadership and empathy that have been tested repeatedly in Post-ABC polls, Obama now is underwater on all three for the first time. Half or more now say he is not a strong leader, does not understand the problems of "people like you," and is not honest and trustworthy. Perceptions of the president as a strong leader have dropped 15 points since January, and over the past year the percentage of registered voters who say he is not honest and trustworthy has increased 12 points.

The new survey also asked people whether they consider Obama a good manager. In what appears to be a direct link to the problems of the health-care rollout, 56 percent say no and 41 percent say yes.

For months, I have been warning that Obama risked the public turning sour on his leadership (here, here, here, here here and here) and credibility (here, here, here, here, here and here). The Benghazi attack, the seizure of telephone records from the Associated Press, the IRS's investigations of political groups, the National Security Agency's massive domestic-spying operation, the "red line" in Syria, and now Obamacare—the White House responded to every controversy or quasi-scandal by mocking its critics and ignoring the warning signs.

Now the public has had enough. They are beginning to not trust their president, and so what does the GOP offer as reasonable alternative—a modicum of sanity, comity, or seriousness? Nope. Other than hard partisans on the left and right, the majority of the public—moderate, fix-it Americans who simply want a sensible government—now have nowhere to turn, because the GOP is the party of nothing.

Presented by

Ron Fournier is editorial director of National Journal.

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