GOP Circular Firing Squad Locked and Loaded

Apparently, it's Republican circular firing squad week here in Washington. Item 1: David Corn of Mother Jones got hold of the proceedings of a secret group of conservatives scheming to take hold of American politics and shove it where it needs to go:

Dubbed Groundswell, this coalition convenes weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group. During these hush-hush sessions and through a Google group, the members of Groundswell—including aides to congressional Republicans—cook up battle plans for their ongoing fights against the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, progressive outfits, and the Republican establishment and "clueless" GOP congressional leaders. They devise strategies for killing immigration reform, hyping the Benghazi controversy, and countering the impression that the GOP exploits racism. And the Groundswell gang is mounting a behind-the-scenes organized effort to eradicate the outsize influence of GOP über-strategist/pundit Karl Rove within Republican and conservative ranks.

I have to commend Corn for getting these documents, but unfortunately, Groundswell isn't exactly the right-wing A-Team. It's more like the C-Team. Members include Ginny Thomas, wife of Clarence Thomas; anti-Muslim zealot Frank Gaffney; religious nutball and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell; and some reporters from the Washington Examiner and Breitbart.com. Nevertheless, despite their lack of actual influence, it's interesting just to see what these kinds of folks do when they get together and try to conspire.

And the answer is, pretty much exactly what liberals do when they try the same thing. They complain about their enemies. Everyone offers their own brilliant messaging ideas, few of which anyone ever uses. They say, "If I were making a 30-second ad, this is how it would go..." They begin with a sense of urgency that gradually fades. And eventually, attendance at the meetings declines, people stop bothering to contribute as much to the email lists, and it just peters out.

In my previous work as a partisan, I was part of some efforts that were similar to Groundswell, though none of them had such a snappy name. Some consisted of nothing more than a monthly meeting of various liberals to share gripes and toss around ideas, few of which were ever implemented. Others were a little better-organized, meaning they produced—prepare yourself—the occasional memo. None resulted in dramatic political change.

So if this is the group that's gunning for Karl Rove — which apparently is their main focus—I don't think he has much to worry about. Rove may be overrated, but he's still a professional, and these people are amateurs.

On to item 2: According to Politico, there's a feud a-brewin' between, on one side, congressional Republicans who hate Obamacare so much they want to cry, and on the other side, congressional Republicans who hate Obamacare so much they want to stamp their feet. The strategic question at play has to do with the fact that in order for the government to keep functioning, Congress is going to have to pass a continuing resolution in September. A CR is what you do when you haven't passed an actual budget; it says that funding for everything will continue at its current level. Congress passes CRs all the time, because if you don't, it's kind of disastrous. But where you and I see disaster, someone like Marco Rubio, desperate to restore his Tea Party cred in the wake of immigration reform apparently failing, sees an opportunity. So he and a few other GOP senators like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are pushing their colleagues to make this threat: They'll block the CR and thus shut down the government unless Congress votes (and President Obama agrees!) to defund the Affordable Care Act, for all intents and purposes repealing it.

So threatening to shut down the government has become the all-purpose means by which some Republicans believe they can achieve almost any policy goal. Can't cut food stamps? Shut down the government! Can't repeal Obamacare? Shut down the government! "Mr. Chairman, if our proposal to declare August to be National Ted Nugent Appreciation Month is not passed by this body, we will have no choice but to shut down the government!"

Fortunately, many Republican senators are sane enough to realize that shutting down the government in an attempt to stop Obamacare would be a political catastrophe for the GOP, so they're not going to let it happen. But the whole thing is sure to breed plenty of displeasure and resentment. Just what the party needs.

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