Extremist Republicans Don't Want to be Attacked for Extremism

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President George W. Bush signing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

The National Review's Andrew Stiles is still upset with Democratic messaging on reproductive rights:

Welcome to the scorched-earth phase of the Democrats’ “war on women” campaign, and the beginning of a ruthless offensive to hold their Senate majority, and possibly to retake the House, in 2014.

Democrats have nearly perfected the following exercise in cynical electioneering: 1) introduce legislation; 2) title it something that appeals to the vast majority of Americans who have no interest in learning what is actually in the bill, e.g., the “Violence Against Women Act”; 3) make sure it is sufficiently noxious to the GOP that few Republicans will support it; 4) vote, and await headlines such as “[GOP Lawmaker] Votes No On Violence Against Women Act”; 5) clip and use headline in 30-second campaign ad; and 6) repeat.

I'm not sure if Stiles knows this, but the Violence Against Women Act predates the Democratic "war on women." It was first passed in 1994 by a vote of 61-38 in the Senate and 235-195 in the House. It was reauthorized in 2000, and again in 2005—with little opposition from Republicans. And indeed, Senate Republicans joined Democrats last year to reauthorize the new VAWA, with the included protections for Native American women and other groups.

The problem, as it has been for the last two years, is a conservative minority of the House Republican conference. Indeed, it's the same minority that has rejected equal pay laws, and pushed anti-abortion bills that sharply reduce the reproductive autonomy of women. If the "war on women" has had any traction as a rhetoric framework, it's because those things are unpopular with voters.

Stiles is free to complain that a political party is being unfair by playing politics, but if he wants to solve the problem, he should push his allies to abandon their current drive to make life more difficult for women.

The more interesting tidbit in Stiles' piece is this:

Republican aides are increasingly convinced that taking the House back in 2014 is going to be Obama’s sole focus over the next two years. “Democrats are not presenting a good-faith effort to get legislation passed,” a Senate GOP aide says. “They simply want to have Republicans on record voting for or against, and to use those votes in political campaigns next year. They’re going to label us as obstructionists and extremists, and try to win back the House and a 60-vote majority in the Senate so they can push their real agenda.”

I doubt that Democrats can take back the House in 2014. It wouldn't just run against the general pattern—where the president's party loses seats in the midterm—but Democrats would have to fight an uphill battle against a large number of incumbent legislators, with all the benefits that come from incumbency. Then again, the public is unhappy with the Republican Party, and if the GOP's position continues to deteriorate, a 2014 sweep is definitely on the table for Democrats.

Again, however, it's worth noting the odd complaint behind Stiles' observation. If Democrats are planning to label Republicans "obstructionists and extremists," it's because Republicans have been acting as obstructionists and extremists. In just the three months since the election, Republicans have:

  • Held the economy hostage to massive spending cuts (the fiscal cliff).
  • Launched a crusade against the administration on the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, with the clear goal of generating a scandal.
  • Filibustered a Cabinet nominee over aforementioned pseudo-scandal.
  • Threatened to allow a huge round of austerity (the sequester), if the president doesn't agree to another round of spending cuts (which would also harm the economy).

In between, Republicans have continued to endorse the right-wing policies of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, and the newest star in the GOP—Ted Cruz—is a far-right ideologue.

Are Democrats exaggerating the extremism of congressional Republicans? Probably. But it's easy to do when the GOP is so eager to help.

Comments

They have been extreme for so long that they think they are in the center of the political spectrum ... the 1857 political spectrum ... of Germany.

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