When Getting Your Butt Kicked Is the Strategy

Buzzfeed has one of many pieces about anonymous Republicans bemoaning their party's strategic incompetence, this time about the debt ceiling deal. They report:

It’s difficult to find a Republican operative who is willing to say on the record that going over the fiscal cliff next Tuesday is a good idea. Provoking a crisis is bad politics: Republicans are resigned to taking the blame. And it’s bad for their policy agenda: They will likely be cornered into a broader tax hike than the best deal they could get from President Barack Obama today, and with none of the spending cuts that might now be on the table.

And yet, the dominant emotion among most Republicans here is one of sheer resignation.

Here's what Buzzfeed is missing: For Republicans, losing the political fight isn't a downside of the strategy. It is the strategy.

Republicans are eventually going to have to agree to a compromise deal that is acceptable to a broad swath of Democrats and that substantially raises taxes. Their base is going to hate that. But if they drag their feet and get smacked around enough on the way to the deal, they will be able to sell the idea that they had no choice but to cave.

It's very similar to the 2011 fight over the debt ceiling increase, which Republicans for a time insisted would have to be linked to congressional passage of a balanced budget amendment.

A good fight -- or at least the show of one -- placates the conservative base and helps Republicans avoid primary challenges. It also makes the Republican Party look incompetent and reckless, damaging the national brand. Indeed, Republicans actually lost the popular vote for House seats in November, though they held on to a House majority due to a favorable electoral map.

The California Republican Party has shown over the past two decades that kicking and screaming and being unreasonable can help secure a cozy minority of legislative seats with a true-believing party base behind you. It's a strategy that works. It's just not a strategy that works for building electoral majorities.

(Josh Barro is lead writer for the Ticker. E-mail him and follow him on Twitter.)


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