Is he still welcome?

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Republicans Lose If the Bullies Win

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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If there's one thing conservatives should know by now, it's that there's no appeasing the radicals in their midst. Yet not only do they continue to try; in some cases organizations formerly described as "conservative" have moved their firepower to the fringes.

Thus, Heritage Action -- the activist sister organization to the Heritage Foundation -- is pushing the view that Democratic presidents should never again be allowed to get a new Supreme Court justice confirmed. If that means keeping the current vacancy open for another four years, so be it.

This sign of defiance -- like the 2013 government shutdown and the battles to depose House Speaker John Boehner and now Paul Ryan -- is more about bullying mainstream conservatives than it is about the Supreme Court. It is certainly not a way to fix the broken Republican Party.

The key tactic for the radicals is demanding a fight they can't win -- opposing a must-pass bill to keep the government functioning, threatening a catastrophic government default, or demanding Republican action on anything for which they don't have the votes. 

All that matters is that they claim the title of the True Conservative, while those who act responsibly -- even if these leaders are making the best deal possible for Republicans -- are to be painted as squishes, Republicans In Name Only, moderates or even "liberals." 

Thus, Heritage Action and Republicans senators such as Ted Cruz and Richard Burr are urging an extended blockade of the Supreme Court nominations, no matter who controls the Senate.

The only way to stop such escalations is for mainstream conservatives to push back, even at the risk of losing their "conservative" credentials. Today the radicals insist on never confirming a Supreme Court nominee; tomorrow it could be not confirming an attorney general -- why should Crooked Hillary be entitled to one? -- or a secretary of state or defense. Not to mention another shutdown or default threat. Or impeachment. All these losing fights for the GOP and the nation make them effective in isolating, and then punishing, Republicans who aren't willing to punish the country to win intraparty battles.

Remember: Every Republican senator, even the handful of relatively moderate ones, wants Supreme Court justices more conservative than anyone Hillary Clinton would select if it were solely up to her. So will the Republican Party fight hard to cut the best deal it can, or will it abdicate in that fight and appease a fringe group as long as it can?

If there's ever any hope for effective conservative government in the U.S., the first job is to reclaim the Republican Party for conservatives who actually try to do the hard work of governing. And that means standing up to the would-be True Conservatives -- whether they're at Heritage Action, on talk radio and other conservative media, or even in Congress. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net