For years liberals were jealous of conservative Republicans for being able to fit their fundamental principles on a bumper sticker: small government, low taxes, strong military.
But that Republican mantra is being sequestered before our eyes.
By agreeing to last month’s “fiscal cliff” deal, Republicans had to concede that raising taxes on the fabulously wealthy would not lead to America’s economic demise, sacrificing the Bush tax cut’s core principle that “job creators” should have low taxes.
Now with the sequester looming, Republicans are being forced to admit that their sacred belief in small government is more sacred than their belief in big military.
That’s two out of three Republican pillars that have suddenly become wobbly.
The official Republican message about the sequester is, as described by NBC News, “muddled.” Speaker Boehner is saying the sequester cuts “threaten U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more,” yet they are not lifting a finger to stop them.
Meanwhile, “rank-and-file Republicans” in Congress are saying something different: pocketing deep spending cuts is more important than a plump Pentagon.
The Hill reports:
Rank-and-file Republicans say they’re not worried their leverage could be cut once the spending cuts are triggered, though they acknowledge Obama is a tough political adversary.
“It’s hard to compete with the bully pulpit that the president has,” acknowledged Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.).
But he and other Republicans see the sequester as the best way possible to actually reduce government spending, which they see as the biggest threat to the nation. They are also ready to note the spending cuts will also affect their own offices.
“The bigger concern is what is good for the country,” said Lamborn, who will have to lay off one of his own staffers because of the sequester.
Politico finds the same:
… key Republicans have been speaking openly for weeks about their willingness to let sequestration take effect, regardless of the political risk they’d face at the ballot box in 2014.
“I’m a lot more concerned about trillion-dollar deficits every year stretching to infinity,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas)…
Furthermore, both the National Review and the Wall Street Journal editorial boards — guideposts of Republican thought — have urged Republicans to let the sequester happen, giving lip service to concerns about the effect on national security while concluding we’ll be able to make the best of it.
The President’s budget negotiation strategy has been clever in this regard: he is breaking the Republican coalition.
He seduced Republicans into creating the cliff and the sequester. Then he adopted a firm negotiating stance around those deadlines that attracted public support. Republicans have a firm negotiating stance too. It just lacks public support.
Republicans don’t have the public backing to repeat their long-standing mantra and say: we need small government, low taxes and a strong military. The sequester violates these principles, as does the President’s alternative. We will pass our own alternative, and demand the President sign it.
And so, they must scramble. They must rationalize. They can’t unify and pass alternative legislation. They must make choices that force them to sacrifice what had been perceived to be sacred, and abandon key elements of their coalition.
In some ways, they have become more intellectually consistent in the process.
They have moved away from being “military Keynesians” who claim government spending doesn’t create jobs, unless it’s military spending. Now they simply hate spending. And they’ve inched away from insisting on balanced budgets without ever accepting a balanced approach to budget that includes more revenue.
But if they are moving toward a intellectual consistency, it is one with very narrow appeal: smaller government for the sake of smaller government.
No longer can wealthy “job creators” count on Republicans to keep their taxes low. In fact, they may well go up again if Republicans can’t stand the political heat after the sequester kicks in.
And no longer can the military-industrial complex count on Republicans to protect their special interests. In fact, it’s the Republicans who have proven more willing to play political games with the military budget than the Democrats who have offered concessions to avert the sequester.
At the same time, Republicans are unlikely to win any additional constituencies by letting the sequester create food shortages, airport delays, closed parks, teacher layoffs and more. Just like the government shutdown of mid-1990s, these spectacles only serve to remind voters the good that government does, not buttress the case for dismantling it.
The Republicans may believe they’re on a path to shrinking the size of government, but in fact, they’re only on a path to shrinking the size of their party.