Party of‘no’ failsAmerica

In these challenging times, what America needs most — but what it cannot get — is a strong, confident Republican Party.

It needs a Republican Party with a modern agenda, a Republican Party that is capable of fulfilling its role as a partner in the governance of this country. Note that word “partner,” because it is crucial. Operating the constitutional machinery designed by the Founders requires a partnership among those elected to office. Unlike European models, which entrust total power to a single party or coalition, the American model of republican democracy requires partnership. It is fueled by compromise, and in the absence of compromise it cannot function.

Unfortunately, today’s Republican Party lacks the confidence to risk compromise. It operates from the premise that if they compromise on anything, the whole Republican enterprise falls apart. So while it can say no, and does so loudly and often, it lacks the courage to say yes to just about anything. It also lacks the courage to propose and advance policies of its own.

As a result, Washington cannot function and Congress cannot function, and the 13 percent job-approval rating for Congress is all too deserved.

I understand that conservative Republicans see the situation very differently. They define strength as the willingness to say no to President Obama and the Democrats, at every opportunity and in every situation. In their eyes, it is the willingness to say yes that marks a Republican as suspect in his fervor and commitment. Making Obama fail is their only goal.

We saw that dynamic play out this week in the shocking defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary in Virginia, the first time in U.S. history that had occurred. Cantor is conservative by any reasonable definition; he had helped to lead the conservative assault on Obamacare; he had masterminded the GOP’s effort to use the debt ceiling and budget to force concessions from President Obama. He had also backed the Tea Party movement from its earliest days.

But when forced to choose between prolonging the government shutdown and the debt crisis at immense risk to the country and the Republican Party, Cantor backed away from the brink. When confronted in 2008 with the choice of passing the TARP bailout or allowing the international banking system to collapse, he again took the course that I would describe as responsible and his conservative critics would condemn as weak.

Immigration also played a major role. Cantor is by no means an advocate of amnesty for illegal immigrants, but he does recognize that a GOP insistence on self-deportation as the only solution was suicidal. His perceived willingness to at least consider other options became a major count in the conservative indictment against him.

“What the Republican establishment and the Chamber of Commerce don’t understand is that there’s a large element of America that wants a fight,” Newt Gingrich told the New York Times. “If you’re a conservative, you think Barack Obama is literally destroying the country you love. And you watch your leadership and they seem unwilling to take him head on, and also unable to outmaneuver him.”

As a primary architect of the modern GOP, Newt ought to know.