WASHINGTON Wave goodbye to members of the House of Representatives. Doing nothing has taken a lot out of them, so they have left Washington for five weeks of rest, relaxation and campaigning in the hope that voters will return them to office to do more of the same.
This is especially the case for the large tea party contingent among the several score first-term Republicans. They set out to change Washington but settled for simply paralyzing it.
They repealed Obama’s health-care law 33 times but didn’t change one word of its 2,700 or so pages. They stopped the Grand Bargain over the debt and deficit even at the cost of exposing Speaker John Boehner as a scaredy cat. They haven’t been able to curb the excesses of Wall Street, keep the debt ceiling from rising, or end government subsidies to NPR or Amtrak – but by God, they can bring the capital to its knees. About 80 percent of Americans hate Congress yet the tea party – fortified by Sarah Palin, Sen. Jim DeMint and the Club for Growth – is about to do for the Senate what it did to the House.
Look at what has happened so far in the Republican primaries: Only the purest, most virginal conservatives are being chosen as the party’s standard bearers in November.
Last week, former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz overwhelmed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the veteran establishment candidate, to win the nomination to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Dewhurst’s sins? He was Gov. Rick Perry’s right-hand man and an occasional sponsor of bipartisan legislation. The most effective ad against Dewhurst accused him of being a moderate.
Three months ago conservative Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock beat six-term incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar, the compromiser who’d forgotten his roots. Nebraska State Sen. (and rancher) Deb Fischer beat Attorney General Jon Bruning in Nebraska in an upset to go up against Bob Kerrey, the former governor and senator, on Election Day.
Each victor campaigned against Washington insiders who had impermissible contact with the enemy. If these candidates do get elected, inactivity is preferable to approving legislation that even contemplates the possibility that any American could get so much as a food stamp he is not entitled to.
Take Connecticut, the Yankee bastion of village squares and town-hall meetings. In the race to replace retiring Senator Joe Lieberman, the purist wing of the Republican Party prefers entrepreneur Linda McMahon, who has never run anything but a soft-porn wrestling empire, over former representative Chris Shays, who was close to former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Reaching across the aisle from time to time – he voted for campaign-finance reform, for instance – helped lead to Shays’s defeat in 2008.
McMahon won the party endorsement in May, but Shays managed to scrape together enough votes to challenge her for the nomination. The primary election is next Tuesday. It will take a miracle for Shays to defeat a self-funded candidate blanketing the state with softly lit ads that present McMahon as a job creator. Airbrushed out is the fact that she got wealthy in part by making professional wrestling even more vulgar, adding storylines involving necrophilia and intrafamily violence starring her husband, Vince, and daughter, Stephanie.
This is what the Grand Old Party has come to, as other primaries in Wisconsin and Missouri threaten to reward insurgents. In Connecticut, a poll in June shows McMahon leading Shays, 59 percent to 30 percent. If McMahon and a few other candidates win in November, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could become majority leader but actually lose power: Boehner, his weakened counterpart in the lower chamber, doesn’t lead his troops so much as try to keep from being run over by them.
The Senate, as George Washington is supposed to have told Thomas Jefferson, was designed in part to calm the tempers and passions of the House, just as a saucer is used to cool off hot tea. If the saucer itself is scalding, then the whole brew will be too hot to sip.