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How to understand Republicans? Think Godfather IV

WASHINGTON In trying to understand the Republican Party’s internal battles, it helps to think of Michael and Sonny.

Corleone, that is.

On one side we have Sonny – the hot-headed, impulsive, shoot-now-take-names-later son of Don Corleone. On Capitol Hill, he personifies the tea party followers who would rather die on principle than live to win a later day.

On the other side, we have Michael – the cooler-headed son and intellectual strategist. On the Hill, Michael represents the so-called establishment legislators who understand the way forward but thus far have been reluctant to pull the trigger.

That’s a metaphor for all those literalists out there who may feel compelled to issue fresh gun- control imperatives. It means to take necessary, if unpleasant, action. Before action, however, there should be a plan, which has been demonstrably missing in recent weeks. Had there been a strategic, long-view plan rather than a series of tactical blunders, Republicans might now be basking in the realization of a dream: Obamacare is a hot mess.

Remember the “train wreck” Republicans kept promising? Well, guess what. It’s happening. The train is wrecking. And yet, rather than popping open the champagne as the Obamacare website crashes in a glut of glitches, Michael and Sonny are having a staring contest.

It’s as though Republicans didn’t have faith in their own prognostications.

Meanwhile, almost two weeks after the government shutdown, polls are showing a shift in Democrats’ favor. Not only do fewer Americans view Republicans in a positive light (28 percent, according to Gallup) but they’re becoming more, not less, approving of Obamacare. While Republicans were nudging the can up the road on the debt ceiling, approval for Obamacare leapt up 7 points, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal polls.

Great job, Teddy!

That would be Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who grabbed headlines by filibustering for 21 hours against Obamacare. Cruz is neither Michael nor Sonny, but is the star of his own movie. He’s Ted bin Laden – the guy who hands out suicide vests and then goes to lunch.

The family clash between the Corleone brothers is about to become bloodier, though it doesn’t have to. What needs to happen is for certain parties to become wiser and to absorb this simple truth: You cannot govern if you cannot win.

Tea-party warriors may prefer to perish on principle, but perish they will. And, if something doesn’t change fast and soon, the fear is that they'll take down the House with them. Forget the Senate in 2014. And forget the White House for the foreseeable future.

Unless, that is, the hard-right suicide flame throwers can be neutralized or converted.

Thus, the only alternative is a systematic, strategic purge of the GOP’s Sonny side. (Sonny Side Down?) Rational conservatives who understand that governing requires compromise, not just “winning,” need to form their own groups to first protect their reasonable legislators and then actively recruit and elect strong, likable candidates who can win general elections.

If Republicans can pull this off, then they can (maybe) keep the House and (just maybe) take the Senate. Then, with a clear mandate from the people, they can have their way with Obamacare. Theoretically, they could repeal – or use their strength in numbers to improve it and also move forward on entitlements and tax reform in ways that most sensible Americans would support.

Painful though it may be to witness, it may be time for Sonny to take a drive through the toll plaza. Maybe he could give Ted bin Laden a lift.

(That’s a metaphor, too.)

Kathleen Parker is a Washington Post columnist. Email: kathleenparker@washpost.com.
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