Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: A party of vengeance, not governance

If you ask me, the best thing the Republican Party could do to improve its standing with voters would be to demonstrate at least a minimal ability to govern.

That's not asking too much, right? The party controls all three branches of the federal government, yet it can't repeal and replace Obamacare, its infrastructure investment plan has never made it past the rumor stage and their odds of enacting a major tax-reform bill are about the same as getting Mexico to pay for that damn wall.

We're witnessing total and complete incompetence, everywhere you look. So the obvious question becomes, what do you learn from all this failure? What lesson do you take away from it?

Logic would dictate that if you're interested in becoming a party that is capable of governing, your first step would be to start electing people who are themselves interested and capable of governing, right?

Nope. Quite the opposite. The Republicans have undertaken a generation-long purge of such people that now seems to be accelerating rather than receding. They hunt down the RINOs in their midst with all the passion and discretion of Puritans hunting down witches. Politics is no longer treated as a mechanism of self-government or as a means of achieving policy goals, but as an outlet for expressing a deep cultural resentment, and for wreaking havoc and revenge on those what done 'em wrong.

So last year, GOP voters tossed aside what some had described as the strongest presidential field in GOP history, chock full of governors and senators, so that they could embrace the likes of Donald Trump, a man who knows nothing about how to govern but everything about how to stir resentment.

In Alabama on Tuesday, they voted to nominate Roy Moore, an ultra-right, gay-hating, Muslim-bashing throwback, to serve as their U.S. senator. In Tennessee, Sen. Bob Corker -- one of the saner, more reasonable members of the GOP caucus -- announced this week that he would not run for re-election, probably because he fears a challenge from his right and because Washington increasingly has no place for a conservative of his temperament and skills. He too is likely to be replaced by a Republican far more adept at voicing resentments than in enacting legislation.

The lesson that the GOP seems to be drawing is that if your party can't and won't govern, you should elect even more people who can't and won't govern.

You see that dynamic play out on issues as well as personalities. The GOP had seven years to produce a policy to replace Obamacare, yet it never came close to doing so. Why? Because they never really saw it as a fight about policy in the first place. Obamacare wasn't so much a health-care law as it was a symbol of President Obama and their own hated impotence, and they want it wiped from the legislative landscape in much the same way that others want to see Confederate monuments removed.

Viewed through that perspective, the repeated failure to repeal and replace Obamacare doesn't become cause for reflection about improving the party's incapacity to draft policy or get bills passed. It certainly doesn't open the door to a more bipartisan operating style. Instead, the base views it as further proof of betrayal by their party leadership, and further evidence of the need for more Roy Moores and fewer Bob Corkers.

Steve Bannon could not be more thrilled.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.