The new normal for politics

No incentive to compromise

Members of the House leave after voting for legislation to avoid the fiscal cliff on Jan. 1.
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It's fashionable to bash House Republicans these days as no-knowing Tea-Party-controlled rubes who are responsible for the destruction of the Grand Old Party. But who is responsible for the House Republicans? Proximately, the Tea Party movement and the intellectual/corporate forces behind it can take some credit for establishing a defensive weapon inside Congress that makes it very hard to compromise. But ultimately, both the Democratic and Republican parties are responsible for the strategy that has so polarized this chamber of Congress in the first place. Redistricting is controlled by state legislatures, and the same Republicans who are now grumbling that the House GOP is throwing away the baby with the bath water were the ones who encouraged conservative donors to focus on state legislative chambers and on electing politicians who were keen to redraw districts in ways that corralled conservative constituencies.

At the same time, the idea that partisan redistricting alone is responsible for the make-up of the House Republican conference is ridiculous. It's like looking at the yellow in a Van Gogh painting and concluding that the painting is about the color yellow. These GOPers were elected in fair elections over the course of several cycles culminating in 2010, a year when the Democratic Party simply couldn't turn out its voters in marginal districts. These members were elected to impose fiscal discipline the Republican way. That's what they're there for. The voices of these constituencies are decidedly anti-spending and anti-establishment: The talk radio hosts and activist websites that have proliferated. The most well-funded election pressure groups are those with a keen focus on fiscal discipline, like the Club for Growth. These folks feel put-over, put-upon, screwed by their leadership and still really, really, really dislike President Obama.

So, this is the New Normal: The big fights will be about money. House Republicans, regardless of who they elect speaker, will represent the sum of the forces that elected them. That's a lot like the Old Normal.

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