THE BLOG
07/16/2013 10:59 am ET Updated Sep 15, 2013

The GOP's Political Cowardice

We need to face it: to do the right thing, there is occasionally a price to be paid. Granted, in government, if you do nothing for long enough you will wind up more unpopular than if you take a misstep here or there, but, by and large, doing nothing and getting by is what the GOP House has done for years: they can vote on and fail more than 37 times to repeal Obamacare, but they can not get a vote together on anything as basic as a farm bill. This is what drove them to historic lows in popularity, and this legislative atrophy is dangerous to the function of our government. The diagnosis: a lack of guts, spine, or whatever other euphemism one would wish to use for courage.

To say that many within the GOP House are a bunch of cowards would be too generous: Cowards often have some semblance of dignity. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), in a valiant attempt to throw babies under the bus, gave his "terror babies" theory on the floor of the House about pregnant women whose children are radicalized once inside the U.S. This is the same Representative who threatened to challenge Boehner for his speakership over immigration, and has led Boehner himself to speculate he may lose his position if he pushes the Senate immigration bill.

What would drive a man to such extremes of thought processes? Primaries. Louie Gohmert is in a strongly red district, and knows that he will probably never lose to a Democrat, but could be "primaried," or flanked from the right by a more "conservative" (typically as defined by the Tea Party) Republican. All he needs to do to avoid having someone from the Tea Party come along and appeal to the base that actually comes out for a primary is promise to build a bigger, more electrified fence than the competition.

For those with doubts, remember: Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), a moderate by today's standards and one of the longest serving Senators we ever had, lost to Richard Mourdock in the 2012 primaries. Mourdock soon became known as the most infamous member of the GOP's "rape caucus" of 2012, and lost the formerly Republican seat to a Democrat.

By staying right of the competition, Gohmert will fill the outspoken far-right fringe niche that is being abandoned by Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.). His brand of crazy will win the cameras that are in Washington to catch the ugly reality TV and far-right posturing aspects of politics that his primary crowd demands. This will ensure that he does not get far outside of a fringy right constituency that Texas as a state is getting further away from. Gohmert can, however, keep his seat as long as he continues to appeal to a right fringe that votes in primaries above all other Republicans.

Gohmert's position is not in any way unique: to see someone faced with the same choice, look no further than Joe Heck (R-Nev.). Joe's voting constituency includes the suburbs south of Las Vegas, which has many Latino and Asian immigrants that work in the Vegas hotels. All the same, his strong right base shows up to his town halls to yell at him over immigration, much like what John McCain (R-Ariz.) has seen in his. This could be one reason why he has relatively soft rhetoric on immigration, calling the system broken and pushing for reform, yet still saying he would vote against the Senate bill if it were brought to the House.

Heck, Gohmert and many other Republicans face the same choices: continue to alienate a growing voter bloc in pushing against immigration and ruin your changes to appeal to a broader audience, or take a sharp loss now by getting ahead of the issue. Reince Priebus' "Autopsy Report" had some good insight into why the GOP is so uncompetitive on a national stage today, but his party is bent on making the same mistakes again.

As of Wednesday, after a large meeting of the GOP House to talk about immigration it looks that the leadership is united behind the Gohmert approach. Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Cantor (R-Va.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and the rest of the leadership of the GOP House signed off on the following, less than encouraging statement:

Today House Republicans affirmed that rather than take up the flawed legislation rushed through the Senate, House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken system. The American ... [public doesn't] trust a Democratic-controlled Washington, and they're alarmed by the president's ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem.