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Spencer Critchley Headshot

As Sequester Looms, Signs of Defeat in the GOP War on Reality

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After fighting the stimulus that spared our economy from disaster, the Party of No has threatened new ones in the form of the debt ceiling crisis, the second debt ceiling crisis, and now the sequester crisis.

It has the approval numbers to show for it. At what point did suicide-vest politics start to look like a good idea?

As with others who have made this choice, it started when Republicans lost faith in reality, and came to believe their reward would be in another world. That happened because of an extremely inconvenient accident of recent history: It has amounted to a gigantic test of whether Republican policies actually work.

Look at the pattern. Under Bill Clinton, we had peace, prosperity and budget surpluses. Under George W. Bush, we had a ruinous war, economic collapse, and gigantic deficits.

When Obama won the White House, Republican policies were in such disrepute that there was serious discussion of the possibility of a generation in the political wilderness for the GOP.

Preventing that second success -- even if it meant failure for the country as a whole -- became the only path home that GOP leaders could find (as Michael Grunwald and others have reported).

The GOP commitment to extreme obstructionism is often seen as a political tactic to thwart Obama in hopes of keeping him to one term. But it was also a survival tactic.

Consider just the top one of Obama's first-term priorities, health care reform. Our health costs are the number one driver of deficits, and we have one of the developed world's most wasteful and cruelly non-inclusive health insurance systems.

The GOP response? Defend the status quo against any government action, because the government is the problem, not the solution.

If Obama's sensible, evidence-based reforms keep working, as they are so far, it'll be a huge win for him, and for the country, but a disastrous loss for the credibility of Republicans' anti-government gospel. Hence their tooth-and-nail fighting to try to cripple reform.

The same holds for other Obama successes, such as the recovering economy, the rescue of the auto industry, the repair of our international standing, or the killing of Bin Laden. All threaten stark repudiation of Republicans' policies -- not their messaging or their digital savvy, as many in the GOP are telling themselves, but their policies, as in the stuff that justifies the party's existence.

The GOP's biggest challenge here is they're not just fighting Obama. Because Obama, like Clinton before him, is a pragmatist. He's more interested in figuring out what works rather than what's most ideologically pure. In other words, in a contest between ideology and reality, he chooses reality.

Republicans have made the opposite choice. When reality has disagreed with them they've gone to war with it, attacking science itself on issues like climate change and creationism. They've gone so far as to build a media bubble to protect themselves, a bubble which embarrassingly popped on election night. The war on reality is proving to be a hard war to win.

The good news is that we may be in the end stages now. Since Obama's convincing re-election we're starting to see some peel-aways from the Party of No.

It's none too soon, as lately we're also starting to hear what once may have sounded an outlandish question: "Do we even need the Republican Party?" After all, if it looks like they're just wrong about so many things --just starting with the economy, foreign policy, and climate change, it's quite some list -- what's the point?

We do need a Republican Party, just not the one we have.

Republicans, if reality refuses to go your way, maybe you should try going its way for a while. Maybe the solution isn't to keep repackaging failed policies. Maybe it's time to revisit and re-invent those policies for the modern world. America needs you to do this. We need at least two credible political parties.

Right now, we only have one.