THE BLOG
12/31/2015 03:14 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2016

Remembering 2015: Republicans Get Conned

It's hard to feel sorry for Republicans, given that they control both sides of Congress and two-thirds of state legislatures. It's difficult to feel compassion for members of a party who, for much of the year, acted like bullies. Nonetheless, in 2015 the GOP's rank-and-file get royally conned, not once but twice.

At the beginning of 2015, before Donald Trump entered the Republican presidential primary and sucked up most of the MSM energy, the political news was about the bad things that Congressional Republicans intended to do: defund Planned Parenthood - perhaps women's health services in general, cut back on entitlement programs, restrict the EPA's ability to regulate our air and water, and (just perhaps) kill Obamacare. Big words that came to nothing!

The far-out right Freedom Caucus flexed its muscle and shoved Speaker John Boehner out the door. Then it nixed his handpicked predecessor, Kevin McCarthy. Finally, as an anxious nation held its breath, the Freedom Caucus got their guy, Representative Paul Ryan.

To the surprise of many during the end-of-the-year-budget showdown, Speaker Ryan responded to his new challenge by surrendering to the Democrats. As Ryan Lizza reported in the New Yorker:

Recall that, only a few weeks ago, House conservatives were trying to use this omnibus bill to kill federal funding for Planned Parenthood, halt Obama's plan to resettle Syrian refugees in the United States, attack numerous Obama environmental policies, and generate a wish list of some hundred and fifty policy riders... [House Democratic Leader Nancy] Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, and the White House got all of the riders struck from the bill... [in exchange for] an end to the forty-year ban on American crude-oil exports, which Democrats agreed to in return for an extension of solar- and wind-energy-industry tax credits. The extension of the tax credits is an enormous victory for Democrats, perhaps the most significant green-energy achievement of the Obama era. Bloomberg Business, citing one industry analyst, says, 'the deal will speed up the shift from fossil fuels more than the global climate deal struck this month in Paris and more than Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan that regulates coal plants.

Although, rank-and-file Republicans were outraged by Ryan's capitulation, they shouldn't have been. Congressional Republicans never had the votes to kill federal funding for Planned Parenthood and the other items on their kill list. It was a gigantic bluff. Republicans conned their base and, to a great extent, themselves.

We could laugh at Republicans and ask how they could possibly put their trust in weasels like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, but riff-raff wouldn't get the joke. The irony is that through all of 2015 the GOP faithful railed against President Obama, decried him as a socialist and "the worse president ever." Obama just had what probably was the best year of any second-term president in recent memory. Among other things, he protected his healthcare program, instituted strict regulations on coal-fired plants, signed a historic accord with Iran, and led the world at the Paris Climate talks resulting in a historic accord.

What did Congressional Republicans accomplish? Very little. In the sad tradition of recent Republican-led Congresses, it was remarkably unproductive.

As a result of Paul Ryan's betrayal, GOP voters are justifiably pissed off at their Washington leaders. A November Pew Research Poll found that only 11 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they trust the government. "Far more Republicans (32%) than Democrats (12%) say they are angry with the government."

So it makes sense that Republicans are looking outside the Washington establishment for their 2016 presidential candidate. The latest Huffington Post Poll of Polls suggests their candidate will be Donald Trump. (Who has a commanding 37.5 percent to 18.3 percent lead over his nearest competitor Ted Cruz - another outsider even though he's a senator.)

This is the other con: rank-and-file Republicans feel Trump represents their interests -- but other than immigration, he doesn't. He's a single-issue candidate who lacks any substance on major issues. And, if you look at the historic conservative hot buttons, such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and taxes, Trump comes off as far more liberal than his erstwhile competitors. Trump is an uncontrollable narcissist whom Republicans like because he's a lot more compelling than the rest of their weak presidential field.

Now there's a third con, that somehow the competition will stay open and - gasp - result in a contested Republican convention in July. And some dark horse - Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan - will miraculously become the Republican nominee.

Not a chance! It's over! For weeks, Trump and his evil twin, Ted Cruz, have commanded more than 50 percent of the vote in each of the primary states. The Republican race is not competitive. The Loonies have won! The GOP is stuck with Trump and probably Cruz as his running mate.

It's tempting to feel sorry for the Republican base because they have been the big losers of 2015. It's tempting to feel sorry for them until we remember their objective is to destroy the planet and our democracy.