With Sen. Tom Coburn (R) retiring at the end of the year, well ahead of the scheduled end of his term, there will be a Senate special election in Oklahoma in 2014. Given the fact that the Sooner State is one of the “reddest” in the nation, it’s very likely the seat will remain in Republican hands. The question is which Republican.Rep. Tom Cole (R) and state Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) quickly withdrew from consideration, but Rep. James Lankford (R) launched his campaign yesterday, vowing in his announcement speech to “continue Dr. Coburn’s conservative legacy.”[…]
To hear the Senate Conservatives Fund and its allies tell it, Lankford is some kind of RINO. I poked around the ThinkProgress archive this morning to get a sense of some of the congressman’s greatest hits and found a few gems:
* He believes climate change is a “myth,” pushed by those seeking to “control” people.
* He blamed “welfare moms” for gun violence.
* He wants the United States to defund and abandon the United Nations.
The Senate Conservatives Fund and its allies think this guy just isn’t conservative enough. Perhaps some folks are just tough to please.
In the larger context, though, the organizations’ dissatisfaction with James Lankford does help explain the growing tensions between the Republican Party and these extremist outside groups. When this congressman can’t meet the activist groups’ standards for conservatism, it signals to GOP leaders that there’s simply no point in trying to cater to their demands – even radicals won’t be seen as radical enough.
When President Obama won in November the electorate also rendered a verdict on the priorities of the two major political parties. Democrats, most voters believe, are more concerned with the plight of the middle class than Republicans, who ran on a platform of actually lowering income taxes on wealthy Americans.
In the intervening months, Republican operatives have become practitioners of a new kind of alchemy, attempting with little success to convince voters that the right’s long-standing agenda — reduced regulation for big business, lower taxes for the wealthy and big corporations, privatized and diminished social services — is actually an array of policies that coincidentally meets the needs of the middle class.
Enter House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who’s hit upon a new plan. If you can’t turn lead into gold, go out and buy some gold paint.
In a major policy address at the conservative American Enterprise Institute Tuesday, Cantor said Republicans are looking beyond the budget brinksmanship that’s gripped the right for years to a new, more narrowly tailored agenda for the middle class.
“In Washington, over the past few weeks and months, our attention has been on cliffs, debt ceilings and budgets, on deadlines and negotiations,” he said. “All of this is very important, as there is no substitute for getting our fiscal house in order. … But today, I’d like to focus our attention on what lies beyond these fiscal debates.”
Some of the ideas he described were old, some new. Some would genuinely serve the interests of a wider electorate, others would not. But even if Republicans shift their rhetorical focus to less objectionable policies they’re still devoting all of their legislative heft to the same platform and style of governance that cost them the election.
Nevertheless, as Cantor delivered his remarks, GOP leaders simultaneously denounced Obama’s proposal to pay down the sequester’s deep spending cuts with a mix of more gradual cuts and higher taxes on wealthy interests. For them, the sequester — all $1.2 trillion worth — can only be paid down with cuts to other programs. No new revenue, no matter the source, according to influential Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK).
In order then, replacing the sequester with cuts to food stamps and Medicaid would be preferable to letting the sequester take effect, but both would be preferable to any sequester replacement that includes even a thimble full of tax revenue wrung from closing loopholes that benefit powerful interests.
The GOP’s real, immediate priorities are thus no different than they were before the election.
Those priorities didn’t carry the day in November. And in the months since, Republicans, and the conservative movement writ large, have been debating amongst themselves whether their priorities need an overhaul, or whether they just need to shoehorn them into packaging that will appeal to the broad middle class.