You almost have to feel sorry for House Speaker John Boehner. He’s taken on the task of crafting a punitive, stingy, self-contradictory GOP version of a bill to deal with the border crisis that most of his party wants to blame solely on President Obama. There’s no reward for that.
His apparent leadership rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, has been whipping Boehner’s members to oppose Boehner’s bill. As part of an attempted compromise, the speaker is going to let his members vote to end the president’s deferred action on deportations, even though they have no power to do that. But he wants to keep that issue separate from the border-crisis bill, and Cruz, the shadow speaker, is telling members to say no.
In the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol sides with Speaker Cruz. Passing Boehner’s bill, he says, will interfere with the GOP’s top priority – running up big election wins in November. The only reasonable GOP response to the border crisis is to do nothing – and blame Obama.
Now, it’s been obvious since early 2009 that this is the GOP agenda. Rarely, however, does any Republican lay bare the craven political logic behind the party’s anti-Obama obstructionism. But wrong-way Bill Kristol is no average guy. His inbred arrogance lets him treat thuggish political sabotage as political genius. He seems to think he’ll get his point across to House backbenchers if he speaks very slowly and enunciates.
Here’s how he spells it out:
If the GOP does nothing, and if Republicans explain that there's no point acting due to the recalcitrance of the president to deal with the policies that are causing the crisis, the focus will be on the president. Republican incumbents won't have problematic legislation to defend or questions to answer about what further compromises they'll make. Republican challengers won't have to defend or attack GOP legislation. Instead, the focus can be on the president.
Get it? If they listen to Kristol, Republicans won’t have to do any of the heavy lifting associated with governing. Just vote with Speaker Ted Cruz, get back on the campaign trail to bash Obama, and all will be well.
While he’s at it, Kristol also backs up the Obama administration’s claim that the House GOP plan could make things worse at the border. Both sides seem to agree that Boehner’s bill is a mess. But that’s not the reason to kill it, Kristol argues. The reason to kill it is entirely political.
Boehner’s team seems to think that by passing a bad bill that will never become law anyway, Republicans will nonetheless get credit for trying to deal with the border mess, rather than just point fingers at the president. Kristol thinks Boehner has that entirely backward: No one who matters – meaning, nobody in the GOP base that’s so crucial to 2014 midterm success – is going to care that Boehner tried to solve the problem. That’s just distracting. The entire point is to blame Obama -- while giving him absolutely no help in making things better.
Oh, and to my false-equivalence-loving, “both sides do it” friends in the media: Bill Kristol sees you, and he’s not fooled. Republicans might get credit from the media for tackling the issue “perhaps for one day,” but it “will take the focus off the man who is above all responsible for the disaster at the border — the president.” On the other hand, if Republicans kill the bill, Kristol knows he can count on leading pundits to go back to asking their most urgent question: Why can’t Obama lead?
Kristol’s strategy is not just politically craven, it’s cruel to the children and families at the border. But Republicans can’t be expected to care about them. And yet, if you believe the new immigrants are vectors of crime and disease, as many conservatives do, inaction is also cruel to the good red-state voters of Arizona and Texas who are bearing the brunt of the influx. You might want to help those red states protect themselves, by passing some funding and some legislative relief to reduce the logjam at the border, and send those who don’t deserve asylum home more quickly.
Any kind of legislative solution -- even a sham one like Boehner's -- would accept the premise that the border crisis is a complicated bipartisan creation, the result of years of drug, immigration and national security policies that worsened the poverty and political corruption driving Central Americans to flee their homes or send their children north. Any kind of solution also commits the GOP to being a partner in governing, and they’ve given up on that, in the age of Obama and perhaps permanently.
Better to do nothing and blame Obama, and count on the media to fall for it – again. Kristol has been proven wrong about virtually everything else in his career, but he's been right about the media, so his corrupt strategy may just work.