Don't be the next contestant on that Summer Jam screen
Because you know who (who) did you know what (what)
With you know who (yeah) but just keep that between me and you for now.
Those prophetic words from the great Jay-Z could easily have been written about the three men pictured above who the Republican Party tapped as the faces of their opposition to a young President Barack Obama. The funny thing about it is, in 2009 and 2010 it looked like they were doing pretty well. Now it’s 2022, and Obama’s Vice-President is now the President, and at any time now the last of them could be laid waste to by his party. They have been summarily humiliated, defeated, and vanquished from the GOP.
It would be very easy to sit here and talk about the political failings of each of them individually, or laugh at how foolish it was to think these guys could take on the coolest American politician of his generation. One could spend time making this a demographic case study, and try to make the argument that the “arch of time” is against the House GOP, but that would ignore that the GOP has won or gained seats in every House election since that book cover, save for one. My hypothesis in the end though is quite different than that- none of the “young guns” individual flaws ended up mattering nearly as much as the entire miscalculation of creating the “young guns” at all.
The retired lady in North Dakota, the angry Kari Lake voter in Arizona, the young guy in Johnstown, PA, or the random retiree in The Villages of Florida all may have been seeking an alternative to Barack Obama in 2009, but the last 14 years have shown us that what they were not looking for was policy alternatives packaged in Washington, DC. Paul Ryan’s budget was not the response to Obama’s America they were asking for. The truth is that the whole “young guns” idea was something out of Bush’s Washington, and that Republican Party and America were simply dead when Obama came to town. It was a total misread of the Tea Party moment, and an even worse misread of where American conservatism was by the time 2015 arrived and John Boehner was being forced to vacate the Speaker’s Office to go sell marijuana. After Eric Cantor’s loss the GOP should have never thought Paul Ryan or Kevin McCarthy were going to be able to pacify what the GOP base had become. The last seven years that culminated in Kevin McCarthy’s utter humiliation on the House floor yesterday should have been predictable.
After Obama’s election, anyone who wanted to organize the GOP around an organized policy platform has come to be viewed as a moderate. To be a true conservative of the post-2008 world, one had to be willing to make a cultural argument directly against the America of Barack Obama. To be clear, allow this to clear up the dissonance of how some people voted for Obama himself and became Trumpers- it really wasn’t about Obama or even Bill Clinton’s job performances, it was more about the changes in America that were allowed to go on during their tenures. It was more about the people perceived to be getting preference in that vision of America, and that those people were getting those advantages while the new Republican base was being left to rot. This is why Romney failed to capture this base’s hopes and dreams, but Trump became their hero, his rhetoric reached them. It’s why the Republican “young guns” of 2009, in their suits, armed with their white papers on tax policy failed. The post-2008 GOP base didn’t give a damn about your policy talk, they wanted to know you would fight like hell. The more so you showed them, the more they loved you.
Let’s face it, nobody thinks Kevin McCarthy is a fighter. Or Paul Ryan. Or Eric Cantor. In fact, one by one they’ve been exposed as more willing to deliver for the rich donors than the GOP base, and it eventually catches up to them. Not one of the 20 Republicans who bucked McCarthy yesterday will be angering their own primary voters, just the DC based GOP crowd that the real base doesn’t think delivers for them anyway. The pulse of their party is fine with this.
The truth is the official, DC, mainstream GOP response to “Obamaism” was an attempt to put forward a polished policy alternative, and that bet was all wrong. The folks who wanted an alternative to the world Obama was putting forward wanted a visceral, confrontational opposition. Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, and Eric Cantor didn’t provide that. Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush didn’t provide that. Eventually the base of the GOP figures that out and disposed of them. For McCarthy, whether that really happened yesterday or a year from now, his time is coming. He and his fellow”young guns” made their bet, and they failed. We have reached the point where that is becoming pretty clear.