The New GOP: Brinkmanship, Gamesmanship, Plain Politics, or Real Convictions?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between political games and political convictions. Recently, Rand Paul almost single-handedly derailed the newest iteration of the Patriot Act. Some in the GOP believe his actions were nothing more than a political stunt to galvanize his Libertarian base. For instance, Mike Lee of Utah, who is not running for president, thinks most of Paul’s legislative actions are designed to play into Paul’s presidential bid:

“The American people deserve better than this,” he said, after an intra-party squabble between GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul and Senate Republican leadership caused various counterterrorism efforts to cease. “Vital national security programs . . . should not be subject to cynical, government-by-cliff brinksmanship. If members of Congress, particularly Republican members of Congress, ever want to improve their standing among the American people, then we must abandon this habit of political gamesmanship.”

In other words, Paul and the rest of the presidential hopefuls, are allowing the political game to get in the way of good governance. I agree with Lee that candidates should not govern with only their political careers in mind. But I think he has it directly backwards as to who in the GOP is actually doing that.

Rand Paul took a real political risk opposing the Patriot Act renewal, which had wide bipartisan support. All throughout his speech in opposition to renewing bulk collection, the Senate had to be called to order because almost no one in the Senate had good enough manners to let Paul be heard without constant noisy interruptions.

I agree that, from an outsider’s view, the Tea Party strategy looks like brinkmanship or gamesmanship. But the Tea Party represents a constituency within the GOP that is just plain fed up with the political process. If it looks like they are trying to break the system rather than fix it, perhaps it’s because they believe the system is too far gone to be turned around by “conservative” degrees.

And who can really blame them? Years of moderate conservatism, incrementalism, and compromise have left the GOP almost completely feckless. In other words, it’s possible that brinkmanship is not merely a political stunt. Perhaps it is just what uncompromised political convictions look like these days.