Fiscal cliff averted, so what’s next for Republicans?

What is happening with the Republicans?

The “fiscal cliff” deal between the Obama administration and Congress perplexed many Americans. Cliff averted, they were told–except for the other cliffs on the horizon. President Obama and the Democrats claimed victory while Republicans argued they had gained leverage in the exercise.

It is hard to argue with Obama’s gain on the tax deal since it fulfilled his election promise to raise taxes on the top two per cent. It is difficult to see what the Republicans gained.

Most Senate Republicans endorsed the Biden-McConnell compromise, while more than 60 per cent of the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives broke rank with Speaker John Boehner to vote against the Senate compromise. Republican Boehner, facing re-election as Speaker, won by just two votes after a brief mutiny by some Tea Party types.

Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie condemned the Speaker for failing to bring to the floor an appropriations bill on behalf of Hurricane Sandy victims. He also complained that Boehner failed to take his calls. Christie then held a press conference to attack Boehner and House Republicans saying “this was an example of why Americans hate Congress.” The spontaneous outburst spoke volumes about Republican disarray.

Meanwhile, the soul-searching continues within conservative think-tanks and among Republican pundits. All seem to agree Obama won the election and that America is changing, they just can’t agree what the GOP should do about it.

Over the years, the Republicans have remained the conservative party in a two-party system. From Lincoln (abolished slavery) to Teddy Roosevelt (the ultimate environmental conservationist) to Ike Eisenhower (war hero and fiscal conservative) and Ronald Reagan (father of modern conservatism with a pragmatic streak), the GOP has gradually transformed into a party where social conservatives impose debates on such cultural issues as abortion and gay marriage, and where economic populists threaten to challenge moderate GOP incumbents. The fiscal conservatives have little influence beyond their voice, and neo-conservatives are relatively overshadowed by a more isolationist view of world politics.

Republicans face Congressional conflicts, polarizing base politics, two consecutive White House losses and an electoral map that favors a Democratic coalition. If winning the next two “cliff battles” is the goal, Republicans may be giving up on winning the future. In this case, a vibrant American democracy would be the loser.