WASHINGTON – The most depressing news from last week did not come from the presidential campaign. It came instead from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who told us what a Republican Congress would be all about: investigating a President Hillary Clinton, starting on or about Jan. 20, 2017.
“It’s a target-rich environment,” the Utah Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee cheerfully told The Washington Post’s David Weigel. “Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”
The party’s post-election slogan: Forward into the Past!
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So, no time to see if we might first refurbish our infrastructure, improve education, or find a compromise to repair the Affordable Care Act. No need to act on immigration reform.
And, no, we won’t start a Clinton term by doing more to lift up Americans who have been hammered by economic upheaval. It’s an endeavor that could usefully draw Americans closer to each other across some of our deepest chasms, since both inner-city African-Americans and Donald Trump’s white working-class supporters have been hit hard by de-industrialization.
But a Republican House seems to feel no obligation to bring us together. The plan, apparently, is to attack, attack and attack again, as if the election never happened.
And when you think about it, hating the Clintons is one thing that can bring a badly divided Republican Party together. The term “civil war” may have been overused about the GOP, but this time, there is no denying that the battle for the party’s future and its soul is on.
If the Republicans hold one or both houses of Congress, they will be divided on all manner of issues actually related to running the country. So what better way to unite the party than to put governing aside as much as possible and spend the two years between now and the 2018 midterm elections trying to destroy Clinton? Trump and his followers would love it, and the establishment would not be required to show its hand on any matters of importance.
This is an outrage for anyone who thinks we need a functioning government. But it is also disappointing to those inside and outside the GOP who hoped that the Trump experience might lead to some serious rethinking about what the party is and what it should stand for.
Some Republicans seem genuinely serious about the need to do exactly this, and the Chaffetz interview broke just a few days after the flagship magazine of American conservatism, National Review, hit the stands with a new issue that included genuine soul-searching – literally so in the case of Ian Tuttle and his reflections on “The Religious Right’s Demise.”
Tuttle speaks frankly of the crisis among Christian conservatives who were “often beholden to nostalgia for a postwar cultural consensus that in reality only ever half-existed.” As a result, “evangelicals quickly became reflexive Republican partisans” and “the religious right became more right than religious.”
Tuttle urges conservative Christians to think first about the “integrity” of the faith and become “an authentic Christian voice crying in the wilderness, wielding a moral authority independent of party politics, preparing a way for a renewed public life.”
In the meantime, Tim Alberta, the magazine’s chief political correspondent, provides an unflinching and usefully detailed look at the Republican Party’s challenge as the United States experiences “a sweeping and unprecedented demographic transformation.” He pays particular attention to the growing Latino share of the vote in states such as Arizona, Texas, Colorado and Nevada.
Alberta writes that “if the GOP continues to repel nonwhites, it will cease to be competitive.” He also notes that in nominating Trump, the party chose a man “who indulges the fantasy of returning to an America that no longer exists.”
Yes, Trump ought to make it impossible for Republican conservatives to ignore the reality that their movement and ideology both face a day of reckoning. Their future depends on grappling with the sorts of problems that both Tuttle and Alberta candidly confront.
Ah, but soul-searching is painful, and acknowledging that the country is changing plays very badly with the party’s base. It’s so much easier to investigate Benghazi for the umpteenth time and to dig into the nooks and crannies of a job that Clinton left nearly four years ago. It makes you realize that Washington Republicans are so out of the habit of governing that trying to tear down Democratic presidents is the only thing they know how to do.
E.J. Dionne’s email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @EJDionne.