Members of the Republican Party took two remarkably different approaches in dealing with their opposition to President Barack Obama and his polices on Wednesday. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky conducted an almost 13-hour filibuster against CIA director nominee John Brennan to demand more information on the administration's drone policies, while Republican senators including John McCain and Lindsey Graham had dinner with Obama at a Washington hotel. The blogosphere reacted to the two very different political strategies of an increasingly divided party:
Jana Brock of PolicyMic said the attention garnered by Paul's filibuster shows the value of the tactic and demonstrated his growing position of influence within the GOP:
In just 24 hours, it has rejuvenated a Republican Party brought down by the fiscal cliff debacle and other partisan garbage.
This is proof that the GOP is innovating. Paul spoke at CPAC last year and will be a speaker again this year. But he's riding a wave right now. He is fighting back against a brutish Democratic establishment and is at this moment, beating them at their own game.
Noah Rothman at Mediaite too said the filibuster showed the promise of the future of the conservative movement and its opposition to Obama's agenda, and called Paul a "martyr:"
Before Wednesday, however, Paul spoke for a narrow slice of the Republican Party's coalition. Today, he speaks for a reinvigorated GOP base. But as the hours wore on, another phenomenon began to take shape—Paul's ultimately unsuccessful efforts to rein in the president spoke directly to the forgotten millions of Americans wary of the ever-expanding scope of the unconstrained global war on terror. Paul offered himself up as something of a martyr. His voice, once lonely, grew in stature as his Republican colleagues—one after the next—shared his demand for redress from the White House, though all knew that would not be forthcoming. It was poetic. It was romantic. What may be most important, it reframed Congressional Republicans. All of the sudden, they were fighting for a cause with self-evident nobility that requires no public education campaign: life, liberty, and due process. In filibustering, Paul chipped away at the monopoly on romance that the left has enjoyed for more than a century.
Margaret Hartmann from the Daily Intelligencer writes that Paul's "stunt" fed into raising his national profile and elevated his opposition to Obama and his drone policies:
Yet, overall the stunt was a massive success for the Kentucky senator. Aside from accomplishing his stated goal of drawing more attention to the Obama administration's suggestion that it has the right to take out a U.S. citizens on American soil in a drone attack (though Attorney General Eric Holder says they probably won't), Rand drew bipartisan support and ensured that he'd be featured on every news program along with clips from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington—which is definitely a plus for a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
Jass Shaw of Hot Air, however, was critical of Paul's use of the filibuster, saying the senator was drawing attention for the wrong reasons and a subtler approach may have indeed been more effective:
Mission accomplished, to borrow a now infamous phrase. But the filibuster wound on for almost another eight hours. Why? With the vote called off, the job was done. And there's only so many times you can rephrase the same set of arguments over and over again before it gets repetitive. I was left feeling as if the continued steamrolling was beginning to detract from the popular appeal of the senator's decision to climb this mountain in the first place. Might it not have been better to yield the floor, save his voice and energy, and take it up again in the morning? And having thwarted the vote once—a vote which, let's face it, is going to take place at some point—might he not simply use the mass appeal and attention drawn by the first five hours to gin up some serious PAC money and run national ads to bring more public attention to the question of drones and US citizens defined as enemy combatants? In the end, I simply don't know why it went on for as long as it did.
And Chris Cillizza of The Fix wonders why the filibuster got so much attention in the first place, because when it comes down to it, "It's the economy, stupid:"
Ask the average American what issue he/she cares most about and two-thirds will say the economy. If one percent say drones, we would be—somewhat—surprised. It's simply not an issue that galvanizes large numbers of the American public and, as we noted above, to the extent people pay any attention to drones, they are supportive of using them. So, while President Obama was making nice—or at least sharing a meal—with 11 Republican Senators and reaching out to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to talk about the economy, the GOP was talking about drones. And, in case you forgot, the party still lacks a big-picture vision on the way forward regarding the country's debt and spending issues that goes beyond simply saying: "No new taxes."
Steve Benen from the Maddow Blog noted that the groundswell of support around Paul wasn't as much about supporting Paul than it was opposing Obama:
But as Paul's allies grew throughout the day, it was hard not to wonder whether at least some of his new-found friends endorsed him on the substance or whether "Stand with Rand" had become a temporary fad on the right, driven by Republicans who were simply happy to see President Obama's national security agenda facing criticism, even if they happen to agree with President Obama's national security agenda.
There's room for a real debate about the balance between civil liberties and national security, and if Paul helps spark that conversation, I'd be delighted. But I'll be eager to know just how much yesterday's spectacle changed minds and how much of it was about putting on a show.
Sean Hannity gets to the heart of the differences between Paul's stunt and the dinner between Obama and Senate Republicans:
There is also something interesting happening as a result of Rand Paul's filibuster and that is a seeming divide within the Republican Party. Today, Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain took to the floor of the Senate to chastise Rand Paul for his "political stunt" and express disappointment with Republican colleagues who supported him. McCain says, "If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids. I don't think what happened yesterday is helpful to the American people."
If anything, Rand Paul managed to bring to the forefront an issue that most in the mainstream media haven't really covered. Politically, the groundswell of support for Senator Rand Paul, particularly on Twitter, was remarkable. Perhaps this is just the type of principled leadership that conservative Americans have been craving, though some within the Republican leadership apparently beg to differ.
Michael Crowley at Swampland notes that McCain and Graham have long approached politics from a different angle than the Tea Party:
Tea Party activists still haven't forgiven Graham for the way he played footsie with Obama early in the President's first term on issues ranging from immigration to climate change to closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. Back then, Graham almost seemed to revel in defying his party's base. "Everything I'm doing now ... is completely opposite of where the Tea Party movement's at," Graham told the New York Times in June 2010. He called the movement "just unsustainable" and said, "It will die out." It didn't, of course, and Graham has since backed away from his conciliatory positions.
But in Washington you can smack someone with one hand while extending the other for a handshake. Which is why McCain and Graham are keen to make it clear they carry no grudge against Obama. "I've been the same way with other Presidents. I called for the resignation of Rumsfeld over Iraq," McCain says. "It's not personal," Graham says. "This is a business to me. You disagree on Monday, and on Tuesday you work together."
Steve Benen of the Maddow Blog doubts the goodwill dinner is really an indication that Washington is ready to work together:
[T]here's a predictable trajectory to this process that we've seen before. I hate to sound like a cynic, but consider the usual pattern: a Republican says, "We demand President Obama support X." The White House says, "Fine, we're willing to put X on the table." At which point Republicans respond, "We no longer accept X; and now demand Obama support Y."
I'm glad the participants at last night's dinner had a good time, and if some GOP senators learned something about the president's offer they did not previously know, it was probably time well spent. But are Republicans now (or will they ever be) open to new revenue? Can they apply savings from closed tax loopholes to deficit reduction instead of more tax cuts? Will their desire for a deal outweigh their fear of a primary challenge?
Kevin Drum of Mother Jones also questioned the practical implications of Obama's meal with Republicans:
I doubt very much that it will accomplish anything. LBJ's legendary schmoozing, the touchstone for this kind of thing, has always been overhyped, but even at the height of his powers he would have had little luck with the kind of Congress Obama has to deal with. It's true that there have long been a few Republican senators willing to break ranks on taxes, but there's little reason to think the rest of them will be swayed by any kind of sweet talk or detailed white papers. And that goes double for the House. It's just not in the cards. This stuff is driven by policy and ideology, not by personalities.
- Read Robert Schlesinger: Balance, Paul Ryan's Budget, and Why the GOP Thinks Voters Are Dumb
- Read Ford O'Connell: Republicans Should Give Obama What He Wants: Gridlock
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