Next year, should she run again, Cathy McMorris Rodgers will more than likely be re-elected. Given her record, my question is, why does she win so easily?
To review: The Republican sea change began during the 1994 midterms. No race was more symbolic and important to Republicans than defeating our own Speaker of the House, Tom Foley. To do this, they poured in money and talent from outside, and took advantage of an oddly lackluster campaign run by the Foley camp.
About her record: McMorris Rodgers represents one of the poorest districts in the state, yet she opposes (or supports budget cuts, which is another way of saying "opposes") every policy designed to help out — Planned Parenthood, Community Development Block Grants, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, early childhood development, equal pay for women, SNAP, minimum wage, gun control... you name it. CDBG money, keep in mind, was essential to the renaissance of the Browne's Addition and South Perry neighborhoods.
She plays off her leadership role as Chair of the House Republican Conference, but then ducks out on taking responsibility for her caucus' disastrously incompetent conduct. Why is it that Democrats have allowed her to escape taking some responsibility for the mess?
McMorris Rodgers' Congress recently scored the lowest public approval rating in Gallup polling history. President Obama's approval rating, while not impressive, is still three times higher than the rating of the Congress that McMorris Rodgers claims to lead.
The suspicion is that she isn't a real leader. A real leader would make a difference. A real leader would be making the case that, the caucus aside, the incoming (assuming that they ever find an "incoming") Speaker should end the fraudulent Benghazi investigation, and do it before Hillary Clinton testifies again and makes Republican members look like bigger fools than she did the previous time she testified. And with a national election in mind, a real leader would be working to take the Planned Parenthood non-issue issue off the table — it works for the far right of the Republican base, but it's disastrous for everyone else, including their eventual presidential nominee, as public opinion polls show.
A real leader also would be working to take the prospect of a government shutdown off the table — this is a national issue with huge local impacts. As things stand, her House caucus might well force the issue again, within a month or so. This time, however, President Obama has, for good reason, thrown down the gauntlet. He has said that he will no longer go along with the gag; no more stopgap decisions to avoid shutting down the government. The next time McMorris Rodgers' dysfunctional House tries to shut down the government — this time in an election year — the president says that he won't blink. Nor should he. She might at least be making the case that threatening to shut the government down is a really dumb thing to do — as Newt Gingrich found, it was the quickest way to lose the Speaker job.
In other words, she seems to want it both ways — claim to be a leader, but when push comes to shove, diminish her own role.
Aided by voter suppression and gerrymandering, Republicans can control the House at least through the next census, and possibly the Senate as well. But they can't win a national campaign on their preferred agenda: social Darwinism; pietistic, anti-women's rights; anti-minorities; anti-labor; anti-city; pro-big money; xenophobic, knee-jerk opposition to even the most modest, common-sense gun regulations.
For Democrats to win, they must frame local concerns with reference to national needs and vice versa — that's their strength. In our system of government, sometimes that's a real trick. But today, even more than in 1994, serious national problems are begging to be addressed constructively. We're facing all kinds of profound issues — the threat of rising health costs, infrastructure deterioration, the highest level of income inequality since the late 19th century, global warming, nagging unemployment of the younger generation, the future of national security during a time of great global change, trade policies and much more.
Given the dismal state of affairs, especially in the House — which, again, has all taken place on her watch — you would think that McMorris Rodgers could be challenged more effectively than Foley was in 1994. But this will happen only if Democrats get their act together and the national party recognizes the symbolic importance of defeating a House leader.
The reality is that the Republican Party, at one time a right-of-center party, has been ideologically motivated since 1994, ideologically defined since 2008, increasingly inept since 2010 and a national embarrassment since 2014.
It is indeed painful to recall that just over 20 years ago, Tom Foley represented the 5th District. How far we have fallen. Yet we seem not to care, nor demand better.♦