Reviews | Here is my idea for a novel for the Republican Party
The closest thing to a mainstream faction these days is the assertive progressiveness organized around Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders, whose success in influencing the Biden administration appears to be something others legislators should want to emulate. But instead, Levin observed, when a group looks set to become a strong internal faction — the moderate Democrats, the libertarian Republicans, the would-be populists I write about here — it feels “compelled to claim the mantle of everything his party, and try to own the conflict with the other party, rather than seeing his own party as the theater of a negotiation between the members of a coalition.
Thinking the latter way, as a faction trying to reshape the GOP, would give a possible common good caucus several advantages. The first would be simple political leverage. Democrats won’t pass legislation by a 51-50 vote in the Senate permanently, and either in a world where the Biden White House is negotiating with Republicans on the budget, or in a future with a Republican in the White House trying to whipping votes for a GOP agenda, the ability of a caucus to say, “Here are our votes, here are our demands,” offers a determining influence that individual senators cannot match.
The second benefit would be branding, identification and recruiting. Republicans running for the Senate (or the House, for that matter) could find in the Common Good Caucus a distinct identity in a primary campaign, a ready-made program for running in the general election, and an integrated set of allies waiting in Washington if they win. In a legislative environment where many members of Congress seem to feel helpless and bored, a factional identity promises more interest, influence and agency – especially for politicians who prefer the hope of actually legislating to the chance to become the next Matt Gaetz or Marjorie Taylor Greene.
The third benefit would be the ability to make existing populist policy proposals better, more politically marketable, or both. Now, for example, the line has three competitors family policy ideas: the Romney plan, the new Hawley option and the old proposal of Rubio and Senator Mike Lee of Utah. Their differences stimulated a wasp argument among conservative buffs on work and social assistance – whether family tax breaks or family allowances should be extended to parents, especially mothers, who are not also in employment.
It’s an important debate, but it’s a little strange to make it central so long as most Republican senators don’t officially support any family policies. And if, say, Romney, Rubio and Hawley and a few others were all part of a formal caucus, with an incentive to negotiate internally and then present a common idea, it seems easy to imagine how a balance could be struck. It is reasonable for the Conservatives to be concerned that single-parent families will be permanently disconnected from the labor market. But it is also reasonable to think that in the crucial and vulnerable period of maternal transformation – something that concerns me these days because it is the subject of my wife’s new book — we should not force women back to work. So why not have a Romney-style child benefit that is only available until a child is 2 and comes with work requirements after that?
It is a harmonization; there are probably others. The fact is that with a collective policy proposal, rather than a scattering of ideas from a single senator, you are more likely to draw other senators to your side – and eventually, perhaps, your party in his outfit.
Of course, that word “collective” also tells you why the faction I imagine might never take shape: because senators who want to be president, as Rubio, Hawley, and Cotton (among many others) clearly do, would not want to subordinate themselves to a project that could limit their own incursions, their spotlighting, their own individualized ideas.