Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR's local journalism that brings clarity, context, and community!

Two Columnists Weigh In On GOP's 'Very Bad Night'


Let's hear two strong points of view on last night's election.


Jonathan Chait is a liberal columnist for New York magazine. Welcome back to the program.


MONTAGNE: And Jonah Goldberg is a conservative columnist and editor-at-large for National Review Online. Welcome to the show.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Hey, thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: And Jonathan Chait, I want to get started with you here, because you've written overnight that the Republican Party did not just lose an election last night, the presidential election. You said they lost a huge four year-long gamble. What was the bet they made?

CHAIT: Well, I think the Republicans perceived at some level that the underlying demographic trends of the country were going against them. But short-term circumstances gave them a really good chance in 2012, that Obama was presiding over a terrible economic recession which would disillusion a lot of his supporters. So Republicans, without making any ideological compromises to the changing electorate, could oppose all of Obama's initiatives, trying to render him as partisan and unpopular as possible, and try to win the 2012 elections and then implement the Ryan plan.

That was the big sort of strategic decision they made.

INSKEEP: Paul Ryan's plan on the budget, Medicare and so forth.

CHAIT: Paul Ryan's budget plan to dramatically reshape the role of government in American life. So they repeatedly turned down compromises that would've helped Obama position himself politically, but also make substantive concessions. They could've made compromises on health care. They could've made compromises on the budget. But they basically put all the chips in the budget, saying no, we want to try to do everything we can to win this election - this is our best shot, win in 2012. And they went for the whole ballgame and they lost.

MONTAGNE: I want to hear what Jonah Goldberg has to say about that. But first, let me just make sure I understand. Are you saying that the Republican Party, in your view, was willing to throw away several years of American history just in order to win an election and they failed?

CHAIT: Well, look. They believe their ideas are better, so you know, it's not quite as cynical as you make it out to be. But look, I mean I can give you plenty of examples. But in the spring of 2010, Democrats in Congress were desperate to get out of health care, get any kind of face-saving compromise they could, you know, something for children, something that was a tiny fraction of what the Affordable Care Act was. But Republicans just said no.

You know, they wanted to defeat the whole thing. They wanted a total collapse. So Democrats had no choice basically but to pass that bill. You know, Obama gave Republicans in the House an incredibly generous offer on the budget, with revenue that was less than half the amount of new revenue in the Bowles-Simpson compromise. And they turned that down as well.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's hear from Jonah Goldberg. Get into this conversation. I'm sure you have something to say about this.

GOLDBERG: Well, look. I mean I think that Jonathan actually makes some valid points. I think that the blame for the partisan atmosphere in Washington, the blame for the way that the Republicans opposed Barack Obama, wasn't purely on this gamble. Some of it had to do with how Barack Obama, in fact, governed. Particularly when he controlled Washington soup to nuts in both Houses of Congress and the way he tried to steamroll an agenda and outsource things to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and all of that.

That said, you know, look, in many ways I have greater sympathy for liberals who supported, you know, George McGovern in 1972, when...

MONTAGNE: As of this morning.


GOLDBERG: When Richard Nixon won in a landslide. Barack Obama did not have a landslide last night. But there's no getting around the fact that Republicans had a very bad night. I think that there are going to be an enormous number of recriminations. And one of the things that complicates the issue is that there is enough evidence within the conversation on the right. I'm sure it seems otherworldly and through the looking glass to Jonathan. But the conversations on the right, there's enough evidence for almost every faction to claim that it was the other guy's fault.


GOLDBERG: And you know, one of the great ironies of this is that the Tea Party crowd, who I am very sympathetic to, they ended up being more supportive of this candidate that they felt was foisted on him - on them - by the sort of Beltway D.C. conservative establishment than the Beltway conservative establishment was.

MONTAGNE: But Jonah Goldberg, let me actually ask you a question. What (unintelligible) the Tea Party after last night's results?

GOLDBERG: It's a good question. You know, it certainly is going to live on in a significant and important faction in the House GOP majority. And you know, the conservative movement, you know, which is - in some way the shock troops of the conservative movement these days remain the Tea Party.

And I honestly don't know. I think that there's a lot of bad instant analysis going on right now. You know, it's sort of like the holiday from "Seinfeld" Festivus: Now is the time for the airing of the grievances.


GOLDBERG: And I personally, as a conservative, I love a lot of these fights. I think these fights are very healthy. It is one of the reasons why the prognostications about the death of conservatism have been proven wrong for over half a century now, is 'cause conservatives actually revisit their principles and have these fights. And some changes probably are in order.

INSKEEP: Well, let me bring Jonathan Chait back, because you mentioned the Tea Party, you mentioned Congress. This is a president who will have to deal or attempt to deal with a House of Representatives controlled by Republicans, very powerful Republicans in the Senate. What can he get done? Anything?

CHAIT: Well, look, I wrote another piece for New York, arguing that part of the results of this gamble that the Republicans made was that they basically didn't take out an insurance policy on the Bush tax cuts. The entire Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year. That's $5 trillion of additional revenue that's going to come in.

Obama offered them 800 billion. That's less than one-fifth that amount. Basically said like, give me that one-fifth and I'll lock it in, you know, permanently.

INSKEEP: You mean the rest of the Bush tax cuts...

CHAIT: So they're risking the entire thing expiring, which gives Obama enormous leverage. The situation is very different. He doesn't need to go to the Republicans and get them to give him revenue. He is automatically getting far more revenue than even he wants. So that completely changes the complexion of the negotiations that are going to go on.

INSKEEP: Meaning you think that the president can force things down the throats of Republicans that he hasn't been able to do in the past.

CHAIT: Well, essentially, yeah. I mean...

INSKEEP: Or at least force them to deal.

CHAIT: ...there's the taxes and there is the automatic defense cuts that are also going in as a result of the debt ceiling negotiation. So Obama could go to the Republicans next year and offer them a deal that cuts taxes, increases defense spending, and cuts entitlement spending - that's basically a Republican bill. That's what Republicans like to do when they're in office. And that deal can put him to the left of what Obama himself is proposing in his own budget.

INSKEEP: OK. Jonah Goldberg, I'm going to give you the last word. We've got about 30 seconds here.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, look. The American people in their infinite wisdom, or for want of a more accurate term, have decided to extend the status quo. They reelected the Republican House. They reelected the Democratic Senate. And they reelected a president who, you know, was foundering with a bad economy.

I simply don't know that the incentives are all pointing in the way that Jonathan says. But you know, this is a day for, you know, for some strutting for Barack Obama's supporters. And the Republicans need to figure out a serious strategy going forward about how they're going to deal with the shellacking they got.

The most important statistic coming out of this election...

INSKEEP: We got to stop you there. Got to stop you there.

MONTAGNE: We're going to have to stop you there. But...

GOLDBERG: I'm on again (unintelligible)



MONTAGNE: Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg and liberal columnist Jonathan Chait, thanks, both of you, very much.

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.