Doug Thompson: GOP a majority in name only

Party cannot lose what it never had

Posted: November 11, 2017 at 1 a.m.

The Republican Party is worried about losing its U.S. House majority next year. The party suffered a rough night Tuesday in off-year elections.

The irony is their majority is already lost. I would even argue that the GOP cannot lose what it never really had.

The divided GOP in Congress cannot choose a direction, with the possible exception of giving their donors a tax cut. Therefore, they do not have a majority in any meaningful way. Their House majority is RINO -- Republican in name only, though not in the usual sense.

RINO used to be applied to political opportunists who ran in the GOP primary for a seat a Democrat could not win. Over time, it was applied to moderates. Nowadays the label gets slapped on people who have been Republican all their lives but are not willing to toe one line or another drawn by self-defined "real Republicans."

Political animals are right to focus on things like Tuesday's races in Virginia for governor and its legislature and the Medicaid expansion vote in Maine. Those and other races are very bad signs for the GOP nationally. But the far, far bigger sign of danger to the GOP restoring any function is the sheer number of Republican retirements from the House. As I write this, at least 20 GOP House members have bowed out before 2018.

That is stunning. The GOP has the White House and both chambers of Congress. The election map for at least retaining control of the Senate could not be better. Next year should be a time when long-term Republican Congress members would expect to accomplish things they waited eight long years through a Democratic administration to accomplish, if their party was functional. Instead, one out of every 12 so far are quitting.

Most of those leaving are in very safe Republican seats. Most will be replaced by Republicans -- but what kind? The kind like Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, blowhards with no achievable goal? Even if the GOP wins back every retiree's seat, I expect their dysfunction to get worse. For one thing, it is hard to imagine the size of the GOP's House majority getting any bigger under the prevailing circumstances. There will be even less room for maneuver.

One could argue the House has a working GOP majority but the Senate is the problem. I would argue that a House that cannot pass anything that can get through the Senate is not a working majority in any meaningful sense.

The Republican Party needs to rely on something besides the fecklessness of Democrats to remain in power.

So what does any of this mean for Arkansas? Well, for one thing, Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers may become House Budget Chairman just before he becomes a minority member. That assumes he wins re-election against both a primary challenger and a Democratic opponent. Both his challengers know they each face a long-shot fight, but the fact Womack faces a fight at all, much less two, is some sort of sign of how far challenges to the GOP have gone.

Someone who knows more about central Arkansas' politics will have to comment on whether 2nd Congressional District incumbent Rep. French Hill is in any danger.

In state politics, Arkansas Republicans are fortunate compared to their peers in other states and in Congress. Gov. Asa Hutchinson's popularity statewide was just reaffirmed by the University of Arkansas' regular and respected Arkansas Poll. Other parties in other states were swept away by euphoria as Republicans racked up election victory after victory from 2010 forward. Hutchinson, as I have said before, knows better than anyone how long it took to build that "overnight" success. He is still the designated driver of the victory party. So far, he does not even have an announced Democratic opponent.

I recently pointed out on Twitter that Hutchinson's only GOP primary opponent so far has no government experience. Someone, I presume a supporter of the challenger, replied that President Donald Trump had no government experience either. My immediate thought upon reading that reply was: Yeah, and look how that turned out.

Still, it is a mistake to read the defeats in Virginia and elsewhere as purely backlash to Trump. GOP inability to govern once they got the power has to be a factor. After all, Trump would clearly, eagerly sign anything Congress puts on his desk. It is not entirely his fault nothing of consequence gets there.

Commentary on 11/11/2017