Paul Krugman fears (as do most sensible people) that a debt-ceiling deal might not be reached by the current deadline, or that any deal will be short-term and there'll be many subsequent moments of brinkmanship.
If, as Krugman writes, "Conservative activists are simply not willing to give up on the idea of ruling through extortion," is there a way out? He thinks there is:
Call it Dixiecrats in reverse.Of course, no non-crazy Republican wants to risk a primary challenge from the party's crazy wing, so this will never happen.
Here's the precedent: For a long time, starting as early as 1938, Democrats generally controlled Congress on paper, but actual control often rested with an alliance between Republicans and conservative Southerners who were Democrats in name only. You may not like what this alliance did -- among other things, it killed universal health insurance, which we might otherwise have had 65 years ago. But at least America had a functioning government, untroubled by the kind of craziness that now afflicts us.
And right now we have all the necessary ingredients for a comparable alliance, with roles reversed. Despite denials from Republican leaders, everyone I talk to believes that it would be easy to pass both a continuing resolution, reopening the government, and an increase in the debt ceiling, averting default, if only such measures were brought to the House floor. How? The answer is, they would get support from just about all Democrats plus some Republicans, mainly relatively moderate non-Southerners. As I said, Dixiecrats in reverse.
The problem is that John Boehner, the speaker of the House, won’t allow such votes, because he’s afraid of the backlash from his party’s radicals. Which points to a broader conclusion: The biggest problem we as a nation face right now is not the extremism of Republican radicals, which is a given, but the cowardice of Republican non-extremists (it would be stretching to call them moderates).
The question for the next few days is whether plunging markets and urgent appeals from big business will stiffen the non-extremists' spines. For as far as I can tell, the reverse-Dixiecrat solution is the only way out of this mess.
There's a way out of that dilemma, but it'll never happen, either.
The way out is for non-crazy Republicans to leave the party en masse and form a new non-crazy Republican party. This process should be relatively painless if what we're regularly told is true -- that mainstream business interests are sick of the crazy caucus and are determined to back only non-crazy Republicans from now on. They should make it clear that they'll bankroll the new party; they should wave checks of such large amounts that non-crazy officeholders, candidates, and operatives flee in droves.
Instantly, there'll be no more risk of teabagger primaries. Yes, the teabaggers will be running in the general elections, on the GOP line -- but deprived of cash from mainstream business interests, they should struggle at the polls. (The risk, obviously, is that they'll get support from the Kochs and Heritage Action and the like, but mainstream business needs to pony up big-time, in its own self-interest, to counteract this cash.)
The new non-cray party should pledge that its officeholders will caucus with the Republicans -- if the Republicans will have them. If not, they'll caucus withe the Democrats. Your call, GOP.
Yes, I suppose the existence of two GOPs in much of the country will split the vote, and risk electing (gasp!) Democrats. But why should Chamber of Commerce types fear that outcome? At least Democrats won't put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk. Crazy-caucus Republicans are happy to do so.
But this will never happen. Mainstream business continues to think it can ride the crazified GOP tiger. Non-crazy GOP officeholders feel the same way -- from Boehner on down, they think they can control the angry rabble. Also, I think they all sorta like the extremism of the crazy caucus -- they'd be happy with the outcomes the crazies want, if these outcomes could be obtained without periods of utter chaos.
So, just as the crazies will never leave the GOP, the mainstreamers will never ditch the crazies.