There are a lot of smart political operators in Washington, both Republican and Democratic. But today, one man stands out above all others. Honors for the most brilliant political strategist go to New York Congressman Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Last year, when many Democrats were pulling their hair out over the likelihood that the party would not be able to win back the House, Israel came up with Plan B: win a handful of seats in 2012, while Republicans remain in charge, and wait for the GOP to overplay its hand.
It started last month, when Republicans forced through the most extreme anti-abortion bill in decades, legislation that went beyond Roe v. Wade by banning a woman’s ability to seek an abortion after 20 weeks. By most accounts, the bill, authored by Arizona’s Rep. Trent FranksTrent FranksGOP rep: Nuke could enter US hidden in marijuana bales A guide to the committees: House Flynn puts FBI director back in spotlight MORE (R) — who famously asserted that the “incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low” — is going nowhere. It probably won’t get a vote in the Senate. Were it ever to pass Congress, President Obama’s vowed to veto it.
Next, House Republicans thumbed their collective noses at immigration reform. Many leading Republicans, starting with former President George W. Bush, argued the double advantage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation: From a policy perspective, it’s the right thing for the country; from a political perspective, it’s the necessary thing for the Republican Party. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) warned his fellow Republicans: “If we don’t pass immigration reform ... it doesn’t matter who you run in 2016. We’re in a demographic death spiral as a party.”
But House Republicans don’t care. Even after immigration reform passed the Senate 68-32, with 14 Republican votes, they caucused and decided to kill any chances for comprehensive reform or anything resembling a path to citizenship for the 11 million people estimated to be living here illegally.
And then, there was the farm bill — the biggest mistake of all. Since 1973, Republicans and Democrats have joined together on legislation designed to help the nation’s farmers and the poor. But not this year. House Republicans refused to approve a farm bill until it was stripped of any funding for food stamps, which 47.5 million Americans now depend on.
It makes you wonder: Who’s in charge? Is anybody in charge? What was the point of any of these moves, except to further alienate the Republican Party from mainstream America?
OK, I admit — I don’t know for sure if Steve Israel planned it this way. But if so, he couldn’t have planned it any better. If and when control of the House changes in 2014, it won’t be because Democrats won it back. It’ll be because Republicans gave it away.
Press is host of “The Full-Court Press” on Current TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.