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Markos Moulitsas: Red meat for the radicals

Greg Nash

Republicans surrendered to their base last week, announcing a new investigation into conspiracy theories surrounding the Benghazi tragedy in 2012. It was a new low for a party already battling basement-low approval ratings among voters. So what motivated this crass capitulation to extremists and relinquishment of any claim to the political center? 

In short, the GOP is struggling to find issues that motivate even the most radical elements of its base.

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ObamaCare is certainly losing salience as a vote-getter. Republicans pinned much of their 2014 electoral strategy on the failure of the Affordable Care Act, yet its adoption dramatically exceeded even the Obama administration’s most optimistic projections, and we’re seeing more and more positive stories about the newly insured. 

For example: Republican lumberjack Dean Angstadt, who needed heart surgery but refused to sign up for insurance because Fox News convinced him the law was a sham, was finally convinced by a tenacious liberal friend to get coverage just in time. “I can’t say nothing bad about [President Obama] now because it was his plan that probably saved my life,” he told The Washington Post. Without his liberal friend, Fox News would’ve killed him. Instead, the law has been bolstered. That’s one less American clamoring for repeal.

Not that “repeal” ever had significant support. It’s supported by only about 20 percent of the public. And while the law is still not overwhelmingly popular, support has been inching up month by month. The trends are clear. Stories like Angstadt’s only accelerate them. 

Republican elected and party officials can sense these changes. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), part of the GOP’s House leadership team, admitted last week that the law would never be repealed. Instead, she said, “We need to look at reforming the exchanges.” The right-wing response was ferocious, unwilling to abandon its fool’s quest to strip away coverage from the millions of newly insured. But it’s no longer a tenable electoral strategy, and Republicans will continue tiptoeing away from it. 

At the same time, Republicans understand the need to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Their big-business donors want it, and the nation’s demographic trends demand it. 

Speaking to a Rotary Club in his district, House Speaker John Boehner unloaded on his caucus, accusing them of cowardice on the issue. “Here’s the attitude, ‘Oh. Don’t make me do this. Oh. This is too hard.’ We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems, and it’s remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don’t want to. ... They’ll take the path of least resistance.”

Of course, Boehner could always allow an up-or-down vote on the Senate immigration reform bill. He hasn’t. But there is still life in the reform effort, with  archconservative Rep. Joe Barton (Texas) putting the final touches on his own immigration reform package. 

Conservatives thought immigration reform was dead, and they were shocked to see the issue resurface. Boehner didn’t help by literally adding insult to injury, and conservatives’ reaction has been just as fierce and angst-ridden as their reaction to the death of ObamaCare repeal as a viable electoral strategy.

Consequently, Republicans desperately need to pacify their base. Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy isn’t available anymore, so what better way to do it than to deliver the largest, bloodiest piece of raw meat possible? 

And that’s why Benghazi is back in the headlines, not to win the American people, but to keep the crazy conservative base from open revolt.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).