WASHINGTON, DC – Shortly after America's Republican Party trounced the Democrats and gained control of the Senate in last November's midterm congressional elections, Mitch McConnell, the new Senate majority leader, appealed to his colleagues not to be “scary," but to be “positive" and effective. This has proved very difficult.
McConnell's strategy is typically farsighted. He knows that, if the Republicans are to win back the presidency in 2016, they must prove their ability to govern responsibly. He also recognizes that the Republicans would otherwise find it much more difficult to hold onto the Senate in the next election, when more swing-state seats are in play. And he is aware that public approval of Congress has fallen to the mid-teens – nearly an all-time low.
With this in mind, McConnell decided that continuing to block President Barack Obama's initiatives, as the Republicans had done during the previous six years, could no longer work. So he promised that his party would try to compromise on a few issues, and offered an explicit pledge that there would be no government shutdowns like the highly unpopular one in 2013. And he schemed to make Obama the “negative" one by regularly sending him bills that he would be forced to veto.
But the strategy has been tough to execute – partly because Congress' staunchest conservatives, such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and his Tea Party-affiliated allies, refuse to be tamed. In fact, the Tea Party candidates who swept into Congress in 2010 campaigned on a pledge never to compromise – even, apparently, if it means opposing their own party members, such as House Speaker John Boehner, whom they view as too amenable to bipartisanship. This refusal to compromise has put the Republican Party in a pickle.