It was deemed a minor victory for gun-control when Republican senators failed to block debate, for once, on the latest legislation. For this, says Republican sympathizer John Podhoretz, Republicans have themselves for blame. That's not because Republican senators failed to vote in the necessary numbers to block the debate, but because, in Podhoretz's view, a few Republicans went too far in their extremism and provoked a backlash from the President and the public. Podhoretz points the finger at Sens. Cruz of Texas and Lee of Utah, who had openly vowed to block any gun-control legislation from the Senate floor -- even measures simply requiring tougher background checks on gun purchases. Podhoretz recognizes that background checks are a popular idea -- it splits the difference between the NRA's emphasis on mental health and Democrats' desire to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally unhealthy. He thinks it stupid of the two senators to oppose such measures, whether Podhoretz himself thinks them useful or not. He accuses Cruz and Lee of "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" at a moment when Democrats had pretty much given up on meaningful legislation. What's really interesting is how Podhoretz accounts for this debacle.
Twice over, Podhoretz blames Republican excesses on "perverse incentives." He describes Cruz and Lee as "senators with ideological blinders and perverse incentives." He closes by noting that their antics "point out the perverse incentives enjoyed by far too many politicians on the Right today." What exactly does he mean by "perverse incentives?" He tries to sum it up by writing that people like Cruz and Lee are "celebrated for being unreasonable." This smacks of euphemism, or a concealment of a fact that dare not speak its name -- or whose name Podhoretz dares not speak. Are we to suppose that Cruz and Lee behave as they do simply because they want to hear themselves praised? I think not, and I don't think that's what Podhoretz means. But his Republican loyalties force a certain reticence on him. It wouldn't do -- especially not in the pages of the New York Post -- for a Republican columnist to criticize fellow Republicans for taking positions against their party's best interest because it brings them money. No other credible meaning can be inferred from the "perverse incentives" Podhoretz rails against. These clowns heat up the rhetoric and donations increase. But what else can Podhoretz expect from the unconstrained campaign-finance regime that Republicans prefer? As a Republican -- or a Republican who isn't John McCain -- what remedy can he propose without risking an inquisition from the fire-eaters and their sponsors? If Republicans have a special knack for "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory," and if this habit has the party on "the path to a permanent minority," is there anything they can do to reverse the trend? It would seem not -- and that might be reason enough to give up the fight for campaign-finance reform for the moment. The 2012 presidential election already seemed to prove that the money power couldn't drive a (presumably) hated candidate from office. In the future, if the money power further undermines party discipline by encouraging extremism, the irony might be delicious. By soliciting donations so eagerly, Republicans may, like the proverbial capitalist, sell the rope that hangs them -- only not to the customers one might have expected.