What? Have I lost my mind? No, and here’s why. Much has been written about the degree to which the Tea Party is ultimately controlling the current stalemate in the federal government. For the uninitiated, the Cliff’s Notes version is this: the gerrymandering of congressional districts has made the national landscape such that a majority of districts are either staunchly conservative or staunchly liberal. As a result, the real race in most districts is the primary. The Democratic primary winner is the de facto electee in liberal districts, and the same goes for the Republican primary winner in conservative districts.
This is the problem. Primaries have notoriously low voter turnout, fueled by the elderly and extremists in both parties. In the current climate, the Tea Party represents the largest group of actively engaged extremists in the Republican Party. They have also taken up the mantle to “primary” any Republican they see as not being conservative enough. It was the motivating impetus behind the wave of Tea Party members that were elected in 2010. In a number of high profile elections, a Tea Party candidate ousted a long-serving Republican representative with a campaign outright stating that they were not “conservative enough.”
The result is that the elected Republican officials in congress now fall into two categories: Tea Party Republicans, and Republicans who are afraid of losing their re-election primaries to Tea Party Republicans. The effect is that moderate Republicans are few and far between in the current federal government, and those who might be willing to compromise or take moderate action in service of the people, the economy and the will of the people denying Tea Party economics expressed in the most recent election cannot compromise or the threat of being denied re-election for an even more conservative candidate will become a reality.
Thus our current crisis. John Boehner cannot create compromise because the individual Republicans either do not want to compromise or they’re afraid to compromise. The Republicans who came around and allowed some of the Bush tax cuts to expire know their necks are already on the chopping block for the Tea Party and the sequester, encouraged and wanted by the likes of Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, is the ultimate proof of how this increasingly small group of fringe conservatives is dictating national policy.
This is where the nature of congressional districts comes back into play. Tea Party Republicans can stick to their Tea Party principles because, no matter how bad this current stale mate gets (and just wait for the next debt ceiling extravaganza), they are from extremely conservative districts and as long as they stay all the way to the right, they’ll be re-elected. There is no down side for them. Moderate Republicans from staunchly conservative districts have everything to lose by compromising because the Tea Party (well, the Koch brothers) can throw a bunch of money at a candidate further to the right and take their seat from them. They lose, and then we all lose ground in the increasingly small space in the middle for compromise.
Here’s my extremely well thought out plan. Any Democrat who lives in a district where their vote is a “throwaway” – meaning their district is so definitively red that their vote amounts to not voting at all – should change their party affiliation, register as a Republican and then vote in the midterm election primary. The reason being that, if your vote as a Democrat is ultimately irrelevant, by registering as a Republican and voting in the Republican primary, you can now vote for the moderate Republican and counteract the Tea Party influence.
If a district is regularly thirty percent Democrat, so the Republican with seventy percent always wins, and that thirty percent showed up at the Republican primary instead it could easily swing a number of regularly Republican congressional districts in favor of the moderate Republican candidate, or at the very least to the side of one who understands that true governing takes compromise in order to operate.
Consider it for a moment. A bunch of democrats becoming Republicans in Texas, Virginia and definitely in Michele Bachmann and Paul Ryan’s districts. What beautiful “we can screw with the system too” chaos it would create. What if Tea Party Republicans had to be accountable for the fact that having extreme fiscal values is fine, but being unwilling to ensure the government works is not? Sure, it’s underhanded, and yes, okay fine, it’s unrealistic, but it’s not any worse than all of us suffering under the tyranny of a minority bent on getting their way regardless of how many people clearly disagree with them. The threat of being voted out of office is supposed to be the ace in the hole that ensures that politicians truly govern based on the will of their constituents. A small minority skewing the system to threaten politician’s jobs to keep them from actually doing their jobs is gaming the system. Maybe it’s time we tried it too.