WASHINGTON – In trying to understand the Republican Party’s internal battles, it helps to think of Michael and Sonny. Corleone, that is. On one side we have Sonny – the hot-headed, impulsive, shoot-now-take-names-later son of Don Corleone. On Capitol Hill, he personifies the tea party followers who would rather die on principle than live to win a later day. On the other side, we have Michael – the cooler-headed son and intellectual strategist. On the Hill, Michael represents the so-called establishment legislators who understand the way forward but thus far have been reluctant to pull the trigger. That’s a metaphor for all those literalists out there who may feel compelled to issue fresh gun-control imperatives. It means to take necessary, if unpleasant, action. Before action, however, there should be a plan, which has been demonstrably missing in recent weeks. Had there been a strategic, long-view plan rather than a series of tactical blunders, Republicans might now be basking in the realization of a dream: Obamacare is a hot mess. Remember the “train wreck” Republicans kept promising? Well, guess what. It’s happening. The train is wrecking. And yet, rather than popping open the champagne as the Obamacare website crashes in a glut of glitches, Michael and Sonny decided to have a staring contest. It’s as though Republicans didn’t have faith in their own prognostications. Meanwhile, polls taken during the government shutdown showed a shift in Democrats’ favor. Not only did fewer Americans view Republicans in a positive light (28 percent, according to Gallup) but they were becoming more approving of Obamacare. While Republicans were nudging the can up the road on the debt ceiling, approval for Obamacare leapt up 7 points, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. The family clash between the Corleone brothers is about to become bloodier, though it doesn’t have to. What needs to happen is for certain parties to become wiser and to absorb this simple truth: You cannot govern if you cannot win. Tea-party warriors may prefer to perish on principle, but perish they will. And, if something doesn’t change fast and soon, the fear is that they’ll take down the House with them. Forget the Senate in 2014. And forget the White House for the foreseeable future. Unless, that is, the hard-right suicide flame throwers can be neutralized or converted. The latter isn’t likely when the echo chamber cheers them on. And while organizations such as Heritage Action are grading legislators on their “conservative” performance. The threat of facing a primary challenge in their districts from someone even loonier keeps many in lockstep with Sonny. Thus, the only alternative is a systematic, strategic purge of the GOP’s Sonny side. (Sonny Side Down?) Rational conservatives who understand that governing requires compromise, not just “winning,” need to form their own groups to first protect their reasonable legislators and then actively recruit and elect strong, likable candidates who can win general elections. They need to create their own scorecards to grade the obstructionists. If Republicans can pull this off, then they can (maybe) keep the House and (just maybe) take the Senate. Then, with a clear mandate from the people, they can have their way with Obamacare. Theoretically, they could repeal it – or use their strength in numbers to improve it and also move forward on entitlements and tax reform in ways that most sensible Americans would support. Storming the barricades may be fine at times, but it’s helpful to also have a plan. Remember the day after shock and awe? Now what? This is essentially where the GOP finds itself today. It shut down the government – and now what? It tried to defund the un-defundable (Obamacare was already funded), and now people are gravitating toward the train wreck. The GOP’s delaying tactic, though justifiable, came too late in the game. Finally, Republicans failed to capitalize on Obamacare’s own embarrassing launch. Now what? Painful though it may be to witness, it may be time for Sonny to take a drive through the toll plaza.
Kathleen Parker’s column is distributed by The Washington Post Writers Group