Of course you’d read in The “Telly” (The Daily Telegraph) about House Speaker John Boehner’s trouble maintaining party discipline and you had heard the rising grumble of dissent with (Prime Minister) David Cameron’s leadership.
And in your role as a counter of votes you were aware of grassroots unhappiness with the party’s policies on same-sex marriage, a new rail line through the countryside, unregulated fracking and onshore wind farms.
You were especially concerned with shrinking Tory membership, down from 3 million in the 1950s to some estimates of less than 100,000 today.
But, as you shook off the jet lag and headed for a Republican Party caucus in the Capitol, you hoped brother conservatives in America weren’t in such bad shape. You even hoped to pick up some ideas from the closed-door caucus.
Approaching the Capitol, you felt a rush of excitement at being present for such a critical meeting. The party had bet on using the looming debt ceiling as a fulcrum to extract major changes in the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, about which Americans were ambivalent at best.
The party counted on President Obama folding as the hour approached when America ran out of borrowing power to pay its bills and defaulted, sending shudders of alarm through the world economy.
Obama would have to surrender all or parts of his major domestic achievement and imperil the promise to some 30 million Americans that they would have health insurance.
It was unthinkable to a British Conservative that millions of U.S. citizens would be left vulnerable to one illness plunging a family into a black hole of debt and humiliation. To Britons, health care is not a privilege but a necessity.
Surely, you thought as you entered the ornate caucus chamber with its gilt and giant chandeliers, what is “conservative” about threatening a worldwide recession over an act, which was approved by the Supreme Court and survived 47 attempts to kill it in Congress?
Surely, brother conservatives won’t shut down the government and push a frightened world up to the brink of the first American default on its debts, or so you thought. What was it a Tory colleague had said of Britons who pursue similarly radical positions? “Swivel-eyed loons,” he called them.
Yet, as one senior GOP leader after another proposed serious plans to avoid a government shutdown and show the world that the party can be trusted to govern with common-sense conservatism, the Tea Party caucus shouted them down.
“Surrender,” they called any compromise, “traitor to our core values,” some of them accused party elders. The position was set; the Tea Party would persist in “kill Obamacare or kill the economy” up to one minute before midnight.
Shaken, our imaginary British MP would leave the caucus depressed, thinking to himself, “These people really are swivel-eyed loons piloting a vehicle that had lost its steering wheel and brakes. Madness!”
On his way out of the Capitol he might spy Bill McInturff, who did polling for The Wall Street Journal and had done polling in the United Kingdom. Hailing McInturff, he asked what effect the party’s direction would have.
The pollster gave it to him straight, “This is an ideological boomerang. As the debate has gone on, if there’s a break, it will be a break against the Republican position.”
Both the Brit MP and the American pollster would be spot on.
The picture of a great American political party taken hostage by the radical know-nothings of the Tea Party, a majority of whom are Southerners, has made President Obama the most popular politician in America.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has Obama at 47 percent approval, not good, but better than every other national leader. At the bottom of the list is the GOP at 24 percent — an historic low — and the Tea Party at 21 percent.
As the founder of modern Republicanism Barry Goldwater found out, extremism in pursuit of one’s goals isn’t popular with the American public.
H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.