For the first time in a while, sensible voices within the Republican Party are beginning to be heard. Paul Ryan and Tom Cole in the House are beginning to ward off the red hats within the GOP Caucus. Certainly a step away from the destructive debt ceiling debate, however modest, is an improvement. It may be that House Republicans are preparing to play a sensible political game with the White House.
But it was always assumed that if politicians reacted to realities, then sensible policies would result. President Barack Obama, with a stiff refusal to be held hostage by amateurish backbenchers, probably forced John Boehner to confront some of his artless colleagues. On Hurricane Sandy relief, he once more broke the so-called Hastert Rule by bringing the bill to the floor even though most Republicans in the House approved it. Boehner realizes that the Hastert Rule was applicable to adults only.
However, it will be difficult to herd that collection of cats known as the right-wing Tea Party. Republicans saddled with the enablers of irresponsibility - Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and other less luminous blowhards firing up the case - may find conducting a smart contest is difficult, if not impossible. Limbaugh's surly tone, making sport of the victims of Newtown, is not the place to start.
Wayne Lapierre's off-the-cuff performance is a lesson on not how to face criticism. Daniel Keene, his paladin, tried to face critics of the National Rifle Association with prudence and intelligence. His boss, assuming that it was still 1994, threw all caution to the wind, and his organization took a political hit as a result.
Adding on the nullification movements and Donald Trump's persistent pushing for the birther debate makes sensible Republicans' lives difficult. Never has a politician had as many clumsy opponents as Obama. Huey Long, the governor of Louisiana in the 1930s, was aided by the "antis" who opposed everything he did no matter how beneficial and lost their credibility as a result. But not even the old "dynamite squad" among the antis had to stand the pressures of political entertainers like Limbaugh's, whose loyalties appear to be to their ratings and not the Republican Party.
Obama is a great counterpuncher, and GOP tactics have been a godsend. From Mitt Romney's "47 percent" to the plethora of mindless barbs aimed at the president, Obama has been blessed. Given his cool, rational demeanor, Obama has cut his opponents to ribbons. He has found them as predictable as the dawn; they come and go in the same old styles. The GOP is 40 percent professionals and 60 percent political militia, an unruly group undeterred by fear of evidence. If Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Ryan or Cole steer them in a smart direction, they will be deserving of a salute.
Clearing the decks will be a hard, but a good first step. Rence Priebus should be dumped in favor of a technician as Republican National Committee chairman. As with Jean Westwood, the DNC chairman in 1972, he should be replaced by a Robert Strauss or a Roy Bliss. Republicans should also begin to sanitize their party, keeping single-issue types far from the machinery of power. Do as the Democrats have done, make sure that seasoned professionals take control. If they don't, they will be held prisoner by fanatics and amateurs.
Since Bill Clinton, the GOP has been lost in a haze of personal vendettas and ideological myopia. It would seem the party of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan could form a winning coalition. Perhaps the baby steps taken by the newer breed will place them back on the road to victory.