MINOT, N.D. — When news broke that North Dakota's two Republican U.S. senators, John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, would be among those voting to advance a bipartisan infrastructure bill, my phone lit up with exhortations from conservatives activists and groups asking me to be critical of that decision.
My response to them?
Why would I be?
Far from being critical, I'm cheering them on.
For years Republicans have governed in a way that pleases the Fox News crowd, up to and including disgraced former President Donald Trump. This has not been a sound strategy. The Trump era has been a disaster, from a conservative perspective, and Democrats have been empowered.
They are well-situated to advance the progressive cause farther and faster than perhaps any other time since the Great Society programs of the Lyndon Johnson era.
You might be inclined to believe that reality means it's no time to compromise.
You'd be wrong.
Republican intransigence, perversely perpetrated under the banner of sticking to conservative principles, has not slowed the growth of government. Under Trump's leadership, our nation added more to the national debt in four years ($7.8 trillion) than under all eight years of President Barack Obama ($7.3 trillion).
Worse, that intransigence has gridlocked Congress and empowered the executive branch to make policy unilaterally. The endless brinksmanship and dysfunction in the House and Senate are the fertile soil in which the roots of President Joe Biden's furious pace of executive orders have taken hold.
Conservatives need Congress to be functional again. We need it to act as the check on executive power it was intended to be.
We need Congress to govern, even if we don't like all the decisions Congress makes. The alternative is a power vacuum that has left our country falling behind its peers in areas like infrastructure, education, the military, and more.
Perhaps worse, that vacuum has enabled a lot of completely irresponsible fiscal choices.
So it was refreshing to see Sen. Cramer, an outspoken supporter of Trump in the past, buck not just the unfortunate former president but a popular Fox News host with a robust defense of his support of the infrastructure bill.
On Sunday, Trump cheerleader Maria Bartiromo accused Cramer of “betraying the Republican base” for supporting the infrastructure bill. Cramer, to his credit, basically laughed off the accusation.
Cramer acknowledged there were things he didn't like in the bill and that if we were king, he wouldn't allow them to become law. But, “fortunately, our founders gave us something other than a king," he said.
An increasingly exasperated Bartiromo threw Trump's opposition to the bill at Cramer.
“He didn’t give one reason why it’s a bad deal other than it’s Joe Biden’s,” the senator responded. “I understand his frustration, and he obviously has influence and has a legitimate opinion. But the fact of the matter is the American public, including the vast majority of Republicans, are very supportive of this.”
Say what you want about the man, but he's politically astute, and he sees a deep desire for an end to crisis governance in the American public. The infrastructure bill is proof of the concept.
Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer is on Fox News getting castigated by Maria Bartiromo for supporting the bipartisan infrastructure bill pic.twitter.com/u1YouOsnS5— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 8, 2021
Is it everything Republicans want? No, it isn't. Is it some things Republicans definitely don't want? Yes, you can't pass a bill in the Senate right now without making concessions to Democrats who have the technical majority.
What Republicans like Cramer and Hoeven are betting on, I believe, is that compromise, and an insistence on regular order in Congress, will give them a better position from which to advance conservative principles in policy.
If that's their angle, I think they're right.
This is an important development. We could potentially break the obstinance arms race that has gripped the federal government since the George W. Bush administration.
If they can accomplish that, if they can break free of the impulse to govern in a way that ingratiates them to Fox News hosts and talk-radio blowhards, we may be able to govern this country more conservatively than we have been.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.