TAMPA, January 20, 2013 — One day before his second inauguration ceremony, President Obama has plenty of reasons to smile. Despite a persistently weak economy, he was reelected by a comfortable margin in November and then completely outmaneuvered his Republican opponents in the tax hike standoff. That ended with Republicans breaking a decades-old pledge never to raise taxes.
Following the usual calls for more gun control following a widely publicized shooting, it looks as if Obama has outmaneuvered the GOP again. After appointing Vice President Joe Biden to head a gun violence task force, Obama made an ominous-sounding statement.
“Well, my understanding is the Vice President is going to provide a range of steps that we can take to reduce gun violence. Some of them will require legislation. Some of them I can accomplish through executive action. And so I'll be reviewing those today. And as I said, I'll speak in more detail to what we're going to go ahead and propose later in the week.”
The Republican response was predictable. Cries of constitutional crisis and calls for impeachment exploded from Republican politicians and conservative-leaning media.
Whether because of the Republican reaction or by design, Obama’s executive orders were remarkably uncontroversial. Despite rumors that the president had written 23 new executive orders restricting gun ownership, Obama actually didn’t write any. Instead, he wrote 3 “presidential memoranda” directing existing federal agencies to do a better job at what they are already doing.
This leaves Republicans who yelled “impeachment” before even hearing what the president proposed looking like “extremists” again, not to mention somewhat silly. It sets up the Democrats perfectly for the upcoming congressional fight over new gun legislation. Republicans will be under pressure to compromise to undo the political damage done by this latest gaffe.
There are certainly constitutional arguments against Obama’s actions, but Republicans are in no position to make them. Strict constitutionalists have long argued that the mere existence of agencies like the ATF and the CDC is unconstitutional, but the Republican Party, which created one and greatly expanded the other, has no grounds upon which to make this argument.
Those few GOP legislators who can do so with any credibility, like Senator Rand Paul or Rep. Justin Amash, are considered outsiders by the party elite.
There is a fundamental problem here that the GOP has to resolve if it does not wish to fade into irrelevance. It has to define some fundamental philosophical differences between it and the Democratic Party. Despite rhetoric about small government and free markets, there just isn’t any meat on the GOP bones for opponents of the Democratic Party to sink their teeth into.