Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Republican Civil War. What is it good for?

Recently, the Republican Party has been doing a lot of soul-searching. Here’s a hint guys: you might as well quit searching, because the Devil doesn’t tell you where he’s keeping your soul after you've sold it to him.

The Republican Civil War started about five seconds after the Party’s massive defeat last November. In an article entitled The GOP Fallout: Cue the Circular Firing Squad, Time Magazine accurately summarized the situation just one day after the election:

"When removed from power by voters, no party keelhauls itself quite like the GOP. The party's success at capturing the White House is matched by a violent, burn-it-all-down mentality when it loses. Because John McCain's defeat seemed likely for weeks, the fighting began long before Election Day. Some Republicans believe that the old conservative message must be modernized. Others see a need to return to the conservatism of old. For many, Palin was a godsend, a true populist in the spirit of Ronald Reagan. For others, she was a nightmare. With no leader in sight, factions are maneuvering behind the scenes to assign blame and take control. "It's not going to be business as usual," says Richard Viguerie, a 75-year-old direct-mail wizard who joined the conservative movement before becoming a foot soldier for Barry Goldwater. "There are going to be just some massive battles for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.""

The "massive battles" that the astute Mr. Viguerie spoke of are shaping up right now in the form of bitterly contested primaries for many of next year's Congressional races.

In one corner of the figurative boxing ring, we have the true right-wingers, sometimes called the "movement conservatives." Their attitude can be summarized by a recent statement from South Carolina’s Senator Jim DeMint, who said of Senator Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democratic Party, "I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs."

In the other corner, we have the Republicans moderates, who are more concerned with winning elections (and, hopefully, good government) than they are ideological purity. Their attitude toward the right-wing zealots can be summarized by Peggy Noonan’s response to Senator DeMint’s statement above, "The other day Sen. Jim DeMint said he'd rather have 30 good and reliable conservative senators than 60 unreliable Republicans. Really? Good luck stopping an agenda you call socialist with 30 hardy votes. "Shrink to win": I've never heard of that as a political slogan."

Here's an example of how this conflict is playing out on the ground. The Republican leaders in charge of recruiting Congressional candidates tend to be from the "moderates are ok" wing of the party. They want to win elections, even if they have to make a few compromises. Bloomberg reported this week that, "California Representative Kevin McCarthy, the chief recruiter for House Republicans, said he wants his party to select candidates based less on ideology and more on their chances of winning. The goal, he said, is to seek out prospects who are ethnically diverse, female, less partisan and even supportive of abortion rights. So far, these efforts are more concept than reality."

But don't tell that to Chuck DeVore, the Republican assemblyman from California who may serve as the GOP's sacrificial lamb against Senator Barbara Boxer next year. DeVore disparaged the "Big Tent" strategy favored by Congressman McCarthy this week, saying, "Even if they win some seats, they will wind wind up with principle-less individuals who perpetuate themselves in power. We saw what happened with that in 2006 and 2008. If we want the GOP to succeed in the future we need to get back to what makes us different than the Democrats."

Here's another example. The Republican Senatorial Committee is now openly taking sides in the Party's contested primaries, and offering or withholding support based on their confidence in a candidate's electability. Committee Chair John Cornyn recently refused to endorse Pat Toomey, the leading Republican for next year's race in Pennsylvania, saying, "I don't think it's wise for me to tell Pennsylvania Republicans who their nominee should be." Cornyn then turned right around this past week and decided that it would be wise for him to tell Florida Republicans who their nominee should be, as he endorsed popular moderate Governor Charlie Crist for next year's Senate race in the Sunshine State. This of course has infuriated supporters of Crist's primary opponent, the far more conservative (and less electable) Marco Rubio.

I of course will continue to enjoy watching the GOP waste resources fighting among themselves. Until Republicans show some willingness to be something other than the party of obstructing any and all efforts to make government work again, they don't deserve to win anything.

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