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Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Movement Are at War With the GOP

Just as the GOP candidate has for more than 100 years, Dede Scozzafava was supposed to win the congressional seat in New York's 23rd district. Then Palin stepped in.

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It's the American right, in its broadened, big-tent form, and its leaders have learned from past mistakes -- and successes.

In It For the Long Haul

Progressives can be forgiven for licking their lips at the delicious state of disarray displayed by the Grand Old Party in this particular brouhaha, for thinking that it signals doom for the GOP.

Fine, if you're thinking short-term. But this is the way radical conservatives won the larger game in the past -- by forcing the party elders to the right, even when to do so meant near-certain defeat.

In 1964, the right forced the disastrous presidential nomination of Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater. While that defeat was resounding, it set the stage for Richard Nixon's triumph four years later by stoking the fear of communism in the American people.

Although Nixon wasn't the conservative that Goldwater was, his administration harbored some of the right's keenest minds, notably speechwriter Patrick J. Buchanan (now an MSNBC political analyst), and bureaucrat Howard Phillips, who went on co-found the religious right.

Phillips and Buchanan teamed up again in 1996 to hone the inside-outside strategy that finds echoes in tomorrow's special election in New York. Buchanan ran for the Republican presidential nomination that year, pitting himself against Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, the former majority leader.

Buchanan beat Dole in New Hampshire, but failed to win the nomination. Still, along the way, he collected enough delegates to buy himself some bargaining power.

In the meantime, Phillips had put together a far-right third party, the U.S. Taxpayers Party, that was courting Buchanan as its candidate. By threatening to march his delegates out of the GOP and into Phillips' arms, Buchanan successfully commandeered the Republican Party platform away from Dole's people and into the hands of his own. The result was disaster for Dole, but it served to push the GOP even further to the right, paving the way for the nomination of George W. Bush.

When Arizona Sen. John McCain chose Palin as his running mate, his pick was the Hail Mary pass of a flagging campaign. Republicans applauded her arrival, on a wing and a prayer, from Anchorage. Breath of fresh air. 

They chose to look past her flirtation with the far-right, secessionist Alaska Independence Party -- just one  of those adorably quirky Alaska things, it was, like the Iditarod or moose hunting.

And when a handful of corporate-funded groups began organizing the disgruntled and paranoid to disrupt the town-hall meetings convened by members of Congress this summer on health care reform, Republicans encouraged the paranoia and defended the offenders' right to disrupt.

Soon they had an uncontrollable movement on their hands, one that no more promised loyalty to them than to anybody else.

When you encourage a movement that exists solely to oppose things, you'd best get out of its way, lest you become the opposed. And that's exactly what happened this month to Gingrich, Boehner and all of the establishment Republican Party, when the Tea Party movement, joined by Palin and a host of right-wing luminaries, declared war on GOP candidate Scozzafava and backed the Conservative Party Candidate.

Not only did Palin fail to save McCain, she may just destroy the Republican Party. And maybe that's the way she wants it. Call it going rogue.

If she can bust up the GOP, then Palin can control what's left of it when she's done. Who knows, she might even play a little inside-outside game herself. The third party of Phillips is today known as the Constitution Party, and its Alaska chapter is the very same secessionist outfit with which Palin is so friendly.