The GOP's Vicious Internal War: Republican Establishment Trying To Exile Tea Partiers And Extremists
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The Republican Party is seeing some of the nastiest intra-party fights since the 2012 presidential primaries, as corporate lobbyists and national party leaders battle upstart Tea Partiers and loudmouth Washington ideologues over what defines the party now and who will be this year’s candidates for Congress.
The most recent example occurred this week, as Speaker of the House John Boehner brought a bill to the floor raising the federal debt into 2015—with no spending cuts attached—and it passed with only 28 Republicans voting yes. As Boehner’s intentions became known, the GOP’s big schism—pitting party leaders and big business against grassroots Tea Partiers and longtime anti-debt, anti-tax crusaders erupted. The hard-core right-wingers issued threats to Republicans if they voted for it. After it passed, they launched calls for Boehner’s ouster.
“We’re being play like fools,” blared RedState.com Daniel Horowitz’s column. “A complete capitulation,” said Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, which, like fellow GOP extremist groups, FreedomWorks, ForAmerica, Senate Conservatives Fund, are circulating petitions to replace the Speaker.
The dueling in Republican ranks isn’t confined to Washington, where just last week Tea Partiers and right-wingers joined forces and convinced Boehner not to bring a major Senate-passed immigration bill to the floor for a vote, after another rounds of threats to House Republicans and to unseat him.
It’s also unfolding in the run-up to 2014’s Republican primaries, where the GOP’s national party establishment has told at least five House and Senate candidates to step aside in Virginia, West Virginia, Alaska, South Dakota and Idaho. These include Virginia State Sen. Richard Black, who used plastic fetuses as debate props and tried to block unmarried, gay and lesbian couples from getting state home loans. It includes ex-West Virginia legislator Pat McGeehan, who says he holds the state record for voting no. It includes South Dakota legislator Stace Nelson, who was banned from its statehouse GOP caucus after fighting with other Republicans he accused of being too moderate. And it includes Alaska’s Joe Miller, who Sarah Palin backed in 2010, but lost to Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Whether this fight is a spiraling identity crisis for a disintegrating national party or GOP leaders are finally relegating backbench status to Tea Partiers and other purists is an open question. The answer is not clear-cut, because even though Washington’s Republican establishment has a lot of money, power and influence, they are not the only GOP faction with money and weight to throw around.
The GOP has always had factions. Since the ‘80s, business conservatives have had to live with the religious right. That uneasy status quo was shaken up after 2010’s Tea Party wave, which elevated white, wealthier and older Republicans who are anti-regulation, anti-spending, anti-tax and anti-compromise. The Tea Party wave revived other longtime scolds, such as Brent Bozell, whose group, ForAmerica, left 5,500 voicemails a week ago saying that voting for the Senate-passed immigration reform bill was “ turncoat” and would have consequences.
The problems facing GOP leaders who are tired of their extremists are not about to go away. That’s because the political minor leagues—state Legislatures— are even more partisan and one-sided than Congress. The 2010 election brought a historic number of state victories for Republicans, who soon redrew legislative lines to ensure one-party rule for the rest of the decade. Single-party rule has reshaped state laws on gay marriage, guns, reproductive rights and unions.
This is the landscape sent the most recalcitrant Republicans to Congress, including the faction that forced the government shutdown in October. That episode led the national GOP leadership and its corporate sponsors to try to put the extremist genie back in the bottle by limiting its impact in 2014 elections. But as the Supreme Court has loosened campaign finance rules in recent years, a rash of new GOP operatives—inside and outside of Washington circles—has been raising and spending millions on their agenda.