As president, Ronald Reagan issued his 11th commandment that Republicans should not speak ill of other members of the party. But the edict has languished, and it won’t be restored unless the GOP ends its internecine warfare over what is more important: winning elections or being philosophically pure.
It is not difficult to foresee a time when the ultras break entirely from the moderates and bring about an upheaval, forming a permanent minority that stays true to its ideology but can’t further it. That already has started. Anyone with the least bit of interest in politics knows that bad candidates may find enough support to defeat good ones in primary elections but certainly not to win the election that counts.
That happened in the last two elections. Unless the Republican mainstreamers can somehow pitch the tea party movement overboard, it’s likely to recur two years from now. Republican candidates had a chance of gaining dramatically in the Senate last time out but nominated candidates whose wild, embarrassing ideas cost them the election.
In Indiana, for instance, the Republican Party paid an enormous price. County chairmen who were upset over Richard Lugar’s support for the Obama administration’s economic bailout sent the prestigious, 36-year incumbent packing – and then lost the seat when the obscure candidate of their choice, Richard Mourdock, alienated half of the nation’s women.
The exercise duplicated one in Missouri, where Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill was predicted to lose – until her GOP opponent, Todd Akin, started the anti-woman ball rolling with some illiterate, bewildering nonsense about the results of rape.
In a conversation with several “true believers” just before the presidential election, I was amazed that they actually believed Mitt Romney would win. They’d become so convinced of the righteousness of their beliefs that they had lost touch with reality. In a biennial “pick ‘em” contest, I won the money for a second time. When asked how, I explained that I’d merely chosen with my head, not my emotions. These weren’t political novices, either. Joining me in shaking his head was a former chairman of the Republican Party.
Now former White House political guru Karl Rove has incurred the wrath of the far right by taking on turn-back-the-clock zealots.
He and others have begun the Conservative Victory Project, an effort to select Republican candidates with a real chance of winning. One of the people Rove won’t be supporting is Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, who has announced he wants to run for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Chambliss is retiring at the end of next year rather than waiting to be shoved out by the tea party.
For those who haven’t been paying attention, Broun is the doctor congressman who says that “evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory” are lies “straight out of hell.”
Move over, Mourdock and Akin. You were last year’s embarrassments.
Could this end up splitting the GOP so badly that it can’t recover as a major party? Should this war continue over what increasingly seems like the last haven for old white men, with little appeal to the overwhelming majority in a changing demographic? Would that lead to a third party, dramatically altering the nation’s two-party political model? It was forged following the 1850s creation of the Republican Party and its first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont.
It is far too early for such hysterical predictions. But if there is any indication that such a trauma may be imminent, it’s the fact that two Republican speakers – Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for the establishment and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul for the tea party – are scheduled to give the rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday.
That should tell us something – and it just might not be good news for the Grand Old Party come next year’s elections.
Email Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at [email protected]