After Mitt Romney's 2012 election shellacking, a predictable blame-storm has broken out between Republican pragmatists who want to win elections and the zealots who love to argue.
You can see that big divide most recently in such events as the Tea Party Express' staging its own rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union Address, even though Republicans already had booked a tea party favorite, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, to deliver the party's official response.
Tea Party Express chose Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who in the past has described President Obama with words like “un-American,” to deliver their response — as if Rubio just isn't outraged enough.
Elsewhere you can see the divide in the new Conservative Victory Project, funded by the GOP's biggest donors, according to The New York Times, to recruit candidates who won't frighten swing voters to death,
Created by American Crossroads, which consultant Karl Rove and others built into the biggest GOP super PAC of the past election cycle, the new group is “the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the party, particularly in primary races,” the Times' Jeff Zeleny reports.
In other words, they want to avoid earnest but hopelessly doomed Senate nominees like Christine O'Donnell, who memorably lost her 2010 campaign in Delaware despite running sincere TV ads to assure everyone that she was not a witch.
Or Todd Akin, whose contention that ”legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy helped sink his 2012 Missouri race.
Or Sharron Angle who lost the 2010 Senate race in Nevada after she invoked, among other nuggets, ”Second Amendment remedies” as a check on government decisions that she didn't like.
Although those are the type of GOP opponents who bring Democrats delight, Rove's move has kicked up a backlash against President George W. Bush's former political advisor among grassroots tea partiers with a fury that his fellow conservatives usually reserve for President Obama.
He's an “establishment” guy who raised hundreds of millions of dollars from deep-pocket donors and “had jack to show for it,” fumed Red State blogger and newly hired Fox News commentator Erick Erickson.
Rove is “a total loser,” scoffed Donald Trump, who knows a thing or two about losers.
Town Hall's Terry Jeffrey tallied various Bush administration affronts to conservative orthodoxy in a piece titled “Karl Rove is Not a Conservative.” Indeed? If Rove isn't conservative enough for this crowd, moderate GOP presidential hopefuls like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie don't have a prayer.
For more invective, see the Twitter hash tag #CrushRove.
Welcome to the circular firing squad that inevitably assembles after a party has suffered a big loss. Some say, “We were too extreme” while others argue, “We weren't extreme enough.”
Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus has announced plans for “Republican renewal.” Other leading GOP voices express sentiments like those Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal stated bluntly, “We've got to stop being the stupid party.” But the tea partiers seem to want to double down.
To Democrats, the feud may bring to mind the sentiments that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reportedly expressed during the Iran-Iraq War: What a pity that one of them has to win.
No wonder the biggest fear of the party establishment is that tea partiers will stage another big comeback in 2014 midterm elections, as they did in 2010, and learn all of the wrong lessons from it.
Even though the turnout in mid-terms is much smaller, older and more conservative than it is in presidential election years, as one Republican operative told me recently, the right wing might well “get the wrong message that they don't have to change — and we get clobbered again in 2016.”
Nevertheless, this is a soul-searching process that the GOP needs to have — just as Democrats did after their disastrous landslide defeat with presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972.
Until now, attacking President Obama was all it took to unify the party's factions. Now the factions are attacking each other. Before they can take their argument about the country's direction to the Democrats, they first need to settle it among themselves.
E-mail Clarence Page at cpage(at)tribune.com.
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