The Remorseless Rightward Pressure On the GOP

Any time I read one of those articles about the Republican Party “rebranding” itself or “moving to the center” or “coming to its senses,” I think of the drift of political life in my home state of Georgia. After Sen. Saxby Chambliss was more or less pushed into retirement for the sin of contemplating a “grand bargain” between the GOP and Obama, a large early field of very conservative would-be Senators has assembled, driven (by most accounts) into a more-conservative-than-thou competition by Rep. Paul Broun, who makes Michele Bachmann look like the soul of sweet reason.

But it’s not like this is some passing wave of Tea Party/Christian Right extremism in Georgia. The House members running for the Senate could well be succeeded by a new bunch that’s even wilder. Consider Phil Gingrey’s 11th district, where I lived during high school. The first candidate into the race is a famous radical voice, Bob Barr, who once represented a similar district as a classic Gingrich-era right-wing firebrand (serving as a Clinton Impeachment co-manager, and sponsoring the original Patriot Act and Defense of Marriage Act) before later becoming the presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party. But Barr could become the RINO in the field, as “constitutional conservatives” unite behind state senator Barry Loudermilk.

Described by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Jim Galloway as a “constitutionalist somewhat in the mold of Paul Broun,” Loudermilk became famous even before running for office as the author of a post-9/11 local newspaper screed that went globally viral, encouraging non-Christians and immigrants to pack up and leave America if they didn’t like “our culture.” During his climb through the Georgia Republican ranks, Loudermilk has championed a variety of anti-immigrant bills, “personhood” initiatives, efforts to shut down all state agencies not specifically authorized by the state constitution, and serial theocratic gestures. He was also one of the participants in a colleague’s “briefing” for state senators on the evil United Nations Agenda 21 effort to destroy private property rights.

At the recent 11th district Republican convention where Loudermilk formally announced his congressional candidacy, a straw poll (reported by Galloway) showed him trouncing Bob Barr and the rest of the field. Just as interestingly, the poll showed Paul Broun leading the 11th district’s own Phil Gingrey in the Senate contest.

Now maybe Broun won’t win and maybe Loudermilk won’t win; neither has any national support so far, and neither is known for fundraising prowess. But it’s important to understand that these zany men are wildly popular among the kind of grassroots conservative activists who have been lashing the GOP to the hard right in recent years. In his remarks to the 11th district convention, Loudermilk said: “I don’t come from the grassroots; I am the grassroots!” and that would seem to be an entirely accurate statement. So even if “establishment Republicans” can squelch such candidates, it will involve competing with them avidly on fever-swamp themes. And that’s how people like Phil Gingrey or another intensely conservative Senate likely, Tom Price, wind up looking like moderate “squishes.” To adapt the president’s term for the ideological passions gripping the conservative movement and dominating the GOP, the “fever” is not “breaking,” at least down at the level where people don’t bother to sanitize their views. It may, actually, be getting worse.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.