It certainly looks like a ‘purge movement’

IT CERTAINLY LOOKS LIKE A ‘PURGE MOVEMENT’…. The Republican effort to drive GOP moderates from their party has been picking up steam of late. Specter and Scozzafava were purged last year, and Crist was purged last week. Bob Bennett will soon be deemed insufficiently right-wing in Utah, and some more may lose in primaries today.

It prompted Robert Schlesinger to reflect today on the “Republican Purge Movement.” Former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, now a Washington Post columnist, thinks Schlesinger has it all wrong.

In the Washington Post today, I explain that far from a “purge movement” aimed at accumulating “RINO pelts,” [South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint] is leading a carefully targeted effort to elect a handful of real conservatives who will help him fight for fiscal discipline and conservative values in the Senate.

And sure enough, Theissen’s column is all about how DeMint — arguably the Senate’s most right-wing member and Thiessen’s former employer — is ignoring the party establishment and backing some of the most hardcore, rigid, far-right ideologues he can find. The party’s base often approves, forcing more mainstream Republican candidates to either try to move sharply to the right, or to get pushed out of the party altogether.

But don’t worry, this couldn’t possibly be considered a “purge movement.” Perish the thought.

As Jon Chait explained, “What, you may ask, is the difference between a purge and an insurgency designed to elect real believers in your side’s ideology? Obviously, when your own party is doing it, it’s the latter. When the other party does it, it’s a purge. Joe Lieberman was purged. Arlen Specter was simply the loser of a targeted effort to elect a handful of real conservatives who will help fight for fiscal discipline and conservative values in the Senate.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.