GOP Collateral Damage

The hatefulness consuming the Romney-Gingrich struggle in Florida is spreading pretty rapidly through the opinion-leaders of the GOP, whose exchanges are beginning to resemble Dollar Beer Night at a professional wrestling venue.

The oddest back-and-forth involves an attack on Gingrich by veteran conservative foreign policy luminary Elliot Abrams, who as part of National Review‘s unofficial Week of Unloading on Newt, published an article accusing Gingrich of having rhetorically stabbed Ronald Reagan in the back as he was fighting treasonous liberals to stop an imminent invasion of Florida by the Nicaraguan Sandinistas (no, Abrams didn’t use that last phrase, but that’s pretty much the intended implication).

But then Abrams was taken down a big notch by the American Spectator’s Jeffrey Lord, who showed that the grizzled neocon had taken Gingrich’s remarks far out of context. In the same piece, howeer, Lord went on to accuse ABC News of conducting its interview of Gingrich’s second wife Marianne as retaliation for a criticism Newt made of the network back in the mid-1980s. That’s some serious grudge-nursing he’s suggesting, but the idea went viral once Rush Limbaugh repeated much of the Lord tirade on-air.

Now nobody loves a good food-fight quite like Sarah Palin, and having been out of the news for a bit, she took to the same famous Facebook page from which she successfully launched the “death panel” smear of health reform, and went after “the Republican Establishment” for savaging poor Newt.

Characteristically, St. Joan of the Tundra identified Newt’s victimization with her own, arguing that the “Republican Establishment” had adopted the “Alinsky tactics” used against her by “the left” in 2008. Moreover, while not quite being able to bring herself to endorse Gingrich outright, Palin did identify his supporters with the Tea Party movement, which was, she indicated, tired of the Establishment’s taste for the “politics of personal destruction” (rather an odd claim since one of the top grievances of the Tea Folk against said Establishment is that it has been insufficiently determined to destroy all “socialists” and salt the earth where they once lived, but then Palin has never been good on details).

Entertaining as this all truly is to outsiders like me, you do have to wonder if the GOP nomination contest is getting a little out of hand. Sure, it’s common for candidates in competitive primaries to call each other horrible names and then once it’s over grip and grin for the cameras as though it was all a game, which in fact it generally is. But when your intra-party struggle begins attracting high-life political ambulance-chasers like Palin, it may be time to chill.

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.