Disharmony in the Ranks

So we’ve already discussed in this space various ways to look at the divisions and confusion afflicting congressional Republicans in figuring out how to end the fiscal crises they’ve manufactured: strategic differences over which hostage to take in exchange for what ransom; a conflict over “entitlement reforming” Establishment conservatives and anti-Obamacare insurgents who actually like the traditional entitlements; and of course, the usual ego and turf problems to which all pols are prone.

But today at TNR John Judis offers a different and more dramatic take: the current crisis represents a long-developing rupture between Washington-based and grassroots conservatives that has made the former incapable of doing its usual job of reconciling interests and cutting deals. Instead of taking their place at Grover Norquist’s Wednesday Meeting table and taking what they can get, today’s conservative activists are trying to overturn the table if they can’t own it.

Under pressure from grassroots radicals and the new outsider groups, the old Republican coalition is beginning to shatter. The single-issue and evangelical groups have been superseded by right-wing populist groups, which are generally identified with the Tea Party, although there is no single Tea Party organization. These groups can’t easily be co-opted by the party’s Washington leadership. And the business groups in Washington, who funded the party over the last two decades, have grown disillusioned with a party that appears to be increasingly held hostage by its radical base and by outsider groups.

Judis goes on to note that the rage regularly expressed towards the “GOP Establishment” by Tea Folk is now being heartily reciprocated on K Street and in the Capitol. So her projects the current disarray into a party breakdown, if not–as TNR’s headline writers loudly put it–“the death throes of the Republican Party.”

I dunno; this is a song we’ve heard before. Time and again yesterday’s conservative radicals have become today’s and tomorrow’s “Republican Establishment;” that’s a big part of why the GOP has move so steadily to the Right over the years. A young Grover Norquist once drove around Washington teaching a young Ralph Reed anarchist anthems; later he strutted around South Africa as a self-styled anti-communist freedom fighter.

But even you don’t buy the “death throes” hypothesis, Judis is right: a political party will find it hard to function if its “troops” hate its “generals.” At some point, a mutiny or even a fragging becomes possible. And it may take smarter strategists than John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to end the disharmony in the ranks.

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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.