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Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in At TMV, Politics | 10 comments

When Will Republican Leaders Fight Back Against the Tea Party?

Adam Zyglis, The Buffalo News

Adam Zyglis, The Buffalo News

George W. Bush’s former speechwriter David Frum has been consistent in his constant call for the Republican Party to try and offer a bigger tent. And in his no-holds-barred criticism of Rush Limbaugh and the conservative entertainment political industry due to the way they have led and often mislead the once proud Republican Party, conservatives who were once considered thoughtful. So let’s look at Frum’s latest — and comment on almost all of it. In the wake of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor having been virtually eaten alive in his failed primary race, Frum wonders when GOP leaders will fight back against the Tea Party;

Eric Cantor tried to appease Republican radicals. They turned on him anyway.

John Boehner has tried to resist them. They just overwhelmed him.

Mitt Romney tried to join them—and in doing so fastened onto his party the platform that lost the presidential election of 2012.

At some point, Republican leaders must recognize that they have a fight on their hands whether they like it or not. If they refuse to join that fight, they will be devoured anyway. If they surrender, they condemn the whole conservative project in America to the destructive leadership of fanatics (and the cynics who make their living by duping fanatics).

Bravo. In fact, I like that paragraph so much, let’s run it again — only this time in boldface:

At some point, Republican leaders must recognize that they have a fight on their hands whether they like it or not. If they refuse to join that fight, they will be devoured anyway. If they surrender, they condemn the whole conservative project in America to the destructive leadership of fanatics (and the cynics who make their living by duping fanatics).

He goes on:

This lesson keeps being administered. Republican leaders repeatedly refuse to learn.

The political exemplar most relevant to today’s GOP is not the oft-invoked Ronald Reagan. It is Tony Blair, who revived his party by standing up to its most extreme elements. There is no such leadership yet on the Republican side. If Republicans don’t develop it soon, we might just as well already rename our dysfunctional party the Committee to Elect Hillary Clinton.

It’s even more than that. If Republican leaders don’t show some guts, America is doomed to utter stagnation, political polarization, and unceasing political rage. There’s a point where you need to say: We can have a bigger tent, we can respect others, we can have serious differences and still not consider the other side as evil, and those who reach across the aisle, no matter how gingerly, aren’t political traitors but national patriots.

Something that’s increasingly in short supply.

I can predict when Republican leaders will truly stand up to the Tea Party, when this happens:


UPDATE: Peter Beinart also has a must read in The Atlantic, about anarchy in the GOP. And, again, it’s worth a look at in some detail:

The big message from Eric Cantor’s stunning primary loss isn’t about immigration or the Tea Party. It’s about the unprecedented crisis of authority in today’s GOP.

Think about it. Cantor’s boss, John Boehner is, according to Nancy Pelosi, “the weakest speaker in history.” Less than 50 percent of Republicans approve of his performance. Over the last two years, he has repeatedly retreated in the face of opposition from rank-and-file conservatives who treat him with barely disguised disdain. Until the defeat of Cantor, his most likely heir apparent, it was widely assumed that he would soon either step—or be pushed—aside soon.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell only avoided Cantor’s fate by attaching himself to his Kentucky colleague Rand Paul, whose upstart Senate candidacy McConnell had opposed. Like Boehner, McConnell is treated with striking disrespect in his own caucus…..


The GOP’s leadership crisis extends beyond Congress. In recent cycles, Republican presidential primaries have been relatively orderly affairs where the party establishment rallies around a frontrunner—often the person who came in second the last time (Bob Dole, John McCain, Mitt Romney)—who holds off right-wing challengers on his way to the nomination. This year, however, that kind of elite control looks unlikely. Chris Christie, the first choice of many GOP leaders, is so wounded that even if he runs, he will not be the frontrunner. Some donors are rallying behind Jeb Bush. If he does not run, they may turn to Marco Rubio. But the road to the GOP nomination runs through Iowa and South Carolina, whose Republican activists resemble the anti-establishment, talk-radio-powered folks who knocked off Cantor. If those activists helped defeat Cantor merely for supporting citizenship for undocumented immigrant children, think how they’ll react to Bush or Rubio, who support a path to citizenship for their parents as well.

He has it perfectly defined here.

The GOP has a growing, important talk radio segment and they will push the party in directions that a)mean they can’t get more support b)means the GOP will be highly unpopular if it gains power since there will be no attempt by a Republican Talk Radio Administration to compromise, reach out or even remotely try to understand the perceptions of those not in the Talk Radio Show Choir.

In the Democratic Party, by contrast—which has enjoyed a reputation for organizational anarchy since the days of Will Rogers—party hierarchies are clear and largely unchallenged. A February Pew poll found that Democrats were more than 20 points more likely than Republicans to say their party’s leaders stand up for party principles. And the consequences are plain to see.


The bigger reason the parties have switched cultures has to do with their perception of the future. Grassroots Democrats certainly get frustrated with their leaders, who they consider too cautious and too beholden to Wall Street. And were an unusually compelling candidate like Elizabeth Warren to run, many would rally behind her against the Clintonite establishment. But these anti-authoritarian impulses are held in check by a greater optimism about the direction of the country. Over the last few years, a younger, more tolerant, Democratic-leaning generation has helped elect the country’s first African-American president, helped make gay marriage mainstream and may soon help elect America’s first female president. As a result, although Democrats may be upset that Obama can’t pass immigration reform, they’re inclined to believe that because of demographic change, another Democratic president will soon get another chance.

Republican activists are more pessimistic. Even with a Republican president, they grouse, government kept growing. And unless something drastic changes, it will only get worse. When grassroots Democrats look at the growing percentage of Latinos, African Americans, and young people, they see a growing constituency for tolerance and social justice. When grassroots Republicans do, they see a growing constituency of takers, who want to turn America away from its exceptional nature.

So what happens? It’s a flight from historical reality:

It’s because Republican activists are more fearful of the future that they demand politicians willing to take extraordinary, Ted Cruz-like measures to reverse history’s course. Conservatives like Cantor, who accommodate themselves to demographic trends by supporting citizenship for some undocumented immigrants, must therefore be replaced with politicians who will stand militantly on principle.

The irony is that by preventing the GOP from adjusting to a younger, less white, less Anglo country, grassroots Republicans are hastening the very liberal dominance they fear. As Ezra Klein has noted, by defeating Cantor—and thus making congressional Republicans too afraid to pass immigration reform—the GOP just makes it more likely Latinos will flock to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

There is also a truly hateful attitude that goes beyond normal (sigh) partisan hatred emitted by many people who belong to this segment of the GOP towards anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

And that doesn’t spell success for future electoral victories, passing an agenda that has widespread support, or sustainable governance.