There was a time, not that long ago, when America’s political activists identified themselves as primarily either Democrats or Republicans, and while there were always variations in the degrees of their partisanship, they nevertheless represented one broad set of political values or another.
Political scientists attributed the relative stability of American politics to this simple, straightforward separation of the two major parties, so much so that third-party candidates for national office seldom had any chance of success.
It’s different today, and for proof just take a look at the recently completed Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. Or study the front page article in Sunday’s New York Times in which leading “establishment” Republicans describe their efforts to withstand efforts by their party’s more conservative activists to defeat them — their fellow Republicans — at the polls.
The article reports that, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, top congressional Republicans are waging a political war against aggressive advocacy groups that are determined to root out moderates and replace them with “true believers” on the far right end of the American political spectrum.
Democrats, of course, can only be amused by seeing McConnell portrayed as too liberal for the tea party types who are stirring up so much political dust in this election year.
McConnell and his incumbent colleagues are not amused, nor should they be. However, neutral observers might question his expressed optimism.
“I think we are going to crush them everywhere,” he told a journalist last week. “I don’t think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country.”
Had McConnell said that from the podium at the CPAC event, he probably would have been subjected to sneers and boos, even though he’s also the GOP leader who once famously declared that in his leadership role his principal agenda was to deny President Obama any success on any issue.
“When you look at the direction Washington as a whole is going, when you look at the state of the Republican Party and its decided lack of will to fight, you have to begin looking at the leadership itself,” explained Drew Ryun, who runs a right-wing entity called the Madison Project.
Ryun’s conservative genes are genuine. His father is Jim Ryun, a former congressman and once-famous athlete (a track star) who is the chairman of the Madison Project and has described McConnell as “the essence of the problem in D.C.”
Others in the Republican Party would probably prefer to identify President Obama as the essence of the problem, as they see it, or at least Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who also happens to be McConnell’s nemesis on a daily basis.
By definition, Republicans are conservatives, but for now there are actually two competing right wings on the American political landscape, and the way they’re fighting it seems unlikely they’ll find a path to synchronization, to a common goal of winning enough seats on Capitol Hill to actually decide America’s political future.
The far right’s supporters include the anti-tax Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund, the previously mentioned Madison Project and a group called FreedomWorks.
What’s interesting are those public figures speaking on this new right’s behalf: former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, billionaire self-promoter Donald Trump, outspoken Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and several ambitious senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
For various reasons, President Obama and the Democrats are going through a rough patch right now. The behavior on the right must give them comfort.
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