Bob Franken

Fight on the Right

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It’s being asked a lot today, and it’s jarring: Has the GOP become entirely unmanageable, ripping itself apart as its various factions march to their different drummers? What makes the question so weird is that until recently, the Republicans’ big advantage was the party’s ability to move in lock step. It was the Democrats who were compared to a herd of cats, a screeching collection of centrists and unyielding lefties.
It’s not that the Dems have gotten any better at that; just ask President Barack Obama. At the same time, you can now ask GOP leaders like Speaker John Boehner about cat herding. When he’s trying to negotiate anything, the White House is the least of his problems. It’s when he gets back to the Capitol that he runs into a buzz saw as he faces the tea partiers and other zealots.
The D’s are used to this, but the R’s are not. These days, the establishment moderates and the upstart moderates are clawing at each other. We witnessed a display of the bruising intramural collision at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference. Right afterward, the hard feelings really raised their ugly heads even more when that specially commissioned Republican panel came up with its recommendations for rescuing the party from political oblivion. After all, it did blow the presidential election, and a big reason Republicans lost is because blacks, Hispanics, women and gays voted against them and their harsh policies.
Out of the handwringing that followed came the obvious judgment that the party was increasingly obsolete in changing times, antagonistic to the very groups that were growing in size, influence and public support. So the leaders starting talking about a need to rebrand. Of course, there’s one teensy-weensy problem: The harsh perception is reality. As party chairman Reince Priebus put it, “We weren’t inclusive.” It’s painfully apparent, though, that the hardliners have absolutely no desire to be inclusive nor to soften when it comes to immigration, gay rights or any of the other stances no matter how they alienate powerful constituencies. Jenny Beth Martin, who heads the Tea Party Patriots, insisted that the real mistake was that the party “failed to promote our principles and lost because of it”

Karl Rove has inserted himself into the discussion, as he always manages to. He’s formed (you guessed it) still another super PAC that will collect lots of secret money from fat cats. Fresh off the embarrassing failure of his last gazillion-dollar effort, American Crossroads, he’s come up with the Conservative Victory Project. This one is dedicated to making sure the Republicans, next time, try to avoid candidates that John McCain would call “Wacko Birds.”
As you can imagine, the Wacko Birds are not at all happy about that. They see it as a sinister plot to shut them out in favor of mealy-mouthed establishment nominees. Sarah Palin really teed off on Rove at the CPAC gathering as one of “those experts who keep losing elections.”
As usual, the party’s ideological enforcer, Rush Limbaugh, got into the act, saying, “Republicans are just getting totally bamboozled right now” if they think they need to cool their jets. If the leadership is really serious about its negatives, then a good place to start might be coming up with less creepy symbols than Karl Rove, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.
One would think that the Democrats would be able to swoop right in and have their way with their adversaries. They haven’t, though, and it’s likely they’ll forfeit an opportunity to label the opposition as too ridiculous to be taken seriously or, as the GOP’s own survey put it, “scary, narrow-minded … out of touch … stuffy old men.” Even with such damning descriptions, the Republicans’ best strategy may be to do nothing, stop all the caterwauling and let the Democrats revert to their normal practice of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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