Political Animal


November 20, 2012 9:55 AM The Phony War Intensifies

By Ed Kilgore

For the cynical-minded, today’s front-line reporting from the Struggle for the Soul of the Republican Party can induce bitter laughter: in response to “establishment” talk that Republicans need a clearer and more systematic conservative message that is marketed un-stupidly, some self-conscious conservative activists are “pushing back,” per a deeply confused WaPo piece from Paul Kane and Rosalind S. Helderman:

After nearly two weeks of listening to GOP officials pledge to assert greater control over the party and its most strident voices in the wake of Romney’s loss, grass-roots activists have begun to fight back, saying that they are not to blame for the party’s losses in November.
“The moderates have had their candidate in 2008 and they had their candidate in 2012. And they got crushed in both elections. Now they tell us we have to keep moderating. If we do that, will we win?” said Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader. Vander Plaats is an influential Christian conservative who opposed Romney in the Iowa caucuses 10 months ago and opposed Sen. John McCain’s candidacy four years ago.

So now the shallow trenches have been dug for the phony war:

The conservative backlash sets up an internal fight for the direction of the Republican Party, as many top leaders in Washington have proposed moderating their views on citizenship for illegal immigrants, to appeal to Latino voters. In addition, many top GOP officials have called for softening the party’s rhetoric on social issues, following the embarrassing showing by Senate candidates who were routed after publicly musing about denying abortion services to women who had been raped.

Yes, years from now conservatives will sit around campfires and sing songs about the legendary internecine battles of late 2012, when father fought son and brother fought brother across a chasm of controversy as to whether 98% or 99% of abortions should be banned; whether undocumented workers should be branded and utilized as “guest workers,” loaded onto cattle cars and shipped home, or simply immiserated; whether the New Deal/Great Society programs should be abolished in order to cut upper-income taxes or abolished in order to boost Pentagon spending. There’s also a vicious, take-no-prisons fight over how quickly to return the role of the federal government in the economy to its pre-1930s role as handmaiden to industry. Blood will flow in the streets as Republicans battle over how to deal with health care after Obamacare is repealed and 50 million or people lose health insurance. Tax credits and risk pools or just “personal responsibility?”

Look, there could be a true “period for reflection” and “struggle for the soul of the Republican Party;” the list of heterodox conservative thinkers that David Brooks trots out in his latest New York Times column would provide a good starting point. The trouble is none of these people have a bit of influence over Republican political actors, particularly when they are heterodox. The real debate is between people like Reince Priebus and John Cornyn and people like Bob Vander Plaats and Ted Cruz. They are entitled to fight with each other all day long about how many zygotes could fit on the head of a pin, and how deeply the 47% have been corrupted into permanent serfdom. But the MSM really, really needs to show it understands this isn’t a fight about any kind of fundamentals.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • deanarms on November 20, 2012 10:00 AM:

    Great post Ed. We're basically in the land of "how many devils can dance on the head of a pin?"

  • Peter C on November 20, 2012 10:06 AM:

    I'd like them to hold a cage-match. Blood makes the grass grow!

  • T2 on November 20, 2012 10:15 AM:

    "publicly musing about denying abortion services" Publicly Musing?? What are these writers talking about? That language is in the REPUBLICAN PLATFORM the GOP approved at their convention.
    The GOP needs to face the fact that by creating their Tea Party monster, they've become it's slave. And unfortunately for them, a large and growing part of America want's no part of the Tea Party ---ask Alan West, Akin and Mourdock.

  • stormskies on November 20, 2012 10:17 AM:

    Soul of the party ? The Repiglican party has no Soul anymore. All's they have now, in it's place, is a rancid abscess.

  • c u n d gulag on November 20, 2012 10:21 AM:

    Reagan signed a deal with the Devil when he welcomed in the Evangelical Christians, with their Manichean world views, into the political process.

    And, as they went from willing footsoldiers to the "Powers-that-be" in Republican politics, to the main drivers, and became the parties politicians themselves, the Republican Party is still beholden to that Manichean Evangelical Base.

    They are the energy of the party.
    They are the GOTV folks for the party.
    And they still tell the Republican politicians that they 'Must Respect Mah Authoritah!"

    How does the party soften it's political views, when it's base's is entrenched in stupidity, ignorance, racism, misogyny, xenophobi, and/or homophobia?
    They can't.
    Not without losing that base.

    And then what?
    Who's going to be the energy behind the party? The Koch Brothers? No, they're the money boys.
    Who's going to GOTV? Adelson? Trump? Halliburton? Papa John's?

    No, they've made their beds with the Jesus-and-Ayn Rand-freaks.
    And now, they have no alternative but to continue to lie in bed with them.

    To lose the Jesus and Ayn Rand folks, will leave the party representing who, exactly?
    No one but Oligarchs, Plutocrats, and Corporatists.
    There's no way they can have a "Come to Koch Brothers meeting."
    And there's no way they can have a "Come away from Jesus" moment, because there'll be no one to fill the vacuum.

    This is the hand that the Republicans have dealt themselves.
    And it is "The Dead Man's Hand."

    And the sound you hear, as Republicans "Powers-that-be" realize that they've painted themselves ino a corner, isn't the sound of their hands patting one another on the back, it is the sound of one hand clapping.

    And they can put all the lipstick, mascara, and wigs, on, that they want to, but they're still a party of pigs.
    Racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and/or homophobic, stupid, and/or ignorant, pigs.

    This will all cause the price of our popcorn to spike over the next 2-4 years, while we watch this show.
    Or, will it drop, because of demand?

    Ooops! Global warming and droughts = no corn for us to pop.

    Oh well - we can always snack on nuts.
    The Republican Party needs to figure out how to deal with theirs.

  • Josef K on November 20, 2012 10:24 AM:

    But the MSM really, really needs to show it understands this isn’t a fight about any kind of fundamentals.

    I doubt 90% of practicing 'journalists' could even spell "fundamentals" without resorting to a dictionary.

  • Upper West on November 20, 2012 10:35 AM:

    I echo Josef K, but add that 90% of the journalists would also have trouble spelling "show," "understands," and "fight."

    I am looking forward to Luke Russert's in-depth analysis of the nuances among the positions on "Plan B" contraception of Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal and Steve King.

  • bleh on November 20, 2012 10:37 AM:

    But the MSM really, really needs to show it understands this isn’t a fight about any kind of fundamentals.

    Why on Earth would they do THAT?

    Headline: Nothing Interesting Here, Just Move Along.

    Controversy attracts eyeballs and sells advertising. See under "Horse-Race, Election Coverage As."

    What media executive worth his Gucci loafers would suggest doing something to MINIMIZE controversy?

  • Ronald on November 20, 2012 10:41 AM:

    Another brilliantly written post, Ed.

    This is the 'cage match' that we've been waiting for. The circular firing squad played out in real time. This sort of internecine warfare is Right Wing Media vs. Right Wing Media. Evangels vs 'Establishment' for the 'soul of the Republican party'.

    I've been stocking up on popcorn the way union-haters have been hoarding twinkies for this battle.

    The Establishment blaming the far Right for the losses incurred by Establishment candidates, the far Right blaming the Establishment for the losses incurred by far Right candidates, and both groups totally missing the point that the American people thing that both have sadly outdated ideas.

    When 'leaders' on the Right like Jindal crow on about how 'Republicans shouldn't say stupid things', when the things they said are in the Republican platform that's like a bad version of the movie Inception...

    When I still have people in my Facebook feed who are, basically, refusing to believe that Mr. Romney actually lost the election, it makes me realize that the Echo Chamber of right wing media has finally come home to roost, and dammit if I'm not going to enjoy the show.

  • danimal on November 20, 2012 10:47 AM:

    As long as they are rearranging the deck chairs on the GOP Titantic, I say pass the popcorn and let'm go at it!

  • Anonymous on November 20, 2012 10:53 AM:

    Whoa! Check out this quote from Haley Barbour (in the WaPo slideshow accompanying the article):

    Barbour said after the Romney campaign, “We’ve got to give our political organization a very serious proctology exam.” The party must attract, not repel, the growing Hispanic vote. Republicans “cannot be ignorant of demography,” he said.

    A 'proctology exam'???? That's where the problem with Hispanics was, up in there???

    So, according to Barbour, the problem isn't with the heart of soul of the Republican party, it's lodged somewhere in the lower digestive tract??? Barbour isn't exactly calling for a gut check; he wants more of a butt check. I don't doubt he'll find plenty of unpleasant things, but I haven't notice the Republicans having trouble with output from that system. They've certainly been flinging more than enough.

  • stinger on November 20, 2012 10:57 AM:

    "opposed Romney in the Iowa caucuses 10 months ago and opposed Sen. John McCain’s candidacy four years ago"

    Vander Plaats -- not all that influential.

    Hey -- a legible craptcha for once!

  • T2 on November 20, 2012 10:58 AM:

    I don't like Barbour, but I'd say he has identified the source point of today's Conservative GOP/TP policies. Thanks, Haley!

  • Tony Greco on November 20, 2012 11:01 AM:

    Your observation on Brooks' column today is very apropos. What Brooks and the heterodox conservatives he praises don't understand is that politically, American conservatism isn't about freedom or small government; it's about protecting and advancing the interests of the business class. Usually conservative ideology serves to rationalize and legitimate those interests; to the extent it does not, it is not likely to get very far politically. Attacks on crony capitalism, increased responsiveness to working class interests, a dismantling of the national security state, are just not what actual political conservatism is about: they are fantasies of idiosyncratic conservative ideologues. How many genuine libertarians or paleoconservatives are there in Congress?

  • boatboy_srq on November 20, 2012 11:03 AM:

    The moderates have had their candidate in 2008 and they had their candidate in 2012.

    I'm curious what "moderates" Vander Plaats is referring to. Does that group include [William] Todd Akin? How about what's-his-name that ran against Angus King? Allen West? C'mon.

    I'm wondering exactly how long it will be before the "grass-roots" of the GOTea go full-on fascist.

  • jomo on November 20, 2012 11:05 AM:

    Thank you. That was beautiful snark - and dead on. At the forefront of the battle are people like Jindal and Rubio who only want to sound like they are doing something different without actually changing anything.

  • SecularAnimist on November 20, 2012 11:07 AM:

    Ed, with all due respect, I am really sick and tired of hearing about the Republican Party.


    I wish you would spend even HALF as much time writing about the Democrats -- you know, the party that YOU SUPPORT, and the party THAT WON -- about whether, and how, the Democrats will fight for the progressive agenda and the progressive coalition that got them elected.

  • slojoe on November 20, 2012 11:13 AM:

    They're like ad men debating 'hardsell' vs. 'softsell' as how to best market an Edsel.

  • Graham Shelby on November 20, 2012 11:53 AM:


    Beautiful post. This is why I've been reading the Monthly in magazine and web form since the 90s. Great stuff.

  • R on November 20, 2012 12:49 PM:

    Great post, Ed. I get SecularAnimist's frustration, but your final point --"the MSM really, really needs to show it understands this isn’t a fight about any kind of fundamentals" -- is crucial. If the MSM goes along with the false narrative of Republican reflection and soul-searching, they'll continue lending legitimacy to a radical ideology whose only real hope for survival is through suppressing the truth and suppressing the vote. Unfortunately, many of the MSM voices really are "deeply confused." ( @Upper West: I suspect that 90% of them couldn't tell you what 90% means as a fraction.) So Ed, keep calling them out. But yeah, a story about Democrats (and Independents -- go Bernie Sanders!) doing good stuff now and then would be welcome.

  • Cugel on November 20, 2012 2:21 PM:

    The "soul searching" is between Republicans who want to apply MORE window dressing and those who think Romney pretending to be a moderate is why he lost the election.

    The right-wing thinks that if only they'd nominated a true red culture warrior or fiscal scold like Rand Paul, THEN they'd crush the liberals! When faced with the choice between a fake conservative and a "true liberal" then people will choose the true liberal.

    The irony is that this is entirely true, it's just never been tried! Obama was never a "true liberal". He could have crushed Romney if he'd come out in June and run on a full throated defense of entitlements.

    Imagine Obama saying during the campaign: "I hereby pledge to VETO any cuts to Social Security! Cuts to Medicare or Medicaid payments to seniors are off the table! NO cuts to education funding or investing in green technologies. We cannot cut the deficit on the backs of the American people."

    The pundits screaming about "the deficit" would have been ignored, and the election would have been over at that point. But, he wanted to pursue his "Grand Bargain" -- and needed cuts to S.S., Medicare and Medicaid as part of the "shared sacrifice."

    So, next time for the right wing, it's TRUE RED!

    Because conservatism can never fail or be repudiated by the American people. It can only BE failed by flawed candidates like McCain & Romney.

    Unfortunately, Obama plays right into their hands with his idiotic "Grand Bargain." The right will campaign in 2014 with "Senator X voted to cut your Medicare and Social Security! But, true Conservative Republican Y will fight to protect Social Security" (by eliminating it altogether of course).

    And the right wing will win, because Democrats compromised on principles and refused to stand up and fight for liberal entitlements that people voted for.

  • TCinLA on November 20, 2012 6:48 PM:

    Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader.

    Let's keep in mind that Mr. Vander Plaats got his ass kicked sideways on November 6, with the Family Loser losing every one of their little games in Iowa. They didn't kick out the remaining judge who ruled in favor of marriage equality, their candidates didn't win office, and Obama won the state.

    If this is the kind of enemy we're going to have, please, make more of him.

  • Charles on November 21, 2012 9:51 PM:

    You'd think it'd be pretty easy to do some polling to answer the question as to why Romney lost, and whether these contentions are the reason. If the Republicans ran their truest conservative, an actual candidate rather than a "generic" that regularly pops up in these polls, would he have made up the difference between Romney and Obama? Are there any polls out there suggesting huge numbers of disenchanted righties who stayed home on election day? Enough, in the necessary swing states, to change the election result? And if he had run and gotten all those votes, would he have not lost too many votes from independents who liked Romney for his "moderation"? Let's not forget that Obama was threatening to take a double digit lead in the polls going into the debates, and it sure wasn't simply Romney's hardcore conservativeness in the first debate that allowed him to close the gap.

    It ought to be really easy to see just how much of the moderate vote "Moderate Mitt" won by being "moderate", and comparing that to the number of people who didn't vote for Romney because he wasn't conservative enough. I find it very hard to believe that Obama got any votes from that latter group, so the calculation should be even easier.

    But then you need to adjust down to the fact that the Reps aren't running a "Perfect True Conservative" but actually a guy like Gingrich, Perry or Santorum.