Charlie Harper: Squandered opportunities

February 8, 2013 

The internal struggles of the Republican Party entered a new phase this week as various factions seem to be preparing for an open civil war. The first salvo was fired by Karl Rove with the announcement of his "Conservative Victory Project," designed to raise funds for his super-PAC American Crossroads to get involved in races where "it is important (Republicans) have a winning candidate."

Tea Party activists were not amused, calling Rove's measure a method for "the establishment" to protect incumbents. And with that, another epic battle between grassroots outsiders and moneyed insiders has been joined for control of the Republican Party.

Tea party leaders are quick to point out that they are responsible for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, each presumably moving the Senate Republican caucus to a more conservative median viewpoint. And for that, they do deserve the credit.

Before backing Rubio, there was a general consensus among the National Republican Senatorial Committee to back former Florida Governor Charlie Crist for the seat Rubio now holds. As that Florida campaign was forming, Barack Obama had just won a wave election making many Republicans fear they needed to run to the center to have any hope of electability, and Crist was viewed about as moderate as a Republican could come.

Tea party activists proudly point to the fact that they were not only right that Rubio was elected, but that Crist is now the Democratic front runner to face Tea Party Republican Governor Rick Scott in the 2014 elections. Crist's party swap is all the vindication many in the Tea Party need to fuel continued anti-establishment fervor in future races.

Yet when asked about other Tea Party inventions such as Christine O'Donnell or Sharron Angle, the boisterous claims of the group turn to redirection or obfuscation. But for an honest evaluation of the conservative movement within the Republican Party, one must admit for every Pat Toomey there is a Richard Murdoch. To pretend otherwise defies reality.

Furthermore, in senatorial math, the unforced errors committed during the earlier battles to move the party further to the right have cost seats that should right now be in Republican hands. Republicans had the opportunity to take control of the Senate in 2012 and instead lost ground. Republicans have the best opportunity in a generation this election cycle based on the combination of retiring Democratic senators and the number of contested races where Democrats hold seats in traditionally Republican states.

It is unambiguously clear that the efforts of the Tea Party have helped move the Senate to the right. It is only slightly less clear that the efforts of the group, combined with the defensive posture of "the establishment," haves led to making sure the more conservative caucus has also remained a minority caucus.

The Tea Party must come to grips with the fact that they too are now part of "the establishment." Those within positions of power must also reach out to Tea Party leaders and incorporate ideas and renew principles that appear to have long been lost on some that may have been in Washington too long.

The two groups continuing to engage in a partisan civil war is strategically inept and lacks any maturity of vision that a national movement that hopes to outlast two election cycles should be expected to have. It also will snuff out any hope that those members in "the establishment" have to ever attain majority status in the Senate or the White House - or even maintain the U.S. House.

The Tea Party needs the establishment. The establishment needs the Tea Party.

The sooner the two sides figure out that they are in fact different arms of the same organization, the more likely that both can achieve their goals. If instead the two decide to continue to see the other as the enemy, they will continue to battle for control of the vehicle as they drive it over the cliff into oblivion.

Life is not charitable with second chances. Politics is even less so. 2014 provides an excellent make-up opportunity for the errors committed within the party during 2012. Internal bickering and squabbling appears ready to trump this rare but still attainable mulligan shot.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.

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