Charlie Harper: The GOP's war on … the GOP

September 24, 2013 

This weekend marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga. It was the first major battle of the Civil War fought in Georgia. It marked a temporary victory for the Confederacy. It cost the largest number of lives of any battle not named Gettysburg.

To commemorate the occasion, there have been a couple of reenactments. There was of course the expected one in Walker County, and then there was the less expected replication coming from within Republican Circles in DC.

The battle for the heart and direction of the Republican Party began a new public chapter last week when House Republicans coalesced around a plan to pass a Continuing Resolution which would fund the federal government past September 30th's fiscal year end but stripped all funding for the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. Georgia's own Tom Graves -- Chickamauga's congressman -- sponsored the concept in the House that was ultimately adopted by last Friday.

Momentum for the effort pushed by Graves in the House and Senator Ted Cruz in the Senate throughout the week. On Monday, a press conference with Graves, Tom Price, and Lynn Westmoreland signaled various factions within the conservative wing of the House GOP were adopting the plan. By mid-week, more center-right members were signing on. By week's end, House leadership had had enough of the challenges from Cruz and assaults from hard right social media that they decided to give Cruz, Mike Lee, and the others in the Senate what they were asking for.

The result was a bit … unexpected. As House Republicans were announcing they would vote on and pass the CR defunding Obamacare, Cruz and Lee held a press conference announcing it wouldn't pass the Senate. Lee went so far as to say "Shutdowns are bad. Shutdowns are not worth it. This law is not worth shutting the government down over."

House members, particularly those in leadership who have grown accustomed to being used as a piñata by those wishing to demonstrate they possess superior conservative principles, were not amused. By the time Ted Cruz made it to Fox News Sunday -- traditionally a safe place to air the talking points of the hard right -- Cruz met a Chris Wallace who was prepared with the help of "top Republicans" for the exchange.

Republican leaders in Washington are clearly growing frustrated with those they feel are spending more time advancing their personal conservative principles over the advancement of a conservative agenda. Cruz has been goading both the House and fellow Republican Senators for months. Ads from the Senate Conservatives Fund attacked Senate Majority leader McConnell, along with GOP Senators Burr, Cochran, Flake, Graham and even Georgia's Johnny Isakson -- but not a single Democrat.

Meanwhile, those in the House who trumpet their "commitment to principles" often point to their lack of vote for Speaker Boehner's re-election, but slink away from microphones when asked why their principled leadership failed to offer an alternative to Boehner's candidacy.

There is, and always will be, a market for those who wish to play a holier-than-thou game in Washington. The problem with these games is that the winners are individuals. They are lone congressmen, senators, pundits -- and the fundraising arms of the groups that fund them. The winners are not the GOP, and they are certainly not the American people.

At some point, those who enjoy the constant adoration of the purists must make a decision. Either they can use their pedestals to which they have perched themselves to exert actual leadership toward legislative action that will pass, or they can continue on the path to being the kings of a permanent minority party in the role of chief critic.

Republicans are now clearly on a journey that Cruz and company are delighted to have started, despite their inability to articulate an end game. As Sen. Johnny Isakson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "If you just back away from the politics and take an unvarnished look at the rules and the Constitution, unless you have a break in political loyalties by the majority party of the Senate -- which, again, is the hope right now -- you don't have the mathematics or the ability to pass what you want to pass or override a veto of the president."

Of course, too many who follow Cruz and the like would expect that these words of reality are grounds for being called a RINO -- Republican In Name Only. So perhaps they would instead prefer to hear from someone like Talk Radio Personality Neal Boortz, who tweeted: "Sorry folks. This GOP effort to defund 0bamacare is doomed for now. Concentrate on taking the Senate, then come up with better plan."

There's a novel thought. Win an election. But that takes strategy, tactics, and the realization that each state, and each district, isn't made up of voters who are just like each critic.

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

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