GOP Civil War Begins

GOP Civil War Begins

The morning after the election has brought an opening salvo in what could become a contentious battle of recriminations for the GOP, as various factions lay blame and beg for immunity in what has been, since 2004, a slow disintegration of their power in Washington. Just after noon, House Republicans feathers began to ruffle, as it was reported that Minority Leader John Boehner released a letter to his colleagues, officially asking to retain his job:

I'm deeply disappointed by the outcome of Tuesday's election. But I'm equally committed to building a lasting majority on the reform principles that define us and inspire our citizens. For this reason, I'm writing today to announce my candidacy for Republican Leader in the 111th Congress, and to request the honor of your vote.

As your Leader, I've worked tirelessly for our team, and tried to lead by example. I'll always be straight with you, and I'll always be open to your ideas. You deserve nothing less. I can't ask for the best from you unless I'm willing to give it myself.

Winning the majority and rebuilding our party will require the best from all of us. But this is not unfamiliar territory. We've faced and overcome these challenges before, and working together as a bold, unified, and energetic team, we'll do it again.

I'm ready to get started today. I'm confident you are too. I look forward to speaking with you in person and outlining our plans for the future. It's time for the losing to stop. And my commitment to you is that it will.

I humbly ask for your support and the privilege of serving as House Republican Leader in the next Congress.

It's probably no coincidence that around the same time, word got out that Virginia Representative Eric Cantor was gunning to replace Roy Blunt as House Whip. Honestly, it's hard to see how any of the GOP leadership in the House survives -- these were the people who went schizo on the bailout bill, pinning their lack of support to the 5,437th instance of Nancy Pelosi criticizing George Bush, after all. And, who can forget their brilliant plan to center their re-election hopes around a slogan stolen from an anti-depressant?

But if there's a real crisis in the House right now for the Republican Party, it's the gradually diminishing voice of moderation. Virginia's Tom Davis famously criticized his cohorts earlier this year, saying that "the Republican brand is in the trash can...if we were dog food, they would take us off the shelf." This morning, Davis can take comfort in the fact that he read the political landscape correctly. Unfortunately for the GOP, he'll also be retiring -- one more non-shrill voice who won't be participating in the process. This morning, Davis took a shot at the Club For Growth, an anti-tax zealotry outfit who've taken great pains to increase the fringe faction in the GOP side: "We call it the Club for Democratic Growth," Davis told WAMU Public Radio today.

And the fact is, the GOP appears set to double down on a rightward tilt, putting the moderates that Davis leaves behind in increasing isolation. Boehner, in his letter, makes this pretty clear:

America remains a center-right country. Democrats should not make the mistake of viewing Tuesday's results as a repudiation of conservatism or a validation of big government. Neither should we. Instead of throwing in the towel, as our opponents demand, we must redouble our efforts to develop forward-looking solutions to the challenges Americans face - solutions rooted in the enduring principles of reform that define us as a party. We need to focus on winning the issues, one by one, and presenting principled, superior alternatives that reflect the center-right priorities of the American people, rather than the self-serving priorities of Washington.

Center-right cheerleading? GOP versions of "forward-looking" solutions? A paean to somebody's idea of "reform"? And one last shot at "Washington?" It seems to me that these are the ingredients of the casserole of bad thinking that America just summarily rejected at the polls. Rather than naively asserting a center-rightness that doesn't exist -- after all, it can now be definitively said that widely-supported ideas such as Iraq withdrawal and universal health care are mainstream positions -- the GOP needs to find the new center, and blaze the sort of path suggested by authors Reihan Salaam and Ross Douthat in Grand New Party, which imagines a less zombie-like Republican party that seeks to win with a working-class coalition.

But John Boehner says, "It ain't gonna happen. It must not happen." And indeed, this is the party that's leaning toward running Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin in 2012. If Boehner gets things his way, maybe he'll be joining Davis on the golf course sooner than he'd like.

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