For the GOP establishment, the lesson of the last two election cycles is clear: We can’t continue to let the party be hijacked by candidates and spokesmen from the far right. Not only have they cost the party a number of winnable Senate seats, they have tainted the party brand and contributed to its reputation as extremist.
Toward that end, Fox News is purging itself of the likes of Sarah Palin and Dick Morris. Karl Rove is forming a new SuperPAC, dedicated to ensuring that ultra-conservative tea-party candidates such as Todd Akin of Missouri, Richard Mourdock of Indiana, Christine O’Donnell of Delaware and Sharron Angle of Nevada never make it through GOP primaries and onto the general-election ballot, where they have proved disasters.
That hasn’t set well with the GOP’s conservative tea-party wing, which insists that the party’s woes can be blamed on just the sort of moderation that Rove advocates. The dispute sets up a battle likely to determine the future course of the Republican Party, but where will that battle take place? Nationally, attention has begun to focus on Georgia and the Senate seat that becomes open in 2014.
At first blush, that makes sense, because we fit so many of the parameters of a perfect test case:
– The seat is open because a veteran Republican senator, Saxby Chambliss, declined to seek re-election after his efforts at budget compromise earned him the dreaded RINO tag.
– We have a conservative GOP base that tends to gravitate toward the most conservative candidate in the field, and if the tea-party movement has faded in other parts of the country, it remains a force to be reckoned with here in the Peach State. In other words, a Mourdock or Akin could win here.
– We are a red state — Mitt Romney won here by eight percentage points — but we are undergoing demographic changes that might, under perfect circumstances, allow a Democratic candidate to win a statewide race in 2014, as occurred in Missouri and Indiana.
– Most of all, we have Paul Broun.
The controversial, even cartoonish congressman from Georgia’s 10th District fits perfectly into the Akin-Mourdock mold. He has an avid following among the most extreme Georgia conservatives, and he also has a penchant for the bizarre — likening President Obama to Hitler, calling him a Marxist, describing evolution and the Big Bang theory as “lies straight from the pit of hell” — that would make him vulnerable in a Georgia general election.
So there you go: in Broun and Georgia, the GOP establishment has a perfect test case of its campaign to pull the party back from the brink and toward the center, right?
Wrong, and here’s why: That case requires you to believe that Broun is a realistic threat to win the GOP nomination in Georgia, and he is not. People are trying to cast him in a role that grossly exaggerates both his ability and appeal. Among other problems, he won’t be able to raise enough money to compete statewide, and he doesn’t have the statewide network to offset that deficiency.
Most important, Broun isn’t running against Chambliss. By the time it’s complete, the GOP primary field will be brim-full of candidates with impeccable conservative credentials but without Broun’s penchant for foolishness. Broun simply won’t have the ideological space to define himself as THE conservative in the race, only as the crazy one. By the time Georgia Republicans go to the polls, the congressman from the 10th will be more sideshow than threat, and Rove and his SuperPAC don’t need to do a single thing to make that happen.
– Jay Bookman