Georgia’s 2014 Republican Senate primary is still 16 months away, but already it is more eloquent about the problems faced by the GOP than anything contained in the “autopsy” released this week by the Republican National Committee.
The central figure in the story is shaping up to be U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, Republican from Georgia’s 10th Congressional District. To put it bluntly, the man is as nutty as a Stuckey’s pecan log. He makes Todd Akin and Richard Mourland, two GOP Senate candidates doomed to defeat in 2012 by their extremism, seem almost moderate by comparison.
So far, Broun is the only announced candidate to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss. But two other members of Georgia’s GOP congressional delegation, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston, are planning a run as well. A fourth Georgia congressman, Tom Price, is reportedly having second thoughts about the race, perhaps seeing more opportunities in House leadership. Other candidates may enter the race as well.
It is Broun, however, who is establishing the tone. When Broun voted against Paul Ryan’s very conservative House budget today, proclaiming it too moderate and too free-spending, Gingrey felt pressured to do likewise. And as the AJC’s Daniel Malloy reports from Washington, Broun, Kingston and Gingrey also voted against a bill backed by Republican leadership to keep the government funded through September.
The trend is drawing attention nationally and from Washington Republican leadership, as Politico notes:
“The rush to the right among the Georgians is all too clear. Gingrey is a 10-year veteran of the House, and Kingston has been in Washington for two decades, never causing their leadership much trouble. Now they find themselves as radicals, voting against things like procedural motions — an unpredictable move not welcomed by party leaders.
“Everybody can see what’s going on here,” a veteran GOP lawmaker said.
Kingston, who has not officially entered the race, admitted that Broun’s rightward tilt is changing his voting pattern, but said that is not the only factor in his own conservative shift. He acknowledged that following Broun in voting against procedural bills has gotten under leadership’s skin.
“As a practical matter, none of us wants to get on the left of the other one,” Kingston said. “You might watch someone out of the corner of your eye, but that is not going to be the central reason to support it or not.”
This is only the beginning. As the race develops, the dynamic being established here, with Broun running far to the right on spending and the rest of the GOP field being pressured to follow his lead, is likely to play out on abortion, gay rights, gun control, immigration and a variety of other issues. In Republican primaries, there is almost no price to be paid by candidates themselves for being too extreme or too conservative.
For the party as a whole, however, the impact on its brand can be profound. As Mourdock and Akin demonstrated, it can also produce candidates too far right to get elected in the general election.
I’m already on the record as predicting that Broun will not be the GOP nominee, arguing that he’s too extreme even for Georgia Republicans. But judging from their behavior, Broun’s likely opponents don’t seem to have much confidence in that analysis. In that sense at least, Broun is already winning the race.
– Jay Bookman