Everything about the modern conservative movement looks like lemmings headed for the cliffs. The fact that Republicans picked up a couple of governorships in the off-off-year election two weeks ago means very little.
The GOP lost two U.S. House races that same day amid the healthcare debate. One of those seats, in Upstate New York, had been in Republican hands since 1872! If voters were as outraged about healthcare reform as Republicans like to pretend, it looks like they would have handed those seats to the GOP. Instead, the seats went to Democrats, who flew to Washington and were sworn in just in time to vote for the healthcare overhaul on Nov. 7. The historic bill passed by five votes. With victories like these, the Republicans donâ€™t need any defeats. But I predict that they will be seeing a lot of them in coming years.
The GOP lost New York District 23 because the Republican candidate was moderate â€” too moderate for the Club for Growth, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and other far-right wing, out-of-state players, who threw their considerable weight and resources behind the more conservative candidate. The Republican candidate withdrew, handing the election to the Democratic challenger.
Something like that is going to happen on a massive scale in Florida next year. There, the teabag fringe of the conservative movement has organized and registered a new political party. Yep, they call themselves the Tea Party! And if they run candidates in next yearâ€™s elections, as they say they intend to do, they will split the conservative vote and make the Republicans an endangered species in the Sunshine State.
With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Republicans in South Carolina are following a similar road to extinction.
The Charleston County Republican Party last week voted to censure Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham for being too reasonable and pragmatic. Or as the county GOP said in its resolution, â€œU.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in the name of bipartisanship continues to weaken the Republican brand and tarnish the ideals of freedom, rule of law, and fiscal conservatism.â€
Since he was first elected to the Senate in 2002, Graham has shown a fiercely independent streak â€” something for which the southern GOP has no patience. Two years ago, he outraged state and national Republicans for working on immigration reform with Sen. John McCain and Democrats. Last year, he supported the Troubled Asset Relief Plan, a massive federal bailout to get the financial industry back on its feet. And last month he reached across the aisle to work with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut on cap-and-trade legislation to reduce greenhouse emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Not only does the Republican orthodoxy reject the science of climate change, but it also rejects the reality of global and national problems that cannot be solved by individuals and county councils.
â€œThere have been a lot of things over the years that people have been dissatisfied with the senator for doing, but I think the cap-and-trade issue is the straw that broke the camelâ€™s back,â€ county GOP chairwoman Lin Bennett said. â€œWe have a state platform that if you want to run as a Republican in our state, part of that platform includes ideals and goals we would like to see, and one of them is smaller and less government intrusion into peopleâ€™s lives.â€
Bennett said she expects a similar censure resolution at the state party convention next spring. Two years ago, the GOP executive committee in Greenville County censured Graham for his stance on immigration reform.
Graham is one of the most respected members of the U.S. Senate and, succeeding to the seat of the late retrovert Strom Thurmond, has brought favorable attention to this state. Of course, that it not the way South Carolina Republicans see it; indeed, if Thurmondâ€™s 48-year Senate career proved anything, it was that the white people of South Carolina would gladly humiliate themselves to make a point.
Now they are at it again, and it seems they will not be satisfied until Graham is eliminated or intimidated into towing the party line. And in South Carolina, they may get away with it. Jim DeMint, Joe Wilson and Bob Inglis prove there is plenty of room to the right of Graham in the state GOP â€” enough room for a challenger to stake a position and attack. And you can bet some Republican yahoos are queuing up to take a whack at Graham.
The GOP might be able to purge Graham from their ranks and still win, but in more mainstream states, such tactics will only divide the Republicans and hand elections to Democrats. I will be pulling for them to do just that. Go, Sarah! Go, Rush!