Columns » Max Brantley

The gathering GOP storm

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The Arkansas Republican Party state committee did an excellent job last weekend of papering over internal party friction, helped by a blind eye from the same daily newspaper reporter who portrayed Democratic fruitcake John Wolfe's primary vote in Arkansas as the political story of the month.

The Republicans didn't evict any reporters from their state committee meeting, which also helped. But procedures were put in place to ensure that voters knew which candidates for at-large national convention delegate seats had the stamp of approval of Mitt Romney and which did not.

The Pauliacs had already done their mischief, turning out sufficient people and availing themselves of rules to nab a handful of congressional district seats in the Arkansas delegation. Republicans would be well-advised to ignore them and not try, as some have mentioned, to unseat them at a state committee meeting in July.

Republicans DO like their discipline. Fourth District Chairman Larry Bailey wrote before the meeting: "These people are not Republicans, they are Libertarians." It was but one indication of the current GOP message that a Republican comes in only a single flavor.

Not so. State Rep. Jonathan Barnett, a former Highway Commission chairman, survived a challenge to his re-election as national committeeman. A fervent anti-taxer tried to question him about his vote for legislation that enabled a state vote on a highway construction sales tax. Barnett dodged the question and was defended by at least one anti-taxer who said "gotcha" questions were inappropriate when the party should be uniting to defeat the foreigner in the White House.

Remember also that candidates who claimed to be better conservatives swept contested state GOP Senate primaries over putative "liberals." (The vanquished were liberal in the same way that a foot-washing Baptist is a liberal compared with a snake handler.)

The conservatives burn hot. Nationally, many are exulting over the poor early ratings of the Mike Huckabee national radio show. To the extremists, Huckabee is soft on taxes, big government and immigrants. No amount of his abortion and gay bashing can fix that.

This passion — and an abiding mistrust of Mitt Romney's liberal antecedents — will be critical in turnout this fall. A lack of conservative ardor might be Barack Obama's only hope for re-election, unless hatred of him proves an even better motivator.

Arkansas politics are little different. There are reasonable Arkansas Republicans. But, to turn again to the religious metaphor, none is so liberal as to advocate sprinkling over dunking even if he doesn't hold with full immersion.

Michael Tilley, writing in the City Wire, made a sharp observation after he talked to Democratic Sen.-to-be Uvalde Lindsey of Fayetteville and Sen. Jake Files, a Fort Smith Republican.

Wrote Tilley: "Situating Files anywhere near the realm of pragmatic politics in which compromise is required, is to lessen his standing within a growing segment of his own party. For Lindsey, pragmatism is the coin of his realm. ...

"What is not obvious is the goal of Arkansas Republicans. Their agenda to gain control through numbers does not appear to include a plan to govern once they gain control through numbers. How will the dog behave if it catches the car?"

The answer, I fear, lies in Romney's capitulation to the far right and its hold on Congress. In Arkansas, a Republican majority will slash taxes on the rich, slash government spending, punish immigrants and legislate morality — anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-gay, pro-church in government. They'll pack guns and disdain compromise. The handful of Republicans who might prefer consensus occasionally won't cross their militant colleagues. They know how those Senate primaries turned out.

Extremism is no vice in today's Republican Party. Compromise is.

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