It's getting hard to believe my eyes and ears. A few days ago, I wrote about potential GOP opposition to the yet-unknown Supreme Court nominee Obama needs to provide to replace the retiring Justice Souter:
I don't think, if someone sincerely told me as late as ... well, at least as late as Inauguration Day, that the GOP would be literally dead before the 2012 election, that I could have done anything other than chuckle affectionately at wishful thinking. But, literally, if the Republicans choose the contrarian route for its own sake, we might be able to start counting the nails.
On the one hand, it's really hard to imagine that the Republican Party could completely self-destruct here. To the other, I naîvely keep expecting them to hit bottom. There's only so far they can fall.
But this curious story, from the conservative-leaning Washington Times, has me utterly befuddled:
Capitulating to critics on the Republican National Committee, embattled Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele has signed a secret pact agreeing to controls and restraints on how he spends hundreds of millions of dollars in party funds and contracts, The Washington Times has learned.
The "good governance" agreement revives checks and balances Mr. Steele resisted implementing for RNC contracts, fees for legal work and other expenditures that were not renewed after the 2008 presidential nominating contest.
The agreement, proposed by several current and former RNC officials, goes further, making 33-year RNC veteran Jay Banning, who was fired by Mr. Steele along with his deputy last month, an on-call adviser to the RNC treasurer. Mr. Banning was seen as a trusted liaison to RNC members critical of Mr. Steele's tenure and financial management.
"I regard them - the Steele administration - bound by it," former Republican National Committee General Counsel David Norcross told The Times on Tuesday.
Anyone else follow that? Perhaps the Washington Times' vagary is a product of their conservative reputation. Maybe it's just the state of the Republican Party. To the other, while the story seems a bit obscure, it's also very important.
The dispute seems to be occurring between the hardcore conservatives and longtime, often more moderate Republicans. The hard right wing disdained Steele's selection, and has apparently cornered him on personnel decisions, financial procedures, and even whether or not the Party should officially denounce Democrats as "socialists". The agreement, which remains in effect until a July meeting of the entire RNC, is said to be "the first time in memory that rebel members of the Republican Party's national governing body have successfully taken on the party's historically powerful national chairman and his loyalists", and threatens to lead to a no-confidence vote at a special meeting in May.
The Republican Party seems to be absolutely imploding. It seems absolutely amazing that the GOP could withstand the Iraq War lies, the torture advocacy, and even the thoroughly embarrassing Schiavo episode, but come apart over a general election loss and a new party chief.
What to do? A recent episode of Real Time With Bill Maher discussed the prospect of the Democratic Party splitting, and revolved around the idea of which faction (liberal or moderate/conservative) should leave to form a new party. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) made the point that the more conservative factions, if any, should be the ones to leave.
It was an amusing exchange in its own right, but what of the Republican Party? Only about one in five respondents to polls will identify as Republicans, and this abandonment has only strengthened the hard right faction. If fanatic conservatives become the primary opposition to the Democratic Party, they will get carved in national elections. Furthermore, the Democratic tent can't hold all the people dissociating themselves from the GOP; it's simply impossible. Perhaps the conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans will eventually form a new party with a strong chance of winning a majority, thus marginalizing the hard conservatives who very much seem to be staging a coup in the Republican Party.
Meanwhile, the collapse of the GOP is a spectacle to behold. It is literally unbelievable. And, furthermore, I really thought I would be much happier if I ever saw the party in such disarray. But it's actually kind of unsettling. Indeed, only one in five respondents identify as Republican, but that translates to a ferocious and divisive conservatism; pausing to consider that one in five might identify with such an unyielding faction widely viewed as irrational and even fanatic, I wonder if I should be worried at the appeal of such an ideology that attracts twenty percent or so of the people. It's hardly an insignificant number.
Hallow, Ralph Z. "Steele yields powers to foes in RNC". Washington Times. May 6, 2009. WashingtonTimes.com. Accessed May 7, 2009. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/...o-foes-in-rnc/