As GOP Civil War Escalates, Could It Tear Party Apart?

The defeat in NY-23 claims the war's first casualty and foreshadows more infighting

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As the Republican party tries to find a comprehensive electoral strategy in the wake of Tuesday's elections, the infighting among party leaders and commentators continues unabated. Far from mere cable news spin, the Republican civil war took its first casualty in New York's 23rd Congressional district. The national political fight that erupted over official Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava and third-party Conservative Doug Hoffman ended with neither winning and Bill Owens as the first Democrat to hold NY23 in over a century. Will the Republican Party emerge from this week's defeat and the larger civil war stronger and more unified, or will it tear the party apart?

  • GOP Must Be Dismantled  Republican strategist Jon Henke declares war on the GOP establishment. "There are two broken, corrupt, arrogant political parties we need to defeat. We beat the Republican establishment in 2009. We'll beat the Democratic Party in 2010," he writes. "The story of NY-23 is 'the Right starts dismantling the Republican establishment.' This is about how the Republican Party is defined and who defines it. [...] The minority is where Parties and movements go to be reborn. There, they have to figure out who they are, and what their mission is. You can't storm the castle until you're all facing the same direction and focused on the same goals." He concludes, "They're history. They just don't know it yet."
  • Power Vacuum Worsens Infighting  The New York Times's Adam Nagourney says the lack of a clear party leader makes infighting likely to worsen. "The debate has been fueled by a somewhat inchoate populist anger that has taken hold among grass-roots conservatives, encouraged in part by political leaders like Sarah Palin, the party’s vice-presidential nominee last year, and commentators like Glenn Beck of Fox News," he writes. "The situation is all the more complicated because, after the party’s defeats in 2008, it has no dominant leaders or cohesive establishment to bridge the divides and help articulate a positive agenda. In that vacuum, the conservative activists and party leaders were both jockeying for advantage on Wednesday."
  • Leaders Must Mollify Grassroots  The Washington Post's Philip Rucker and Perry Bacon write that GOP leaders fear the conservative wing. "The party's fortunes in next year's midterm elections may rest in its ability to harness a populist wave of voter discontent with Washington and government spending. But the surprising Democratic victory in the New York congressional election -- despite the intervention of conservative activists -- for a seat the GOP held for more than a century was sobering evidence that rallying behind conservative candidates may not be the answer," they write, noting that party leaders such as NRSC chair John Cornyn. "Despite the loss in New York, conservative activists cast the experience as a victory for the movement because it signaled the strength they could bring to Republican primaries next year."
  • Factions Should Unite  Conservative blogger Allahpundit warns that parimary infighting make elections awfully tough to win. "I’m not sure how the fences end up being mended in time for a unified party-line vote in the general election. It’s hard to go from 'this guy’s a scumbag RINO who’s no better than the Democrats who are destroying the country' to 'this guy represents most of my interests' in a few months," he writes. "The nastier things get, the more likely hardcore supporters in the primary loser’s camp end up staying home for the general, and the more likely a Democratic Congress becomes." He adds: "I’m happy to help build a bridge between centrists and conservatives, but a bridge has to end somewhere. Where does this one end?"
  • Grassroots and Establishment Are Same Thing  Liberal blogger Digby suspects that the so-called grassroots movement is just the GOP establishment in different clothing. She focuses on FreedomWorks, the conservative group behind such grassroots movements as the "Tea Party" tax protests, which she points out has links to such GOP figures as Dick Armey and such groups as the American Petroleum Institute. "That's your grassroots teabag movement that allegedly has the Republican establishment running scared. It is the Republican establishment. They and like minded corporate interests like News Corp are wisely infiltrating and investing in this "grassroots" organization. They don't leave anything to chance."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.