By John David Dyche
The Republican Party’s long and colorful history of internal division is well-known.
Radical Republicans in Congress complicated Abraham Lincoln’s life. By bolting from the William Howard Taft-led GOP, Theodore Roosevelt helped elect progressive Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
"Mr. Conservative," Robert Taft, fenced with moderates Thomas Dewey and Dwight Eisenhower. Liberal Nelson Rockefeller sparred with centrist Richard Nixon.
Conservative Ronald Reagan challenged moderate incumbent Gerald Ford. Moderate George H.W. Bush opposed Reagan before they united for a 12-year Pax Republicana.
Congress has also had Republican splits. Conservative firebrand Newt Gingrich succeeded moderate Bob Michel as Speaker of the House in 1994.
Kentucky has been a battleground of Republican civil war, too. In the 1967 gubernatorial primary, Louie Nunn ran aggressively to the right of Marlow Cook, for example.
For years the commonwealth’s congressional delegation was home to conservative Representative Gene Snyder and moderate to liberal colleagues like Representatives Tim Lee Carter and Senators John Sherman Cooper and Cook.
More recently, libertarian Rand Paul defeated center-right Trey Grayson for Senate. Mitch McConnell, personification of the Republican establishment, walloped Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin last year.
The GOP has somehow survived and occasionally prospered despite its fratricidal tendencies. Whether it can continue to do so seems dubious.
Positions and politicians once considered and respected as solidly conservative are under attack by right wing ideologues. These true believing zealots demand doctrinal purity regardless of the political price.
At the presidential level, outrageous, unqualified outsiders like Donald Trump and Ben Carson lead despite their often extreme positions and irresponsible rhetoric. Highly qualified others, like Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich, struggle for traction because they are, heaven forbid, accomplished politicians.
In Congress, demagogic Texas Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz castigates Majority Leader McConnell for failing to do the impossible. Cruz puts self-promotion first and the national interest a distant second.
The House Freedom Caucus and others like Kentucky’s Fourth District congressman Thomas Massie helped force Speaker John Boehner into retirement. Now some of those über-conservatives take the astonishing position that Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is not sufficiently conservative to be Speaker.
Ryan was the first Republican with the brains and guts to offer a real Medicare reform plan. He not only survived politically, but prospered, and is one of the party’s leading lights.
Now Ryan’s conservative bona fides are attacked by colleagues who are neither intellectually nor politically worthy of unfastening his hunting boots. Reagan himself would not be pure enough for them.
Ryan has issued conditions upon which he will run for Speaker. Otherwise the small band of Republican renegades would make his life miserable and governing impossible.
In Kentucky, Bevin won the GOP gubernatorial nomination by 83 votes over three opponents in a primary in which only 17 percent of registered Republicans voted. McConnell promptly endorsed him even though Bevin did not endorse McConnell after their bitter Senate primary last year.
Bevin’s running mate, Jenean Hampton, is even further to the right than he is. As McConnell was apparently encouraging the Republican Governors Association to resume ads for the Bevin-Hampton ticket, which the RGA did, Hampton was declining to comment on whether McConnell should follow Boehner’s example and resign as Majority Leader.
Hampton’s aggressive ingratitude toward McConnell followed a comparable blunder by Bevin. He said he would vote for Ben Carson for President over Paul, who had then just committed to campaign for Bevin.
It is unfortunate that Republicans have picked this moment for public self-immolation. The party’s political prospects should be extremely strong.
Barack Obama’s presidency is petering out in economic malaise, foreign policy weakness, and executive overreach. The likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, is deservedly distrusted.
The only alternative to Clinton is a 74 year-old socialist. Republicans should win, but won’t if they nominate Trump or Carson.
In Congress, the Democrats are far more liberal than America is. They pursue extreme leftist positions on everything from abortion to illegal immigration and are saddled with unpopular Obama items like Obamacare and the Iran nuclear deal.
Kentucky Democrats nominated the enervating and extremely beatable Attorney General Jack Conway for Governor. He inspires nobody, has no new ideas, and offers only more of the stagnant Democratic status quo.
Yet Republican Jacobins everywhere are making success for the party much more difficult than it should be. Yeats words describe today’s Republican Party: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”
Here is hoping the Republican best have the courage of their convictions because the Republican worst is full of passionate intensity. Meanwhile, my GOP gently weeps.
(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche)
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