Ron Christie: Republican Base Would Rather Take Out Incumbent Republicans than Beat Democrats

(Credit: Photo by The Daily Beast)
(Credit: Photo by The Daily Beast)

Interviews with those on Capitol Hill and in the conservative movement reveal antipathy toward each other that could cost the party the midterms.

by Ron Christie

With the president’s approval rating low, the economy faltering and Obamacare dropping consumers from their health care plans by the day, one would think the GOP’s prospects would be strong heading into the 2014 midterm elections. But this may not remain the case.

In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a widening rift between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party activists who swept John Boehner into the House Speaker seat and put Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell within striking distance of a majority to effectively cement President Obama’s lame duck status.

In conversations with members of Congress, lobbyists, and the chattering class on television–none of whom wished to speak on the record–many grassroots activists would rather take out an incumbent GOP officeholder in a primary challenge for perceived disloyalty to the base at the cost of Democrats winning the seat.  That this switch of support by grassroots activists would occur less than four years after the GOP rode a massive wave of voter disillusionment with Washington is fascinating. The question is, what was the triggering event that created hostility between many conservative members of Congress and their constituents who elected them?

Not surprisingly, I’ve discovered that the effort–or perceived lack thereof–to defund Obamacare late last year served as the catalyst in which grassroots activists decided their conservative allies in Washington had gone native by increasing the size and scope of government without a meaningful fight to eliminate the Affordable Care Act.  Last week, a prominent activist from a well-known and well-financed advocacy group told me:

“I think the thing that set many of these groups off was the repeated promises by [House Majority Leader] Cantor and [Senate Minority Leader] McConnell to repeal Obamacare. When the time came to fight, they caved to the Democrats and told us they would fight hard the next time. Total B.S. that we’re not buying anymore.”

Not surprisingly, a senior Republican close to the House Leadership saw the conflict in a different manner. He told me: “You can vote with these guys 99% of the time and the one vote you are seen as being against them, they try to take you out in a primary. I’m glad [House Speaker] Boehner finally told them off.” Despite the Speaker’s decision to effectively shelve immigration reform efforts until after the 2014 midterm elections, tempers remain close to the boiling point on both sides.