Republican Party seems as divided, angry as ever
By By STEVE PEOPLES | Associated Press
Infighting has penetrated the highest levels of the House GOP leadership. Long-standing geographic tensions have increased, pitting endangered Northeastern Republicans against their colleagues from other parts of the country. Enraged tea party leaders are threatening to knock off dozens of Republicans who supported a measure that raised taxes on the nation's highest earners.
"People are mad as hell. I'm right there with them," Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, said late last week, declaring that she has "no confidence" in the party her members typically support. Her remarks came after GOP lawmakers agreed to higher taxes but no broad spending cuts as part of a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff."
At the same time, one of the GOP's most popular voices, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, blasted his party's "toxic internal politics" after House Republicans initially declined to approve disaster relief for victims of Superstorm Sandy. He said it was "disgusting to watch" their actions and he faulted the GOP's most powerful elected official, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The GOP's internal struggles to figure out what it wants to be were painfully exposed after Mitt Romney's loss to President Barack Obama on Nov. 6, but they have exploded in recent days. The fallout could extend well beyond the party's ability to win policy battles on Capitol Hill. It could hamper Republicans as they examine how to regroup and attract new voters after a disheartening election season.
To a greater degree than the Democrats, the Republican Party has struggled with internal divisions for the past few years. But these latest clashes have seemed especially public and vicious.
What's largely causing the dissension? A lack of a clear GOP leader with a single vision for the party.
Republicans haven't had a consistent standard-bearer since President George W. Bush left office in 2008 with the nation on the edge of a financial collapse. His departure, along with widespread economic concerns, gave rise to a tea party movement that infused the GOP's conservative base with energy. The tea party is credited with broad Republican gains in the 2010 congressional elections, but it's also blamed for the rising tension between the pragmatic and ideological wings of the party — discord that festers still.
2012 presidential nominee Romney never fully captured the hearts of his party's most passionate voters. But his tenure atop the party was short-lived; since Election Day, he's disappeared from the political world.
Those Republican leaders who remain engaged — Christie, Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus — are showing little sign of coming together.
In the short term at least, the party's divisions probably will continue to be exposed.
Once a strong voice in the party, moderate Republicans across the Northeast are nearly extinct. Many of those who remain were frustrated in recent days when Boehner temporarily blocked a vote on a disaster relief bill.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said campaign donors in the Northeast who give the GOP after the slight "should have their head examined."
Weary Republican strategists are trying to be hopeful about the GOP's path ahead, and liken the current situation to party's struggles after Obama's 2008 election. At the time, some pundits questioned the viability of the Republican Party. But it came roaring back two years later, thanks largely to the tea party.
"If we have learned anything from the fiscal cliff fiasco, conservatives discovered we need to stand firm, and stand together, on our principles from beginning to end," said Republican strategist Alice Stewart. "It's frustrating to see the GOP drop the ball and turn a position of true compromise into total surrender. The Democrats succeeded in their strategy of divide and conquer."