Sunday, October 10, 2010

Angle of decline

The media’s pre-postmortem march for the Democrats continues; the latest scenarios are all but calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hand over the gavel to House Minority Leader and tanning enthusiast John Boehner right now. The expectation is for the Republicans to ascend to power in Congress — if not control of Congress outright — in about 23 days.

But the cracks we’ve always suspected were there in the alliance between the Republican Party and its hysteric renegade offshoot, the Tea Party movement, are making themselves really obvious. The splits  reveal the consequences of some ugly, untoward aspects of Tea Party identity the mainstream Republican Party wants nothing to do with — even while that mainstream party has been shotgun-weddinged into a relationship with the malcontents, mountebanks and straight-up fools that could be the GOP’s undoing.

The takeaway: While the Dems can count on some losses this November, the jury is still out on whether the drubbing will be as bad as the punditburo assumes. But the GOP is hard-pressed to explain how its Hydra-headed political identity (heir to the legacy of the Bush administration that got us here) is preferable to the more single-minded identity of the Democrats in Congress.

The current existential disarray of the Republican Party is hardly a strong selling point to independent voters, and it’s no doubt giving mainstream Republicans fits as they sort out — state by state, a Carl Paladino here, a Rand Paul there — exactly what the hell it means to even be a Republican these days (besides screaming for tax cuts).

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Maybe the best example of how the GOP’s latent midterm-dynastic visions could come-a-cropper is the toweringly unhinged, panoramically unqualified Tea Party darling Sharron Angle, who is challenging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for the senate seat in Nevada.

Sam Stein of The Huffington Post reported Friday that former Krispy Kreme enthusiast and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had defended Reid, the Democrat, on Thursday night from outrageous charges made by Angle.

Huckabee, whose name has been bruited on GOP short lists and straw polls for the White House derby in 2012, turned up Thursday on Fox News's “Hannity” program, where he was asked to review some of the recent TV ads being aired in hot congressional districts.

One of the clips shown — attacking Reid for backing the stimulus and government services for undocumented immigrations, and for voting “to use taxpayer dollars to pay for Viagra for convicted child molesters and sex offenders” — was the work of the Angle campaign.

“Now in fairness to Harry Reid, and you will find this rare, a vote like that where you say he voted to give Viagra,” Huckabee said. “Some of these bills have all these little provisions. He may be unaware that that was in the bill.”

“He should read the bill,” Hannity said.

“I understand,” Huckabee said. “But this a classic example. It is good politics. It is great politics. But it is one of those instances where it sounds like he said ‘Yes, there is a bill that is going to provide Viagra.’ And that was the primary purpose of the bill... [An ad like that] doesn't always work.”

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HuffPost’s Stein digs deeper: “The bill in question was not a bill at all. It was an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in an effort to trip up health care reform. The Oklahoma Republican introduced the most politically palatable, non-objectionable piece of legislation in hopes that Democrats would relent, pass it, and change the content of the health care law they were hoping to pass through reconciliation. If Democrats didn't bite, the GOP would have ammo for the type of attack ad that Angle has now aired. Only [Angle] got the details wrong. Coburn's amendment didn't provide taxpayer funds for Viagra; it prevented sexual predators from being able to use government subsidies or money to buy the drug (and other ED pills).”

Stein continues: “Huckabee, in the end, was restrained in his effort to balance out the ad’s allegations. What mattered, he was saying, was not that the charge was true (he had no clue if it was or wasn’t), merely that it was believable. But his pushback against Hannity's enthusiasm for the spot was noticeable and fairly rare for the show where the exchange took place.”

What might seem so much in-the-weeds analysis really tells the story of the split between the GOP and the Teas; Huckabee put it in a context of political discourse, but down on the street there’s real disagreement on the distinctions between the one and the other. But both of them are coming to grips with the fact that, on Nov. 2, ballots across America will include the letters “D” and “R,” without a “T” in sight.

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The other big issue for Angle of Nevada is more local, and therefore a lot more problematic. Elyse Siegel, also of the Huffington Post, reported Friday on another unlikely ally of Harry Reid, held by many Republicans (and some Nevada Democrats) to be in league with Satan.

Siegel reported that Bill Raggio, the Nevada state senator “considered to be one of the most influential Republican lawmakers in the Silver State,” on Thursday backed Reid for reelection, completely dissing Angle over “her record of being totally ineffective as a four-term assemblywomen, her inability or unwillingness to work with others, even within her own party, and her extreme positions on issues such as Medicare, social security, education, veterans affairs and many others.”

Raggio explained himself more fully on Thursday in a statement.

“Some supporters tell me we need to support her because we need her vote in the U.S. Senate as a Republican and she 'can't do much harm as a junior back-bencher,’” Raggio said. “Since when should this be the criteria on how we select and vote for a U.S. Senator to represent our State?”

“... I am a lifelong Republican and unlike Ms. Angle, I have never changed parties. I have always supported Jeffersonian principles of free enterprise, low taxes, limited government and fiscal responsibility. These were the same principles endorsed by every one of our Republican presidents, since the days of Lincoln, and including President Reagan, whom I knew personally.”

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It might be easy to characterize this as sour grapes once you find out that Angle tried but failed to oust Raggio as a state senator in 2008. But Raggio didn’t go all the way apostate on us; he admitted to backing Reid with reluctance.

“ … I am not pleased or supportive of many of the issues which Senator Reid has supported and I have told him so," he said. “I believe he understands that he must vote more strongly to represent the views of his Nevada constituency in the future rather than a liberal agenda which many feel drifts toward Socialism in America.”

But Raggio made clear his opposition to Angle, in terms that sought to spell out the GOP guiding principles, “the same principles endorsed by every one of our Republican presidents, since the days of Lincoln, and including President Reagan, whom I knew personally, and who laid down the Republican 11th Commandment: Don't speak ill of other Republicans. In other words, quit calling dedicated … good Republicans RINOs [Republicans In Name Only] and other derogatory terms.

“Other than my inability to accept her extreme and often even radical ideas and positions, if there was any concern about my natural preference to endorse a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, it was removed altogether when Angle, in a secretly taped conversation, expressed her true feelings by slamming and disavowing the Republican Party saying it had ‘lost its standards and principles.’"

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Raggio isn’t a lone voice in the wilderness. Bob Cashell, the mayor of Reno, told HuffPost that Angle is an “ultra right-winger,” adding that “[i]f she were to win, our state will suffer and we would never get anything done."

“We need someone in the U.S. Senate who can be effective, work with others, and best represent the interests of our State,” he said.

Via Ralston, Angle relayed the expected rebuttal. “It’s refreshing to have the light shed on those who are finally willing to expose who they really are in a desperate attempt to help keep the churn turning for liberal big-government beliefs,” Angle wrote.

Despite the howls of betrayal from the Angle camp, there’s no escaping the brutal pragmatism of Raggio’s assessment. Raggio came to the conclusion that there’s little or nothing electable about Sharron Angle — and, presumably by extension, the Tea Party cabal in general. His discontent, if it’s reflected in similar discontent with other Tea Party candidates elsewhere around the country, complicates the Republicans’ message in ways they haven’t had to come to grips with. Until now.

“I would say there are a lot of Republicans who will find it difficult to support Sharron Angle,” Raggio told The New York Times recently. “Abolishing the Department of Education, phasing out Social Security, those are pretty extreme positions. I think any incumbent is vulnerable, but you have to have somebody that is also acceptable if you're going to win.”

Is she acceptable enough to win? The fortunes of the quixotic campaign of Sharron Angel, and more of the fortunes of the GOP than first thought, may depend on that perception.

Image credits: Angle: Associated Press. Huckabee: © 2008 David Ball. Reid: U.S. Congress (public domain). Raggio: Nevada Legislature Web site.

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