Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 23, 2013

House of Burgess: A Republican civil war's a-comin'

Liberal action needed to save GOP.

By Rob Burgess
Tribune columnist

— It might seem counter-intuitive, but if traditional conservatives want to reclaim the Republican Party, they had better start thinking progressively. Radical action is required.

The recently ended, 17-day government shutdown has illustrated a long-simmering battle: The Republican Party cannot continue much longer as it is. It is a dysfunctional family on the brink of collapse. Everyone seems worried for the Republicans, like a friend going through a rocky break-up.

“The moment draws comparisons to some of the biggest fights of recent Republican Party history — the 1976 clash between the insurgent faction of activists who supported Ronald Reagan for president that year and the moderate party leaders who stuck by President Gerald R. Ford, and the split between the conservative Goldwater and moderate Rockefeller factions in 1964,” reported Jonathan Martin, Jim Rutenberg and Jeremy W. Peters in The New York Times Sunday. “Far from being chastened by the failure to achieve any of the concessions they had sought … the conservative activists who helped drive the confrontation in Congress and helped fuel support for the 144 House Republicans who voted against ending it are now intensifying their effort to rid the party of the sort of timorous Republicans who they said doomed their effort from the start.”

Tea people in Congress drew a line in the sand regarding the Affordable Care Act. And if the tea party were to actually become an actual, separate Tea Party, it wouldn’t be out of line with the origin story of the Republican Party itself.

The Republican Party was founded in 1854 in response to passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This legislation repealed the Missouri Compromise and thus ignited a violent proxy war after Free-Staters and “Border Ruffians” flooded Kansas.

If Bloody Kansas and the later Civil War were movies, the former would have been the prequel.

Obviously, the struggle to end human bondage in this country is nothing like a law that mandates Americans buy health coverage. But in politics, as in life, everyone has a breaking point. And tea party Republicans have chosen this one.

“They ought to put a sign on the National Committee doors that says ‘closed for repairs,’ until New Year’s Day next year and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas,” said the former Republican Kansas Sen. Robert Dole on “Fox News Sunday” May 25. “Reagan couldn’t have made it. Certainly, Nixon couldn’t have made it, because he had ideas. We might’ve made it, but I doubt it.”

And that’s coming from a man who was the 1996 Republican candidate for president.

This division is costing elections for no reason at all. Last year, long-serving Hoosier Republican Sen. Richard Lugar was “primaried” by tea party challenger Richard Mourdock. Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly now occupies Lugar’s position, a seat his party didn’t even bother running a candidate for in the 2006 election.

Colin Powell, who served as secretary of state for the most recent Republican president, George W. Bush, also has expressed alarm at the GOP’s direction.

“I grew up with … the Republican Party of Dick Lugar,” said Powell on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Jan. 13. “But in recent years, there’s been a significant shift to the right and we have seen what that shift has produced, two losing presidential campaigns. I think what the Republican Party needs to do now is take a very hard look at itself and understand that the country has changed. … If it’s just going to represent the far right-wing of the political spectrum, I think the Party is in difficulty. I’m a moderate but I’m still a Republican, that’s how I was raised. And until I voted for Mister Obama twice, I had voted for seven straight Republican presidents.”

I’ve always said the emergence of viable third, and fourth, and fifth parties would be healthy for American politics. This would be a fine time to make it happen. The only problem is, in a divorce, someone gets to keep the house. And someone has to start searching for somewhere else to live.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.