Establishment seeks to divide GOP

Michael Barone:
The Republican establishment is fed up with the “outside groups” — the conservative lobbying shops and super PACs that have pulled the party Rightward in recent years — and this time, it’s the establishment that is uninterested in compromise.

House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are playing to win. But here's the problem: Directly fighting the insurgent groups only makes them stronger.

In a span of 48 hours, the party leadership took two direct shots at the conservative insurgents. Boehner attacked the outside groups on camera, singling out Heritage Action. Also, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., fired Republican Study Committee Executive Director Paul Teller, the universally liked longtime leader of the conservative wing on Capitol Hill. The occasion was a dispute over the budget, but it sure looks like a broad effort to bring the insurgency to heel.

Heritage Action, the Club for Growth and theSenate Conservatives Fund all came out against the budget resolution that Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., crafted with Democrats. The agreement neuters the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, and conservatives argued that the budget's “fee increases” are really tax hikes.

Party leadership regularly knocks the outside groups for fighting too nasty. When Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., rejected the tactic of trying to defund Obamacare by threating a government shutdown, SCF ran an ad saying “Jeff Flake used to be one of us, but now he has become one of them.”

Boehner’s blowup was spurred by Heritage Action’s critique of the Ryan budget plan, which called no one any names and questioned nobody’s motives.

These days, you see, it’s the establishment wearing brass knuckles.

When a reporter asked Boehner about the groups opposing the budget, the Speaker unloaded. He accused outside groups of “misleading” voters and said the groups had “lost credibility.” This echoes the way McConnell has called the conservative groups “bullies” who deserve to be “punch[ed] in the nose.”

Brian Walsh, a consultant for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, attacked Heritage Action and SCF as “purity for profit” groups because their attacks on the party establishment helps them raise money.

But the kernel of truth in the “purity for profit” attack shows why this offensive by the establishment may be self-defeating. When McConnell and Boehner attack the Heritage Foundation and the SCF, how do you think that affects these groups’ fundraising? Do you think the Boehner blowup and the Teller firing were good or bad for the outside groups?

There’s the establishment’s first problem: It can’t win with a frontal assault. If it strikes SCF, it makes SCF more powerful. And some in the leadership see specific groups, or even individuals, as the problem. One GOP operative referred to SCF president Matt Hoskins as “some guy in a swivel chair in San Diego.”
I don't think the establishment can win this fight at the grass roots level.  The passion in the party is with the outside groups who are looking for change in Washington.  These groups exist because of a dissatisfaction with the status quo.  What Boehner and his team should have done is make the case for the budget compromise as best alternative given the current situation with the Senate and that those who want a better deal need to help change that dynamic in the senate.


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