The Republican war cuts through CPAC




By Craig Shirley  MARCH 11, 2014

The 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference has ended but the harsh debate between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party goes on. Though nothing remains static indefinitely. Things do change.

The venerated conference, for example, begun years ago in a room at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel, has more of a corporate, insider feel than in the Reagan days. During the 70s and 80s, this meeting possessed a revolutionary “up the establishment” flair.

Some in the Tea Party complained that this year’s conference favored establishment incumbents, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.), rather than offering a platform to their conservative challengers.

Many attendees, however, still hailed from the anti-status-quo ranks. This was clear in the crowd’s reaction to one speaker’s attack on Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor. Sharp criticism of Snowden ignited a chorus of boos from the audience.

Those boos revealed the stark fault line between the Republican Party’s two factions. The insiders (a.k.a. neo-conservatives, Bushies, establishmentarians) are invested in maintaining national security, buttressed by corporate and state power. The outsiders (a.k.a. Tea Party, Reaganites, conservative movement, and populists) are focused on anti-state power, personal freedom and competition.

These warring factions are now more antagonistic than at any time in Republican Party history.

The insiders have argued for years that the Reagan conservatives have been the impediment to the GOP winning majority control of Congress. Yet if the public’s attitude toward privacy is any indication, it is the insiders who might be the real impediment.

As long as the establishment embraces the security state, the GOP can’t make a clear and consistent pro-privacy, pro-personal freedom argument. A strong argument can’t be made to attract a majority of voters if they perceive that the Republicans are speaking with conflicting voices.

The left and the Democratic Party has long built voter support by asserting that conservatives wanted to put government between a woman and her doctor when it came to abortion. It worked politically.

Now the GOP has the chance to make the even stronger argument against government coming between you and your doctor under Obamacare. Or government getting between you and your email or cell phone because of the NSA surveillance; between you and your private tax filings because of Internal Revenue Service misdeeds; between you and your right to free speech because of the Federal Election Commission, and between you and your bank account because of the Justice Department.

The fly in the buttermilk, though, is that the GOP establishment is viewed as often being on the opposite side. That Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) won the CPAC straw poll going away over longtime establishment darling New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be a source of concern to the Washington insiders. Paul has raised too many questions about NSA policies, making establishment Republicans uncomfortable.

Don’t kid yourself. These differences are real. They are cultural as well as ideological and philosophical. The two sides really have a different worldview when it comes to government, foreign policy, federalism and the executive power of the presidency.

But now outsider-Tea Party-populist-Reaganite conservatives have finally developed their own sources of financing and media power. With funding from Charles and David Koch, Harlan Crow and other supporters including talk radio kingpin Mark Levin and Internet powerhouse Glenn Beck, the conservatives say they are ready to take on the establishment. They aim to stand up to the Bush-High Tory-neoconservative-establishment insiders, who — courtesy of Wall Street/Big Business and K Street corporate largess — have long held that type of power.

The fight is more vicious than before, however, because both sides are now dug in and deeply hostile to each other. Consider the harsh name-calling of Representative Peter King (R-N.Y.) as just one example.

CPAC confirmed that neither side of the GOP looks ready to stand down any time soon.

PHOTO (TOP): Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) gestures at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, March 14, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque