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Thursday
Dec062012

US Politics Analysis: Trotsky's Icepick and the Fight within the Republican Party

House Speaker John Boehner speaks on Wednesday about the "fiscal cliff" negotiations


The Google search engine is a fascinating modern tool for gathering information. Who would have known, without entering that search term, that Trotsky Icepick were an American indie band who released six albums from 1983 to 1991? Their Wiki entry includes this piece of music trivia:

For the Baby album, the band used "found materials, negatives of a chubby baby retrieved from a photomat dumpster for the sleeve artwork. The recordings are almost entirely live with a rather compelling garage tone. Although a lyric sheet wasn't included, it was available by sending a SASE to the band. This album also included what could have been their best-known song, "Bury Manilow." While the song itself had absolutely nothing to do with the hirsute schlockmeister, it berated those who took it upon themselves to dis this hapless pop star. The album cover and one particularly memorable bass line proved inspirational to the Sub Pop band Nirvana in their subsequent Nevermind release.

Who would have thought that it was such a short distance from Trotsky Icepick to one of the most influential groups of the 1990s? And it turns out --- check YouTube --- that "Bury Manilow" is quite a catchy tune.

Now to the serious point. The murder of Leon Trotsky at Stalin's behest in Mexico in 1940 --- with an icepick that made his ears burn --- has become synonymous with the tendency of supporters of the same political ideology to act more as enemies than friends. The history of Communist movements worldwide, and in the US, is rife with infighting and intrigue, splits and divisions.

Less well documented, or at least lacking an iconic rock song lyric, is the history of internecine warfare within the conservative movement. Just ask Margaret Thatcher, who never lost a general election in Britain but was still ousted as Prime Minster by her own party in 1990. They may be less violent, but conservative civil wars can be as bitter as any experienced on the Left.

Trotsky's Icepick has now reached the conservative movement in the US. The immediate sign is the division over how Republicans should approach the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, but there are also internal recriminations about how and why Mitt Romney managed to lose a winnable Presidential election.

This week House Speaker John Boehner revealed the Republican counteroffer to President Obama's opening bid on the fiscal cliff discussions. Though light on details, the offer did concede some ground on the principle of the need for increased tax revenues. The Speaker attempted to buttress support for that approach by purging some prominent conservatives from important House Committees. Representative David Schweikert of Arizona was removed from the Financial Services Committee, and Justin Amash of Michigan and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas lost their places on the Budget Committee.

These moves were made ostensibly because all three Congressmen voted against the GOP at times over the previous two years, but this was a warning to possible dissidents ahead of votes on a fiscal cliff compromise package. As the Roll Call report on the moves noted:

“You want good things in Congress and to have a good career? Better play along nicely," a GOP aide said, characterizing the message behind the moves.

Conservative groups outside Washington were understandably annoyed at the leadership's stifling of dissent. They issued statements suggesting, while the oustings may be strategically sound in the short-term, they are only storing up trouble within the GOP.

Tea Party group Club for Growth, praising the three demoting Congressmen, warned:

[We] are now free of the last remnants of establishment leverage against them. We expect that these three defenders of economic freedom will become even bolder in their efforts to defend the taxpayers against the big spenders in both parties.

The statement then effectively called for a conservative takeover of the GOP in the Senate:

Schweikert, Huelskamp, and Amash are following in the honorable footsteps of Jeff Flake, Pat Toomey, Tom Coburn, and Jim DeMint, all of whom consistently championed limited-government principles in the House --- often in the face of pressurpe from party leaders --- and are now doing so in the Senate. Schweikert, Huelskamp, and Amash have bright futures in the Republican Party, and the Club for Growth PAC looks forward to supporting them, just as we did Flake, Toomey, Coburn, and DeMint.

Republican insiders fear that 2014 will see more conservative challenges to replace establishment figures like Saxby Chambliss in Georgia and Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader in the Senate, is also due for re-election, and one has to speculate whether even his seat is safe. Two years may seem distant, but what happens in these fiscal cliff negotiations will affect the political calculations.

On Tuesday, leading conservative activist Erick Erickson of RedState asserted:

As the sun rises this morning we can look at John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Kevin McCarthy and know the opposition is not just across the aisle, but in charge of our own side in the House of Representatives. All the time and energy I would otherwise have to spend to convince conservatives that these gentlemen would be a problem for the GOP has been spared. They’ve proven it themselves.

Meanwhile, the squabble over the reasons for Mitt Romney's loss in November is threatening to widen the gulf between the conservative grassroots and the Republican establishment in Washington. RedState.com have effectively accused some within the Romney campaign of sabotaging efforts to elect him, in order to protect their personal financial interests.

In two posts last week, Erickson explained why GOP consultants ignored more reliable election data collection systems in favour of their pet projects. The latter piece includes this scathing putdown:

The fifth floor of 66 Canal Center Plaza reveals a tangled web of incestuous relationships among Republican consultants who have made millions all while the GOP went down the tubes. Here the top party consultants waged war with conservative activists and here they waged war with the Democrats. On both fronts, they raked in millions along the way with a more fractured, minority party in their wake. And they show no signs of recognizing just how much a part of the problem they are.

The immediate importance of these divisions within the Republican Party is the effect on the fiscal cliff discussions, as leaders Boehner, Cantor and Ryan try and sell a final agreement to their caucus --- whether that is in this lame duck Congress or the new one in January. If that agreement strays too far from conservative principles, with some Republicans backing a previously-unacceptable deal to avoid a worse calamity like a stock market crash, the fractures within the GOP will only grow more acute.

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