For the GOP, Rightward Ho!
The Republican Party is at war with itself. It’s divided over how best to shrink the federal budget and how to undo President Obama’s healthcare law. It hasn’t been notably successful at either, which helps explain why the GOP’s standing in the eyes of most voters has plummeted to depths not seen in three decades of modern polling.
None of this was planned, of course; parties don’t flirt with political suicide on purpose. But it wasn’t accidental either. Behind the GOP crackup over the government shutdown lies a much bigger battle for control of the party.
And the most important actors aren’t Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and the tea party members of the House who brought us the government shutdown. The party rift’s chief driver is a constellation of hard-line conservative fundraising groups, led in part by a former senator most Americans couldn’t pick out of a lineup, Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
When DeMint resigned from the Senate in January to become president of Washington’s Heritage Foundation, many were mystified; he was abandoning a safe seat with four years left in his term, all to run an aging conservative think tank across the street.
But DeMint has quickly turned Heritage — especially its new lobbying arm, Heritage Action for America — into a powerful engine of pressure on Republicans in Congress to move further to the right and reject almost any form of compromise with Obama.
“There’s no question in my mind that I have more influence now on public policy than I did as an individual senator,” DeMint told NPR recently.
It was Heritage Action that focused tea party conservatives in the House on the idea of using this fall’s long-scheduled votes on federal spending to try to “defund” Obamacare, and the group then organized a summer-long campaign (starring Cruz) to publicize the idea.