Broun, a skilled purveyor of a Southern politics of persecution, was an early alarmist, predicting a violently oppressive, explicitly Hitlerian regime just days after President Obama’s election in 2008. Broun’s repeated evocation of Hitler and Stalin would later find its way into the crass iconography of Tea Party protests. The stakes have always been existential to Broun. In an almost mystical ritual, Broun, a born-again Christian, snuck onto the inaugural stage in 2009 to anoint the door through which Obama would pass with holy oil, entreating God to come to the aid of His besieged and cleanse the new president of his tyrannical evil. Broun’s persecution narrative, dismissed by many at the time as hayseed hyperbole, now forms the basis of conservative arguments on nearly every issue. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, likely 2016 presidential candidate whose star is still rising, adopts the “we want our country back” language and eschatological stakes of the Tea Party. Cruz is joined by newcomer Sens. Ron Johnson, Mike Lee and Rand Paul to form a conservative insurgency in a chamber historically governed by staid and statesmanlike members.
There is a problem, though, for the GOP in the 2014 and subsequent elections: Once the Fort Sumter-like salvo of superlatives and hyperbole is launched, it is likely impossible to quiet the fear and anger of the party’s base. Broun’s successor to represent the shamed land of Sherman’s path brings his own scorched earth rhetoric, sounding more 1860 than 2014. The presumptive successor, Rev. Jody Hice, whose primary win makes November’s general little more than a formality in the heavily conservative district, speaks uniformly in the language of persecution and insurrection. Like, actual insurrection. Hice regularly demands that Americans be permitted the full means of war — e.g., rockets, missiles, etc. — in order to prepare for an eventual armed conflict with the “secular,” “socialist” state. Hice, an evangelical pastor, is an unapologetic theocrat whose persecution complex pervades the entirety of his apocalyptic politics. Hice makes Broun look cuddly by comparison.
The GOP suffers through an internecine fight that shows little sign of slowing. The party’s internal conflict reached its latest peak in primary battles in two prominent Confederate locales: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s historic loss in the old capital of the Confederacy and Sen. Thad Cochran’s controversial victory in Jefferson Davis’ Mississippi, a state whose flag still bears the Confederate battle emblem. Cantor’s primary defeat would have been inconceivable just a few years ago, but the very fervor stoked by Cantor for what many saw as an eventual run at the speakership metastasized further into an implacable anti-establishment impulse from which even Cantor was not exempt. Cochran, targeted as an establishment senator, had to resort to DEFCON 1 tactics and openly beseech Mississippi’s black Democrats to lift him over Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel, a move that became something of a right-wing Alamo. In a late primary strategy, Jody Hice went public with the assertion that his opponent, a pro-business, establishment candidate, was courting the enemy in what the Hice campaign called a “Mississippi Strategy.”