The GOP Civil War Du Jour: Everybody Versus the Social Conservatives

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 10 2014 11:45 AM

The GOP Civil War Du Jour: Everybody Versus the Social Conservatives

Jeremy Peters looks at the short, basically forgotten congressional campaign of Virginia state Sen. Dick Black and sees an example of a trend. The "Republican Party establishment," he writes, is trying to smother insurgent candidates by any means necessary, and in Virginia, it worked.

This is a fascinating little skirmish that's played out exactly as most Republicans wanted it to. Ever since the seat in rapidly blueing NoVa opened up, state Del. Barbara Comstock—a Republican lawyer, fixer, and pundit who made a well-timed 2009 run for office and won two terms since—was the front-runner. Comstock wasn't "liberal" in any way. She'd voted for the transvaginal ultrasound bill that became, in 2012, a club for Democrats. But she didn't wave around plastic fetuses and doubt the existence of some forms of rape. As Peters writes, Republicans feared that Black, in the D.C. media market, would become a new Todd Akin. Look at whom he credits with scaring Black out of the race.

First Mitt Romney endorsed her. Then came Citizens United and the president of Americans for Prosperity, the group financed by the wealthy Koch brothers.
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Americans for Prosperity is not in the "Republican establishment" as it's generally understood. In other New York Times stories, AFP appears as a pressure group moving the GOP into positions that voters hate. Why did it join the blanket party against Black? Because Black was going to make social conservative gaffes. And that element of the party, not a huge problem in office, causes problems during campaigns.

That's what "stopping the next Todd Akin" means. It doesn't mean crushing the Tea Party or electing moderates. Akin was not the Tea Party candidate in Missouri's 2012 primary—national Tea Party groups endorsed either the former state treasurer or a businessman who was making his first ever political run. Akin was a social conservative who went on to bungle his abortion views in an easy interview. And everyone on the right, from the RNC to the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, has been working to train Republicans to avoid sounding like Akin. Not changing what they stand for.

Actually, only one Republican in Congress has coupled a new tone with a policy shift. That's Rep. Richard Hanna, who represents parts of central New York, and who voted against the latest version of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. His reward: a radio ad in his district from the Faith Family Freedom Fund, the Family Research Council's PAC, which has a woman (natch) describing her shock at the vote. "When all other Republicans and some Democrats voted to stop federal funding of abortion," says the narrator, "he cast the only Republican vote to keep your tax dollars flowing to the abortion industry. No American should ever be forced to pay for the abortions of others."

The only way to stay politically safe, on abortion? Don't speak up. Don't get noticed.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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