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Bigots to the Left of Me, Dingbats on the Right


Unfortunately, those who are in the best position to stop the nation's descent into demagogic statism are fighting against the very people who could be their salvation.

In California, activists report Ron Nehring, the state Republican Party's free-spending chairman who was booed at a tea party event a year ago, is determined to "take over the tea party or destroy it." Nehring's resolve seems based in fear turning into desperation. Across the country, sensible, principled conservatives are running against incumbents in normally uncontested races for state party seats -- mostly but not entirely Republican Party slots -- that would influence state party politics and ultimately who might run the state parties themselves.

The smell of fear emanating from the Ohio Republican Party, which yours truly began calling ORPINO (the Ohio Republican Party In Name Only) six months ago, is palpable, both in the campaigns of its shakier candidates and the conduct of the party's upper echelon.

Not that it would have been an easy task, but once the tea partiers' influential presence became an obvious element of the political landscape, ORPINO should have offered a comprehensive and heartfelt "we have been wrong, we are sorry" to Ohioans, who have been consistently betrayed by a party that says it stands for limited government and low taxes but that has governed in the opposite manner since the mid-1990s. It would have been tough ("We've always wanted to be this way, but you haven't voted that way. Where have you been? Come on down!"), but if they had really meant it, I believe they could have sold it.

It's well past obvious by now that no such self-examination has occurred and that the establishment GOP is more interested in gaining power to take their turn at milking the state than they are in putting their house in order. To be clear, half of the candidates on ORPINO's slate are not that way (e.g., gubernatorial candidate John Kasich, his lieutenant governor running mate Mary Taylor, and treasurer candidate Josh Mandel), and will not govern that way if elected. But two of the remaining three -- secretary of state candidate Jon Husted, and attorney general candidate and former U.S. Senator Mike DeWine -- have career track records of selling out. The third, auditor candidate Dave Yost, caved into party pressure (more on that in a bit), and by doing so he instantly delegitimized himself with tea party activists.

Husted is currently a state senator who lives with his wife and children in a northwest Columbus suburb. The problem is, the district he "represents" is in Metro Dayton, where he owns a house in which he and his family do not live. The main reason he hasn't been disqualified from representing that district is his promise made in a court hearing to live there after he retires from public service. That doesn't pass the stench test, let alone the smell test. Husted's track record as a conservative, or even of being genuinely pro-life, is highly suspect. ORPINO still believes that voters will be willing to swap out Jennifer Brunner, the state's current intensely partisan and ACORN-corrupted secretary of state, for yet another it's-all-about-me party operative.

DeWine, once praised by the gun-grabbing Brady campaign, is, in what must be one of the top ten all-time insults to voters' intelligence, trying to make a big to-do over the fact that he and his wife Fran are working to get concealed-carry permits. His fiscal, energy (against ANWR), judicial (think Gang of 14), and immigration track records from 12 years in the Senate are absolutely pathetic. What's more, ORPINO cleared away DeWine's opposition by persuading early opponent Yost to run for auditor instead of attorney general. Up to that point, Yost had garnered some initial tea party enthusiasm; it summarily vanished.

While DeWine's path to a primary "win" is free and clear, Husted and Yost have feisty, tea party-backed challengers in Sandy O'Brien and Seth Morgan, respectively. ORPINO's recent actions betray a genuine fear that their guys could lose, and conceivably lose big.

The paranoia and pettiness of ORPINO and its challenged candidates came into full view in early April. Husted began carpet-bombing the state with TV ads from his considerable war chest; why would he do this unless he was concerned about the largely invisible (except to activists) O'Brien? Yost's campaign, alternately attacking "Small Towns, Ward Councilmen, Mandel, Kasich, Husted as well as county parties and grass-roots organizations," has run completely off the rails.

The ORPINO-tea party rift erupted into open warfare when the state party, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars by some accounts, sent out a single-candidate mailing supporting the endorsed Husted and a generalized mailing prominently supporting Husted and Yost, while less visibly promoting most other statewide candidates (but, notably, not DeWine). Both mailings included a logo representing that their candidates involved have "tea party values." The second mailing was further customized for each Senate district to include the names of supposedly "endorsed" incumbent State Central Committee (SCC) members, none of whom had actually been endorsed (I'm not kidding). Very few of them (if any) knew that the mailing was even going out.

If there was ever any hope of reconciling ORPINO and tea party activists, those mailings ended it. About 50 tea party-supported candidates for the SCC's 66 seats saw their values co-opted by many incumbent SCC members who do not share them and who are in some cases openly hostile to them. It now seems more likely than ever that tea party sympathizers will gain control of the SCC and vote out ORPINO's current power structure at their first opportunity.

Last week, one tea party-sympathetic SCC candidate hauled ORPINO and its Chairman Kevin DeWine (Mike's second cousin) before the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC) with a complaint that the mailings "would lead a reader of typical information and intelligence" to believe that her opponent and other incumbents "have obtained the endorsement of the Ohio Republican Party" in violation of Ohio law. Thursday, an OEC panel found probable cause to bring the matter before the entire commission, but deferred the full hearing until after the May 4 primary election. How convenient.

Regardless, serious damage has been done. Instead of using the spring to go after a Democratic governor whose policies have contributed to 11% unemployment, tax increases, and general malaise, ORPINO's dingbats have alienated the very people who could cause the kind of mandate-creating landslide that would lead to true reform.

I understand that similar but less visible conflicts are occurring in other states. If there's a way to blow the electoral opportunity of a lifetime and put the left's bigots in their place -- out of power for many years -- it seems that the Republican Party is stubbornly determined to find it.