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State GOP Establishments Attack Their Base

Across America, state Republican parties and legislators are pursuing the opponents they most despise with renewed vigor.

You would think that the targets of these efforts are President Barack Obama and Democratic Party officeholders who are hell-bent on turning America into a financially broken, post-constitutional, Washington-controlled playground safe only for crony capitalists and regulators gone wild. You would be wrong.

In Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Utah, to name just four, state GOP establishments are laboring mightily to marginalize the millions of constitutional conservatives whose activist energy (but not their outlook) dates back to the beginnings of the Tea Party movement three years ago. By their behavior, it's clear that those who run many state parties and quite a few incumbent moderate Republican lawmakers are more threatened than pleased at the results of the 2010 elections, when the GOP took back the U.S. House and significantly improved its representation in statehouses and state legislatures. Oh, they're happy with the majorities they have, and want to pick up control of the U.S. Senate this time around. They just don't like many of the people who won the races which gave them those majorities, would rather not see any more interlopers come in and try to upset the status quo, and are targeting several newbies for political extinction.

Six-term Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, intent on preventing another coup like the one which ousted incumbent Bob Bennett two years ago at the party's primary convention, has been Tea Party posing ever since. "Out of the blue," Hatch, who has been notoriously unreliable on fiscal issues (lifetime Club For Growth score: 74%, which suddenly went to 97% during calendar 2010), has taken an interest in public pension reform. Though he has two conservative challengers, Michelle Malkin noted several months ago that "vendors, pollsters, and campaign literature printers in Utah have all been scared off doing any work" for anyone not named Orrin Hatch.

In Florida, Congressman Allen West, a Tea Party favorite, has seen his name floated as a potential vice presidential nominee. That clearly hasn't impressed the state's legislature, which has redrawn West's district "to include substantially more Democrats within it ... many more than other Republican incumbents." The "inspiration" for this move is state Fepresentative Will Weatherford, who just so happens to be Mitt Romney's Sunshine State spokesperson. Why am I not surprised? In response, West announced that he will run for "reelection" in a different district.

In heavily Catholic Pennsylvania, Democrat Senator Bob Casey is extremely vulnerable, both for generally hewing to the Obama agenda and for his support of ObamaCare, which among other things has led to regulations effective next year which would force all hospitals to provide contraceptive services with no conscience exceptions. Sadly, the Keystone State's GOP, which stuck with Democrat-turned Republican-turned Democrat Arlen Specter for decades while treating conservative stalwart Pat Toomey like a leper, is on track to blow it. Under intense pressure from Governor Tom Corbett, who seems to have forgotten that he owes his job to Tea Party supporters who latched onto his promise not to raise taxes, the party has endorsed Steve Welch over three other far more acceptable contestants. Welch voted for Obama in 2008 and supported Toomey's far-left U.S. Senate opponent Joe Sestak (4% lifetime Club For Growth rating) in 2010. From all appearances, based on after-the-fact complaints I have read and an advance warning that it would happen from Christopher Friend, the party which opposes "card check" in union organizing failed to hold a secret endorsement ballot.

I hope that Welch's challengers and their supporters appreciate what they're up against. They should seriously consider uniting on one candidate, because the state's party apparatus has surely taken notes on how to fend off status quo disrupters from Kevin DeWine and Ohio's establishment Republicans. Having more than one candidate besides Welch will virtually guarantee the others' defeat. Readers will see why shortly.

In 2010, DeWine, chairman of the Buckeye State's Republican Party (or, as I prefer to call it, ORPINO, the Ohio Republican Party In Name Only), successfully fended off Tea Party-supported primary insurgents in two statewide races. At the same time, he orchestrated a campaign to protect State Central Committee supporters from Tea Party challengers which was so dishonest that it might make even Team Obama blush. It included largely false claims in flyers and ads that ORPINO's favored candidates had "Tea Party Values," and dispatching poll watchers throughout the state on Election Day to hand out slate cards supporting the establishment's statewide ticket and individual Central Committee members.

Because of ORPINO's extraordinary related primary spending spree, Kevin's coffers were apparently so low that according to House Majority Leader Bill Batchelder, DeWine asked potential donors to steer their money to the party instead of to individual candidates. On top of that:

A source close to (now-governor John) Kasich said that DeWine, a month before the 2010 elections, asked donors not to give to Kasich, and instead to give to the candidacies of Republicans Jon Husted and Dave Yost, who were running for secretary of state and auditor, respectively.

Everyone knew that Kasich was in a tightening race against incumbent Governor Ted Strickland. Kasich won by only 2% of the vote.

This sordid saga has led me and many others in Ohio to believe that DeWine wouldn't mind if the generally Tea Party-sympathetic Kasich becomes so damaged that he decides not to run for reelection in 2014, clearing the way for ORPINO golden boy Husted. That Husted lived illegally outside of his district when he was a state rep and state senator (my opinion, and sadly not that of the courts) and did a complete about-face on the need to require voter identification at the polls once he was safely elected (now he thinks that voter-ID is a really bad idea) seem not to matter. Husted is currently attempting to visit all 88 Ohio counties because he claims it will help him perform better in his current position. Sure, John.

Some people I have spoken to believe that it was naive of Kasich to expect that DeWine would become constructive after giving in to a purge of most of his staff after the 2010 elections. Really? When was the last time Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz openly and bitterly criticized the Obama administration? Unfortunately, DeWine hasn't mellowed a bit, and the two are openly feuding. Kasich is attempting to run an opposition Central Committee slate in this year's primary which I fear is destined to suffer the same fate as the attempt two years ago. Just in case my prediction is wrong, DeWine is trying to rewrite the Central Committee qualification rules at the last minute to prevent insurgent winners who haven't voted in the last three statewide primaries from being seated.

A state party chairman who is at serious loggerheads with his governor should recognize the need to step aside in favor of someone who will cooperate. Kevin DeWine won't do that. Unless something changes, and quickly, the center-right atmosphere in this most important of swing states in next month's primary and the fall general election will be quite acrid.

This leads to potentially the biggest problem of them all, which is that the GOP establishment and its pundit class constitute the sorest of sore losers. They have expected genuine conservatives to swallow their pride for decades and vote for moderate squishes who were in some ways barely better than their Democratic brethren (e.g., John McCain, Bob Dole, and Gerald Ford nationally, as well as more state and local candidates than one can hope to count). But as was the case in 1980 with Ronald Reagan, it appears that there is no establishment desire to reciprocate and provide meaningful resources to the winners if their people lose, starting with Mitt Romney and his acolytes at the national level and moving on down from there -- even if it leads to Barack Obama's reelection.

Please, people. Say it isn't so.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified image from Shutterstock.com.)