The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza has a great post up this morning, citing a number of political incidents leading him to the conclusion that despite whatever "momentum" and circumstantial advantages they can claim, today's Republicans "are their own worst enemy."
“The party is acting as if the entire world is a GOP primary,” said Mike Murphy, a prominent Republican campaign consultant. “That is a very dangerous way to operate. We have massive image problems with the greater electorate, and the silly antics of the purist wing are making our dire problems even worse.”
Cillizza cites a number of news stories from Tuesday, including the humorous flap over right-wing Sen. Ted Cruz's citizenship, red-on-red attacks on southern GOP U.S. Senators, and the resignation of a GOP county chair in Iowa, saying the party "has declared war on science and common sense." But locals will especially note his fifth and last example:
Weld County (Colorado) got approval on Tuesday to secede from the rest of the state. The move was in reaction to the Democratic-controlled legislature’s action on guns and oil exploration. [Pols emphasis]
Taken one by one, none of the above developments is all that big a deal. Taken together, they illustrate that the Republican party is on the verge of splitting in two. Now, to be clear, that split won’t happen. The two major parties are the two major parties for a reason. Disputes work themselves out. The pendulum swings.
But, for now, Republicans are caught in the midst of an increasingly public battle between establishment and, for lack of a better term, tea party wings that is — more than anything Democrats have done — complicating the GOP’s path back to power in 2016.
It's very difficult to find a Republican in Colorado today who isn't extremely bullish on the party's "resurgence," citing two main storylines: the recall elections underway against two Colorado Senators, and the "movement" among some rural counties in Colorado to secede from the rest of the state. The secession "movement" is mostly the work of obscure county-level politicians exploiting traditional rural resentments, while the recalls underway against two Colorado Senators are taking advantage of a low threshold for reaching the ballot–followed by massive infusions of usual-suspect GOP campaign cash to manufacture legitimacy around an effort now openly in pursuit of what were once ulterior motives.
For the purposes of firing up the conservative base, both of these storylines are great for Republicans. But at least in Colorado, and elsewhere as national observers like Cillizza are better able to see, the longer term consequences of fostering a 2009-imitative "backlash" may greatly outweigh the short-term satisfaction of pointlessly voting to secede from the state, or recalling a couple of circumstantially vulnerable state lawmakers.
The question is, where does this end up?
Republicans may be able to capitalize opportunistically on recalls where they have a circumstantial advantage, and activate a reliable base of rural conservative supporters, but neither of these developments can change the long-term demographic peril Republicans find themselves in here. Converting every voting-age citizen in Phillips County (population 4,400) into a pitchfork-bearing secessionist won't win them a single race in Jefferson County. Pouring massively disproportionate resources into two (really mostly one) state senate race provides no barometer of general election success even if they prevail. And along the way, the collateral damage of this lurch to the right with moderate voters jeopardizes those same future general election prospects.
Today's story from Cillizza looks at a broader range of events from across the nation, with an eye toward the 2016 presidential race. We think, much like in 2010 when local Republicans tried and failed to catch the midterm "GOP wave," Colorado is seeing the high water mark of the GOP's message campaign very early in the cycle: and depending on the choices Republicans make in the upcoming gubernatorial and Senate primaries, there could be a long way down from their present giddy high.
In 2009, no one could predict that Dan Maes would win the GOP primary. But the seeds were already sown.