Glen Bolger, one of the Republican party's leading pollsters, told the Washington Post today that the Republican party needs to stop being the "dysfunctional equivalent of the Washington Redskins."
If anything, Bolger was being too generous. The ongoing Republican soap opera between the so-called establishment and the emboldened conservative grassroots is even more chaotic than the latest drama between Mike Shanahan, Dan Snyder and RG3.
Consider: Paul Ryan, the leading voice of fiscal conservatism in Congress, is getting pilloried by his own colleagues for acquiescing to a budget compromise that avoids the prospect of a politically-suicidal government shutdown next year. House Speaker John Boehner sounded downright exasperated today in reacting to conservative opposition to the deal, calling it "ridiculous." But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, already under fire from conservative groups for his propensity for deal-making, is reportedly against the budget compromise. McConnell's been joined in opposition by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, two of the upper chamber's most high-profile Republicans.
The Republican party rarely misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Even conservative groups are fighting with each other. The Republican Study Committee Chairman fired its longtime executive director, out of concern he was leaking confidential conversations to conservative groups hostile to Republican interests. They're at odds with each other over political strategy, with the Club for Growth keeping its powder dry, while the Senate Conservatives Fund is eagerly looking for opportunities to challenge sitting Republican senators who are ideologically unkosher.
And that's not including today's disturbing allegation that Ryan Loskarn, the chief of staff to Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander was placed on leave amid allegations involving child pornography.
The Republican party rarely misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. With several new national polls showing the GOP ahead on the generic ballot for the first time in years and Democrats self-immolating over their troubled health care law, Republicans are in terrific position to capitalize. That was the political logic behind the Ryan budget compromise – delay a messy fiscal fight until after the 2014 midterms, which are shaping up to be favorable for Republicans. Retake the Senate, and suddenly the party holds a lot more leverage over future fiscal fights.
But for those who have followed the ongoing battles between Republican leadership and the conservative back-benchers, it's never easy. Ryan argued, at his press briefing with Patty Murray Wednesday, that Republicans can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. To conservatives, the compromise that was struck isn't even close to being good.
The dysfunction is here to stay, whether Republicans like it or not.
"[The Republican establishment] is not following through what they promised, and they don't realize how hostile they are to the grassroots," said Senate Conservative Fund executive director Matt Hoskins. "This is the type of stuff that sends a message to voters that their leaders in Washington don't like them, and they don't represent them."
Until now, Republicans have usually acquiesced to its confrontationally conservative wing on some of the big fights – shutting down the government over Obamacare funding, rejecting tactical maneuvers to gain leverage on fiscal cliff negotiations. But there are signs that the establishment is now eager to fight back. McConnell has declared war against his chief conservative nemesis, the Senate Conservatives Fund, blacklisting consultants and candidates doing business with the group. The Chamber of Commerce is now willing to involve itself in primaries, already spending six-figures in an Alabama Congressional runoff between an establishment Republican and a grassroots conservative. Even Boehner, who has been criticized for bowing to his right flank, hit back at them today, saying opponents of the budget deal were "using our members and… using the American people for their own goals."
Many Republicans believe counter-attacks by the establishment is exactly the formula for unifying the party. It's time for more sticks than carrots, the thinking goes. But that ignores the fact that conservative voters are driving the rise of outside groups, not the other way around. These are the voters who hated the bank bailouts, resent campaign committee involvement in Republican primaries, and think politicians are too quick to "go Washington" when elected, enjoying the perks of power over the principles of politics.
These tea party voters aren't going away, and are the driving force behind the conservative opposition. That's why seven of the 12 Republican senators on a ballot next year face primary challenges, even if most aren't all-that-credible.
That means the dysfunction is here to stay, whether Republicans like it or not. It means the party will continue to look like an unruly mess for the foreseeable future, mostly being held together by their shared opposition to President Obama.