We now join the GOP bloodbath, already in progress.

Some day, presumably, the party will again be at peace with itself. But at least for the foreseeable future, anyone who was cheered by the decisive Republican defeats in 2012 can simply kick back with popcorn and enjoy the show. And what a show it is. As prominent tea-party activist Matt Kibbe told the press yesterday, what's happening now "is a little bit like gang warfare."

 

We knew this was coming. It was inevitable that the November debacle would prompt the establishment Republicans to blame the tea-partyers and vice versa. It was inevitable that these two factions would chart different paths going forward. It was inevitable that the establishment Republicans would insult the tea-parters and vice versa, each side contending that the other side's strategy will keep the GOP on the fast track to doom. And, sure enough, this week the long knives came out. The only surprise has been the sharpness of the blades.

Karl Rove apparently kicked off the festivities by unveiling a new super PAC that will give aid and comfort to Republican candidates who actually have the potential to win elections. Like many other establishment GOPers, Rove is alarmed that conservative primary voters keep nominating unelectable extremists and nutjobs. He has a point. Five times in the last two years, Republicans lost eminently winnable Senate races thanks to their laughable nominees - Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado, Richard Mourdock in Indiana, and Todd Akin in Missouri.

And now the same pattern threatens to repeat itself. An Iowa Senate seat will be open in 2014, courtesy of Democrat Tom Harkin's imminent retirement; it's a potential pickup for the GOP. But, sure enough, the Iowa party base is most enthused about congressman Steve King, who is renowned for his nutjob remarks. He has suggested that immigrants crossing the border should be zapped with electricity, because, after all, "we do that with livestock all the time." He says that gay marriages "don't exist," just like "unicorns and leprechauns." He was a birther long after most birthers fell mute. He thinks that Benghazi is "worse than Watergate," and he was a vocal defender of Todd Akin's remarks about "legitimate rape." If King were to win the GOP nod, he'd be roadkill in a state that has been trending blue.

Down in Georgia, thanks to retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss, another open Senate seat looms. But if the Republicans really want to jeopardize a winnable race in that traditionally red state, they need only cede the primary to congressman Paul Broun. He's the first official entrant. But Broun also tends to say stuff that would look bad in Democratic TV ads aimed at swing voters - for instance, his belief that evolution and the big-bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of hell." And his belief that "the only Constitution that Barack Obama upholds is the Soviet Constitution." And his defense of Akin's "legitimate rape" remark.

It's tough to see how the GOP can "rebrand" itself as a kinder, friendlier party if it saddles itself anew with Senate candidates who can't win outside their conservative House cocoons. Rove is busy trolling for donors who share his concerns. Some of them are speaking out. Veteran GOPer Fred Malek told Politico, "We are tired of losing." Minnesota mogul Stan Hubbard fumed about the "nut cases," like Indiana's Mourdock, who sealed his defeat last fall when he described rape-related pregnancies as God's will. Malek and Hubbard are planning to help Rove, who vows to conduct opposition research against candidates who lean too far rightward.

"Coup d'etat"

The establishment GOPers are fed up with the purists (tea partyers and religious right types), because the purists keep knocking off the candidates who can actually win elections. John Feehrey, an ex-House staffer and party strategist, complained the other day, "You have these tea party groups out there, and the hard right, and they seem to spend a majority of their time attacking Republicans. They waste a lot of money, too."

But wait til you see how much money gets wasted in the gang warfare of 2013-4. Rove's new project (which he calls the Conservative Victory Fund) will clash with the forces of purity - Kibbe's tea-partying FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, Senate Conservatives Fund, American Majority Action, Tea Party Express, Family Research Council....all the groups that helped plow the ground for the unelectable nutjobs.

And the purist commentators seem more upset with Rove than they are with Obama. Erick Erickson, editor of redstate.com and Fox News talking head, argued this week that "any candidates who gets (Rove's) support should be targeted for destruction by the conservative movement." David Horowitz said that Rove wants to "crush" the true conservatives; in response, "we must win back the soul of the Republican party." The purists at breitbart.com declared that "the civil war has begun," that "thanks to Rove, conservatives are uniting. We must beat back the attempted establishment’s coup d'état."

This stuff isn't new, however. Republican purists and pragmatists have been clashing for years. Way back in 2001, Republicans lost a winnable New Jersey gubernatorial race - to Jim McGreevey - because conservative primary voters chose Bret Schundler, who was too rightward for the Garden State. In 2002, Republicans lost a winnable California gubernatorial race because conservative primary voters snubbed a moderate candidate who connected with Hispanics. In the ensuing decade, the list of botched races has merely gotten longer.

A Republican strategist named Paul Wilson, who was sick of warring with ideological purists, once lamented: "The party won't change direction (toward the center) until it loses more elections and gets slapped in the face." He told me that in 1995. The slaps continue - those five Senate losses - yet the circular firing squad grows larger. Call in the medics.

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