"Republicans," reported Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns recently in the New York Times on the never-ending turmoil in GOP ranks, "are increasingly mystified by their own grass roots, an electorate they thought they knew, and distressed that a wave of turnover in their ranks could fundamentally change the character of Congress."
The story, which is excellent, details angst around two races. First, there is the Alabama Senate race where the nominated standard-bearer, former Judge Roy Moore, thinks there are American communities living under Sharia law and was twice thrown off the state bench for defying federal court orders. And in Tennessee, where Gov. Bill Haslam's decision to stand down from running to succeed Bob Corker, is clearing the way for former Rep. Marsha Blackburn (last seen hanging out with a delegation sent by Austria's far-right party) to get the GOP nod there. It is clearly a situation that would distress anyone familiar with the broad strokes of the American constitutional system and/or the historical trajectory of far-right Austrians.
Yet viewed from a distance, the clash between the GOP establishment and the rebels really does look in many ways like the narcissism of small differences. Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee for governor of Virginia, is as establishment as they come. But aware that free market economic policy doesn't move voters these days (if it ever did), he's running a campaign of racial demagoguery completely indistinguishable from something Donald Trump, Moore, Blackburn or any of the outsiders would do. At the end of the day, it's a means to an end.
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In the immortal words of Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio on Moore, "He's going to be for tax reform, I think."