None of this was planned, of course; parties don't flirt with political suicide on purpose. But it wasn't accidental either. Behind the GOP crackup over the
And the most important actors aren't Sen.
When DeMint resigned from the Senate in January to become president of Washington's
But DeMint has quickly turned Heritage — especially its new lobbying arm, Heritage Action for America — into a powerful engine of pressure on Republicans in
"There's no question in my mind that I have more influence now on public policy than I did as an individual senator," DeMint told
It was Heritage Action that focused tea party conservatives in the House on the idea of using this fall's long-scheduled votes on federal spending to try to "defund" Obamacare, and the group then organized a summer-long campaign (starring Cruz) to publicize the idea.
Meanwhile, the Senate Conservatives Fund, a separate political action committee that DeMint founded, played the role of enforcer, publicly attacking GOP members of Congress who didn't fall in line. When Senate Majority Leader
"Nobody worked harder to fund Obamacare in the Senate than Mitch McConnell," the group said in a statement posted on its website and emailed to donors
The drive to defund Obamacare hasn't accomplished much so far, but that doesn't appear to worry Heritage Action's 31-year-old CEO, Michael A. Needham, who said last week that the group's long-term goal was to transform the GOP, which he called "the allegedly conservative party." The government shutdown, he insisted, was a step on "a path to electoral success."
In other words, the party should oppose new taxes, immigration reform, gun control and, of course, Obamacare.
Heritage Action's one concession to pragmatism so far has been an announcement that it wouldn't oppose a short-term measure to lift the federal
There have been insurgent movements in American political parties before, of course. Goldwater conservatives broke with the party's mainstream in 1964, and antiwar liberals divided the Democratic Party during the Vietnam War.
Those earlier movements, like this one, aimed to change their own parties first, on the assumption that voters wanted a purer form of politics.
But here's what's different about DeMint and his allies: They are eager to target Republican incumbents, even to the point of challenging them in Republican primaries. In addition to calling out McConnell, the Senate Conservatives Fund has denounced Sens.
And DeMint is helping to build an impressive and apparently permanent infrastructure of fundraising organizations with the avowed goal of displacing the GOP's traditional business backers. The goal, as Needham put it, is "to take on cronyism and the way K Street [lobbyists] run this town."
But they should expect some push-back. Some of those K Street Republican lobbyists told me last week they were already organizing to support endangered incumbents, including McConnell, and plan to do some "primarying" of their own, funding moderate GOP challengers to several tea party members of the House, including two Michigan Republicans, Justin Amash and Kerry Bentivolio.
As a result, some of the toughest, most expensive campaigns in next year's congressional election cycle may not be between Republicans and Democrats but in primaries that pit Republicans against each other — with the future of the GOP at stake.
Ronald Reagan, an icon to both sides in this fight, said to GOP volunteers in 1967: "There is room in our tent for many views. It is not your duty, responsibility or privilege to tear down or attempt to destroy others in the tent."
Some of his heirs aren't so sure.