When John McCain gets censured by members of his own party – McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee who has one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate – it is clear that the biggest problem facing Republicans is the looniness in their own ranks.
Largely a rural, Southern, aging white people’s party, the GOP faces a big demographic challenge down the road, but this year the party has a clear shot at winning control of the Senate by gaining at least six seats.
The liveliest Senate races are expected to be in South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska, North Carolina, Iowa, Georgia and Kentucky. With the exception of Iowa, what those states have in common is that they voted against President Obama in 2012. That is nine red states up for grabs, and taking six should be easy.
Easy, that is, unless the loonies take charge of the campaign.
McCain is not up for reelection this year – that will come in 2016, if he decides to run for a sixth term. Nevertheless, leaders of the Arizona Republican Party just voted to censure their own senator. The resolution condemns the war hero McCain for "his continued disservice to our state and nation." His offenses include supporting the bipartisan immigration reform bill recently passed by the Senate and opposing the conservative push to kill Obamacare last fall by blocking passage of a budget and shutting down the government.
McCain has characterized some of his more extreme GOP colleagues, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, as "wacko birds." Now, the wacko birds have roosted in Arizona and they promise to "no longer support, campaign for or endorse John McCain as our U.S. senator."
It is that kind of intraparty conservative jihad that could wreck the Republican bandwagon in November. Most endangered is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Too establishment for Kentucky’s hyper-conservatives, McConnell is being opposed in the state’s Republican primary by right-wing businessman Matt Bevin. Even if he survives the challenge, McConnell could be weakened and less able to fight off a strong Democratic candidate, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
In Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Alaska and Louisiana, Republicans may also waste good opportunities. Though circumstances differ, each of those states could see the wacko birds take flight and give Democrats the chance to retain their Senate majority. That is what happened in 2012 when too many GOP Senate candidates started riffing about "legitimate rapes" and other crazy things and lost races more sensible Republicans could have won.
This time, Democrats have a more daunting challenge with 21 seats to defend and no presidential campaign to boost turnout among the young people and minorities who backed Obama and goosed the Democratic vote in 2012. Still, they may get lucky if Republicans can't contain their crazies.