The midterms are 18 months away, but the fault lines are already forming. Two states -- Georgia and Iowa -- appear primed to put forward the next Angle and Aiken in the form of two right-wing congressmen: Paul Broun and Steve King.
It turns out that Broun has a bit of a Nazi-calling problem himself. Days after Barack Obama's first election in 2008, Broun was first out of the gate on this ugly front, comparing the president-elect to Hitler.
In his apology, Broun tortuously explained that "I'm just trying to bring attention to the fact that we may -- may not, I hope not -- but we may have a problem with that type of philosophy of radical socialism or Marxism." In recent years, Broun has become best known for proclaiming evolution and the big-bang theory "lies from the pit of hell" and asserting his belief that the Earth is 9,000 years old. Despite these and many other slips into the fringe, Broun was uncontested in his most recent election and serves on the House Science Committee. If he is the GOP nominee, Democrats could have a chance at winning the Georgia Senate seat for the first time since Max Cleland.
Likewise, Iowa congressman Steve King is the proud father of a steady stream of hyperpartisan howlers, beginning in the 2008 election, when he predicted that if Obama were elected, "The radical Islamists, the al Qaeda ... would be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11, because they would declare victory in this war on terror." When the McCain campaign sensibly disavowed his statements, King pushed back and said terrorists would view Obama as their "savior" and "That's why you will see them supporting him, encouraging him." Tell that to Osama bin Laden.
In recent years, King has been the lone "no" vote on a congressional resolution apologizing for the use of slaves in building the U.S. Capitol, supported deporting "anchor babies" and, yes, defended Akin's campaign comments by saying he hadn't heard of any young woman getting pregnant from rape or incest. You see pretty quickly where this campaign is likely to go in a swing state that voted for Obama twice.
Nonetheless, Broun has thrown his hat in the ring, and polls show King a favorite among rank-and-file conservatives in Iowa. Hence Rove's group, getting ready to do some reverse RINO-hunting of its own with a spinoff of the Crossroads super PAC. It's called "The Conservative Victory Project."
I appreciate how tea party groups might howl when the outside money is directed against them, but a taste of your own medicine is sometimes morally clarifying.
In a larger sense, this family feud is fascinating for several reasons. It represents a realization by Rove -- the father of the "red state vs. blue state," "play to the base" strategy -- that there is such a thing as too extreme. Some of the forces that the Republican establishment encouraged when its self-righteous hate was directed against Obama have found that venom can be directed at them. In this same vein, House Speaker John Boehner has found that 50 or so tea party radicals are his biggest problem in governing; they are quick to undercut him and eager to gamble with the full faith and credit of the United State. Golem always turns on its creator.
In the end, the Republican Party does need to reform. It needs to rebuild the big tent and reach out beyond its base. It needs to stop coddling the angry and unhinged in its ranks. And it needs to become more philosophically consistent when it comes to advancing individual freedom as well as fiscal responsibility.
Count me with Karl Rove and Co. -- in at least this one case. The Tea Party Patriots' misfired e-mail was an ugly tell, a reminder that angry conservative populist passions can transform into a mob mentality. Extremes are always ultimately their own side's worst enemy.