But this Outlook piece by TNR's Eve Fairbanks about the GOP freshman class, amazingly enough, tells it like it is. (Ignore the positive spin of the "Audacity of Nope" headline.)
But McCain's triumph actually hid the fact that, at the lower levels of the party, the emerging center of gravity is more conservative, not less. In the House, such young members as Jeb Hensarling (Tex.), Mike Pence (Ind.) and their ideologically purist soulmates on the Republican Study Committee (which absorbed most of the GOP freshmen) began to influence the party's agenda from the right, clamoring to make pork-busting the GOP's focus, demanding legislation to lower taxes and even mounting a prank revolt on a war-funding bill in May, just to flex their muscles. "The American people thought Republicans weren't acting like Republicans," Hensarling explained.
Across the Capitol, Hensarling's ideological allies in the Senate, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, hauled their own caucus rightward, forcing appropriations freezes, waylaying an intelligence authorization bill that required the administration to report on its secret CIA prisons and killing the moderate immigration reform bill backed by Bush and McCain. DeMint recently launched a political action committee that donates only to senators who have their right-wing bona fides in order. Over the last two years, these new-guard conservatives -- all of whom were awarded a perfect "100" rating from the American Conservative Union in 2007 -- have arguably fashioned themselves into the most listened-to Republicans on Capitol Hill.
The bailout bill was the new guard's biggest show of force yet. Hensarling's Republican Study Committee ("The Caucus of House Conservatives," proclaims its Web site) gave those GOP freshmen the political cover to buck their leadership. They made it clear that their revolt was more over principle than over details, a stand on behalf of what one GOP Hill staffer calls "true, rock-ribbed, hard-core conservatism." Hensarling derided the bailout as the "slippery slope to socialism," while his ally Tom Feeney (Fla.) insisted that the crisis was actually produced by a failure to adequately venerate deregulation. Another young Turk, Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.), even compared the bailout to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. (I suppose that makes George W. Bush a communist. I told you these guys were audacious.)
Not every Republican is happy about the rise of the new conservatives. Washington Post political reporter Dan Balz wrote last week of "a veteran of a past Republican administration" who "could barely spit out his contempt Monday for the actions of the House Republicans. 'They would rather be right in their views -- that ideology counts more, that ideology is crucial in any decision -- rather than making incremental progress.' "
But Republicans like that guy will have to get used to the growing influence of the conservatives. They have enthusiasm and demographics on their side. Moderate Republicans are getting offed all along the Eastern seaboard; eager grassroots activists are nominating right-wingers such as New Mexico's Steve Pearce and Virginia's Jim Gilmore in Senate primaries; and the American Conservative Union's congressional ratings dramatically show which way the wind is blowing. The Republicans who are retiring this year got an average ACU rating of 78 in 2007, placing them squarely between conservatism and centrism. But by my calculations, the Republican freshmen -- the vanguard of the generation that will be replacing these fleeing moderates -- got an average rating of 97.
If you're a true, rock-ribbed, hard-core conservative, you're probably happy about all this. As a card-carrying moderate weenie, I'm not, obviously. But it's not just the policies of the GOP's new guard that spell trouble; it's the attitude. What these young Turks do share with McCain is a taste for the grand gesture and the attention-getting stunt, the determination not to go gently into defeat and the psychological pleasure derived from creating a whole lot of political Sturm und Drang. After their May revolt on the war-funding bill, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) challenged Mike Pence about why on Earth his faction had bolted on what was supposed to be bipartisan legislation. "Never stop fighting," Pence replied.
But all this drama, fun as it is, doesn't make you look like you're ready to be at the governing wheel. (See McCain, John, and recent polling.) And it's this attitude -- the thrill of doubling down on ideology, of damning those torpedoes -- that helped get people such as Pearce and Gilmore nominated in states that obviously won't support their degree of conservatism. They'll probably lose in November, and Republicans will be two Senate seats closer to being ideological irritants rather than the Democrats' serious rivals.
We in the netroots have observed for some time that, as Dems pick up House and Senate seats in swing states and districts, we could be on the verge of (for the GOP) a vicious cycle where the attrition of the saner Republicans makes the GOP increasingly crazily right-wing, further alienating conservatives with even an ounce of sanity, and continuing the cycle.
And more important, Fairbanks' piece explodes the "we need bipartisanship, and both sides are equally to blame that we don't have it" meme. She portrays a GOP that can't be reasoned with. We've known that's true, but to see that in the Outlook section of the WaPo, written by a Joe Lieberman Weekly correspondent - well, dayum. Maybe the WaPo will someday catch up with reality after all.