I have to say, I expected this to happen. The only question was when.
The Republican party has been a rock-solid monolith ever since Obama was elected president in 2008 and the GOP gave him a middle finger salute. It looked like that united front was indestructible. But the party’s solidarity is beginning to crack, leaving it fractured and at war with itself.
You can see it happening on the national stage. Senator Rand Paul and Governor Chris Christie tore into each other, one of the many inside-the-party smack-downs Christie has participated in over the past year. John McCain has been yelling at just about everybody lately - everybody except Democrats, that is. Some Republicans are actually committing the cardinal sin of suggesting it might make sense to compromise with Obama now and then. Like, maybe they should consider immigration reform, or not shut down the entire government because they don’t like Obamacare. To the wingnuts, that’s sacrilege.
But surely Arizona, a hotbed of right wing solidarity, a place where Republicans who display anything approaching moderation are blackballed, isn’t going through an ideological breakup, is it? In fact, yes, it is. Let me count the ways.
Exhibit 1: Jan Brewer. The governor, known to be a staunch, reliable conservative, shocked everyone in the state, Republican and Democrat alike, by declaring her support for Medicaid expansion. She even poked a finger in the eye of the anti-Obamacare stalwarts by calling the expansion of health care a “pro-life” issue. “I refuse to stand by and allow this many people to needlessly suffer,” she said.
The right wing reaction was swift and furious. Brewer was branded with the dreaded RINO label - Republican In Name Only - for her support of what they dubbed “OBrewercare.” Brewer didn’t flinch. She passed the law with the support of all the Democratic legislators and a few key Republicans who were willing to join her in a brave revolt against their rigid right wing compatriots.
Exhibit 2: John Huppenthal. As a state senator, Huppenthal was a hard line conservative and classic budget cutter. When he was elected Superintendent of Education, he kept mum as the legislature continued to slash the state’s education budget - down 21 percent over the past five years, the biggest cut in the nation. But then, a few weeks ago, Huppenthal spoke up. He said our schools need more money, not just to cover inflation but also for “a little bit of catch-up ground from the cuts over the last couple of years.”
It must have been a cathartic moment for Huppenthal, opening the flood gates of frustration with his fellow Republicans. He went on to criticize them for their “corporate giveaways.” He even called the deals made by his GOP colleagues “corrupt.” Ouch!
Exhibit 3: Rich Crandall. Crandall was one of the state senators who supported Brewer’s call for Medicaid expansion, an act of defiance against the right wingers in itself. Since then, he resigned from his senate seat to become Wyoming’s education director, but before he left, he took a few parting shots, condemning his party’s lurch to the right. Crandall sided with Huppenthal, saying Arizona needs to make “significant strategic investments of resources” in education if the state hopes to give students the education they deserve.
And like Huppenthal, once Crandall got started, he couldn’t stop. He said he was one of the legislators who liked to “solve problems” unlike others who “simply sit on the sidelines throwing stones.” If Republicans continue to “marginalize themselves,” he predicted, they may lose their political control of the state over the next few years.
It would take a whole column to explain why some Republicans are finally speaking up and airing their grievances in the open. The simple explanation is this: the crazies have taken over the party, and saner, more responsible Republicans are saying, enough is enough.
(Editor’s Note: Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.)