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Opinion

February 11, 2013

Shribman: The war inside the GOP

You were thinking there was a war going on for the soul of the Republican Party. You were right, and it just went nuclear.

First, Karl Rove, who until last week was no one’s idea of a moderate, began an initiative to find Republican candidates with a good chance of winning in general elections, which is political Esperanto for Republicans without a hint of tea on their breath.

Then L. Brent Bozell III, leader of a group called “ForAmerica,” went on the attack himself. He proclaimed that the “days of conservatives listening to the moderate GOP establishment are over,” described many of the most familiar names in Republican politics as members of a “second Democrat Party in Washington,” and argued, “When the GOP is once again unabashed in its support for real conservative values like freedom, prosperity and virtue, only then will it succeed.”

Mr. Rove’s offensive is just the sort of thing that party leaders often do after a devastating defeat. The onetime Bush guru has a historian’s view of politics, and surely he remembers the emergence in the mid-1980s of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council after a series of devastating Democratic losses in presidential elections.

Mr. Bozell, too, is no stranger to this fandango, nor a historical ingenue. His father, brother-in-law to conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr., was an early supporter of Sen. Barry Goldwater for president; he urged the Arizonan’s nomination in 1960 against Vice President Richard M. Nixon, a full four years before Goldwater won the GOP nomination at the extremism-in-the-defense-of liberty convention. The elder Bozell’s unsuccessful 1964 campaign against one of the signature GOP moderates of the time, Rep. Charles McC. Mathias of Maryland, can be seen in retrospect as a vivid precursor to the tea party challenges of our own time.

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