The war for the national Republican Party’s soul has come to Idaho, and it threatens the career of eight-term U.S. Rep Mike Simpson.
The tea party right has been on the warpath since President Barack Obama’s 2008 election to the White House. The GOP, mired in an internal philosophical battle between Reagan-type neoconservatives and the angry and well-funded right wing, is slowly eating itself.
Simpson’s tea party-aligned challenger for Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District, attorney Bryan Smith, rolled out a commercial last week blasting Simpson’s lack of “conservative” credentials. Smith’s campaign ad incorrectly states that Simpson hasn’t joined “true conservatives,” such as Rep. Raul Labrador, who voted to defund the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.
Smith is a true-blooded “courageous conservative,” the ad states.
The problem with Smith’s claim is it’s patently false. A quick search of House roll call votes confirms Simpson’s claim that he voted 40 times, including on Thursday, to either repeal the ACA completely or rescind certain parts of it.
If anything, the one place to criticize Simpson here is the fact that any House proposal to repeal Obama’s health-care law is nothing but useless political grandstanding. The Senate is in Democratic hands, and completely repealing the law is about as likely as Rush Limbaugh taking Nancy Pelosi out for surf and turf over candlelight.
The race for Idaho’s 2nd will be a hot one. The Republican primary is six months out, and already the two are taking pretty serious swipes. Smith says Simpson, R-Idaho, is a closet liberal. Simpson counters that Smith is one of those “personal injury attorneys.”
The true significance of Idaho’s most contentious federal race isn’t the name calling. It’s the fact that the war for dominance of the GOP has come to the Gem State.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said last year that Ronald Reagan couldn’t get elected in the modern Republican Party. Reagan, widely hailed as the remaker of American conservatism, would be too centrist for tea party tastes.
Bush is right, and that’s the problem.
The Pew Research Center in April found that tea-party Republicans comprise just 37 percent of the national GOP’s ranks.
The GOP has a numbers problem. The more right-of-center Republicans move, the fewer people they actually represent. That’s a potentially terminal disease in a system that relies on the popular vote. Those who scream the loudest might get attention, but the silent masses turn out and vote.
What we’re seeing in the battle for Idaho’s 2nd district is another example of a party in chaos. That battle will play itself out here for months. Capitol tracking website www.govtrack.us, which uses complex algorithms to rate members of Congress on the political spectrum, has Simpson solidly among his Republican peers. No, he’s not out on the wings. But his voting record clearly shows he’s not some conservative-in-name-only, either.
We’re all for a spirited fight for Idaho’s 2nd district. That’s the beauty of the American system. A clean-slate challenger can hammer an incumbent whose very job creates baggage.
But Smith’s campaign is largely funded by Washington-based tea party groups, cash flooding in from moneyed interests whose only stake in Idaho is yet another seat in Congress.
Such is the state of Republican politics these days. And if Idaho is next in line for such a show, we can at least ask for a semblance of honesty from both sides.