“And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.”
Between an electoral defeat that was wholly unexpected (by them, anyway) and a “fiscal cliff” that will compel them to support a tax increase, Republicans are experiencing present political reality as a sort of Apocalypse. That's how it feels, anyway; eventually they will adjust. But for now they’re channeling their resentment into internecine warfare, creating a tableau vivant of pitched battle and unending recrimination that Hieronymus Bosch could have set against a landscape of burning lakes and whirling locusts. It is deeply satisfying to behold. But there’s so much bile flying in so many directions that the uninitiated can find it difficult to keep track of who’s purging whom, and why. Here follows a guide to some of the more interesting enmities.
John Boehner’s back-bencher purge. House Speaker John Boehner stripped four Republican members of sought-after assignments to two prominent committees (Budget and Financial Services), then warned the rest of the GOP caucus that “there may be more folks that will be targeted … we’re watching all your votes.” Boehner insists the four (Walter Jones of North Carolina, David Schweikert of Arizona, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Justin Amash of Michigan) weren’t purged for being too conservative, but rather for not being “team players.” One thing they had in common, though, was a vote against last year’s debt-ceiling deal.
Boehner’s (and Paul Ryan’s) Ryan-Plan purge. The budget plan Boehner presented to the White House—which contained $800 billion in tax increases over ten years and $1.4 trillion in spending cuts, including cuts to Social Security and Medicare—constituted, among other things, the first formal Republican acknowledgment that Paul Ryan’s House-passed budget plan is dead. Ryan himself has not been purged, however. He is participating in fiscal-cliff negotiations. Indeed, while some House conservatives say the Ryan plan will live to fight another day, there are tentative signs that Ryan himself is done with the budget proposal that brought him to national prominence. He still maintains pride of authorship, however. Amash and Huelskamp, it’s been suggested, were removed from the Budget committee at least partly on Ryan’s recommendation; they both voted against the Ryan plan this year.
Conservatives’ Boehner Purge. Purging dissidents and proposing a tax increase—even one lacking, as Boehner’s does, the tiniest detail about how revenues will be raised—has not endeared Boehner to the party’s conservative wing. GOP performance artist Sarah Palin said, “Right now the GOP establishment is more concerned about the opinion of the media and the Georgetown cocktail circuit than they are ‘we the people’ who hired them.” FreedomWorks, a Koch-funded, Tea-Party-affiliated nonprofit, is also angry at Boehner, and has called on him to reinstate the four dissenters. Another right-wing group called Americans For Majority Action has begun a campaign to dump Boehner as speaker next month; 16 abstentions would do the trick. The leading (but not, at this moment, very plausible) alternative appears to be Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who heads the Republican Study Committee and opposes a tax increase.
FreedomWorks’s Dick Armey Purge. Dick Armey, a former House majority leader, has been paid $8 million to vacate his high-profile position as chairman of FreedomWorks. Apparently Armey and FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe can’t stand each other. The final straw came when Armey refused to sign off on a book contract Kibbe struck with HarperCollins. The book’s research and promotion relied on FreedomWorks staff, putting FreedomWorks’s tax-exempt status, Armey felt, in jeopardy. (Attention IRS: Kibbe went ahead with the deal anyway.) Sources at FreedomWorks complained to Politico that they spent so much time promoting Kibbe’s book that they didn’t have enough time to mobilize conservatives for the election. An $8 million golden parachute is pretty eye-catching for an organization that claims to work at the grass roots; as of 2010, Politico reports, Armey’s salary was a cool half-million. But if the intent was shut Armey up by shoving money down his throat, it didn’t work. “What bothered me most … was that [Kibbe] was asking me to lie, and it was a lie that I thought brought the organization in harm’s way,” Armey told Politico.
Charles Koch’s Bill Koch Purge. Actually, this one is several decades old, but Forbes has a new piece about the Koch family that mentions it. Charles Koch hates his brother Bill so much that he refuses to utter his name out loud. It all goes back to a long-ago dispute over the family business. Bill now has his own company, Oxbow Carbon, and ranks a mere 92nd on the Forbes 400 (Charles, and Bill’s twin, David, are ranked fourth).
Kirby Martensen’s Bill Koch Purge. In October, this former executive at Oxbow accused Bill Koch of kidnapping him in the course of purging him, Martensen, from Oxbow.
Fox News’s Karl Rove Purge. Fox News chairman Roger Ailes hath decreed that henceforth producers will need special permission before they can book Karl Rove or Dick Morris. The stated reason is that Ailes wants some fresher faces now that the election is over. But Rove and Morris made notably faulty election predictions on Fox, and Rove reportedly angered Ailes when he challenged Fox’s number-crunchers for calling the election for Obama.
Bill Kristol’s Grover Norquist Purge. In a Weekly Standard piece urging conservatives to support a “modified version” of Obama’s tax plan, Kristol called Norquist “our modern-day Angelo” from Measure For Measure. This was tantamount to calling Norquist a hypocrite, because in Measure For Measure Angelo, when granted temporary rule over Vienna, insists on strictly enforcing a law that makes sex outside marriage a capital offense … while at the same time propositioning the condemned man’s sister (to whom Angelo is not married). If she screws him, Angelo says, he’ll commute her brother’s sentence! Kristol may have meant only to suggest that Norquist was rigid and unforgiving in enforcing his Taxpayer Protection Pledge (more like Shylock demanding his pound of flesh in The Merchant of Venice, though given the anti-Semitism typically attributed to that play Shylock is not an allusion to be made lightly, particularly in a neoconservative magazine). The evidence that Kristol meant only that Norquist is too unforgiving is the absence of any direct argument in Kristol’s piece that Norquist is a hypocrite. But Kristol does point out (without mentioning Norquist) that it’s not remotely logical to favor a payroll-tax increase, as congressional Republicans did last year, and then insist that that isn’t a tax increase. Norquist, as it happens, rather cravenly endorsed this hypocritical formulation at the time.
Erick Erickson’s 66 Canal Center Plaza Purge. Erickson, co-founder of the right-wing blog RedState and a onetime city councilman in Macon, Ga., briefly considered, and then rejected, the idea of challenging the soft-on-taxes Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss in the Senate primary. Instead he’s venting his rage against the fifth floor of 66 Canal Center Plaza in Alexandria, Va. On this floor reside a variety of “charlatan consultants,” all incestuously connected to the Republican National Committee, the Romney campaign, and each other, and all of which raked in ungodly quantities of cash while sending Romney to his doom. Crossroads Media is there, funded by Karl Rove’s American Crossroads; so is Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney Super PAC. They are, Erickson says, “evil.”