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OPINION

GOP fractiousness is counterproductive

By ANDREW MALCOLM | Special to McClatchy | Published: October 17, 2017

Even more than 40 years later, picturing Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland in “Start the Revolution Without Me” sets me laughing. At a royal masquerade ball around the French Revolution, decorously dancing couples, one after another, pass around conspiratorial notes to “Kill the Duke,” “Kill the Duchess,” “Kill the Queen.”

Until finally, the note “Kill Everybody.”

It’s much less funny, but that’s what the Republican Party seems bent on doing this fall, committing communal suicide to mark its historic election successes of recent years. And in preparation for the 2018 midterm elections.

As requested, voters since 2010 financed and elected Republicans to majorities in the House and Senate. In a stunning upset, they sent the Republican ticket to occupy the White House. They rejected Democrats in all the special House elections so far this year. They’ve even elected Republicans to run 34 states and both legislative chambers in 26 of them.

Yet Republicans in Washington can’t seem to get anything done as a team. Every faction has its own “principled” plan to fix its own priorities, and when nothing happens amid such disunity, everybody loudly criticizes everybody.

The GOP base is angry at the establishment’s inaction, especially House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Conservative groups demand McConnell resign. The base suspects a conspiracy against the angry populist they elected to #DTS, Drain the Swamp.

Hence, the unscheduled photo op of McConnell and President Donald Trump professing strong chumminess.

Trump joining the Republican Party was indeed a contrived marriage of inconvenience. According to his morning tweets, the president is angry at McConnell, though they are said to talk civilly by phone. Freed from seeking re-election next year, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker is angry at Trump, who gets angry back, though Trump needs Corker to enact tax reform.

Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon is angry at everyone who disagrees with him and vows to primary virtually every incumbent Republican senator in next year’s elections. They were set to be GOP cakewalks with only eight seats up, compared with 25 for Democrats.

“Nobody is safe,” Bannon warns. “We are coming after all of them, and we’re going to win.”

Strangely, these dangerous disagreements have little to do with ideology. Everybody wanted Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, and they got him, thanks to McConnell. Everybody wanted “Obamacare” repeal. Everybody wants tax reform.

The splits seem more due to attitude and fealty to Trump or to the status quo leadership. Each side silently suspects the other is taking the party over a cliff. When the reality is more like their power struggles are taking everyone over a cliff.

Here’s a crazy idea: In last year’s campaign some people suspected Trump’s impolitic behavior, erratic statements and needless fights indicated he was a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton, intentionally or not.

Then, perhaps to his own surprise, Trump won.

But his party’s legislators on Capitol Hill seem incapable of, or maybe unwilling to, enact his agenda. It’s possible they took to heart Trump’s repeated denunciations of both party establishments last year.

Perhaps too they fear losing their hard-won control or getting too close to the unpredictable media magnet in the Oval Office who makes nice one day, then suddenly vows to their face to do deals with “Chuck and Nancy,” for a couple weeks anyway.

Here’s the crazy part: What if Bannon’s White House departure last summer wasn’t really a firing? You’ve never heard Bannon or Trump speak ill of the other. What if Bannon’s goal from outside the White House is to get rid of GOP senators who even passively oppose Trump, majorities be damned?

“We are declaring war,” Bannon declared recently, “on the party establishment that does not back the agenda that Donald Trump ran on.” Doesn’t sound like a spurned aide. What if that “We” Bannon speaks of actually includes Trump himself — from offstage, of course? That’s ridiculous, right?

Bannon — who, don’t forget, controls Breitbart.com within his armory — doesn’t have to win all those party primaries next year. He just needs to wound targeted establishment GOP candidates politically and financially.

Last month Bannon backed the rogue Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s Senate primary against incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, a McConnell ally. Moore’s a loose cannon too. But he tapped into that same anti-establishment voter sentiment as Trump — and won.

Perhaps even worse for the GOP establishment, Bannon’s bid forced McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund to waste $10 million vainly supporting Strange. That’s $10 million that won’t be available now to support other GOP incumbents or challenge vulnerable Democrats.

Andrew Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s.

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