In my post on the right’s civil war, I saw Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh as in the same camp—a group of hyper-orthodox “ultras” so blind to reality that they not only saw Bobby Jindal as correct in his extreme opposition to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but actually wanted to pretend that Jindal’s speech last week was effective. On the other side were governors like Jon Huntsman and Charlie Crist and columnist David Brooks, all hoping to move the right in a more constructive direction. But Ali Frick reports that during his hour-long address to the Conservative Political Action Committee, Limbaugh went beyond that to condemn Newt Gingrich as too soft and too substantive. He argued that the right has “got to stamp out” all efforts at criticism on the merits:
Everybody asks me — and I’m sure it’s been a focal point of your convention — well, what do we do, as conservatives? What do we do? How do we overcome this? … One thing we can all do is stop assuming that the way to beat them is with better policy ideas. […]
Our own movement has members trying to throw Reagan out while the Democrats know they can’t accomplish what they want unless they appeal to Reagan voters. We have got to stamp this out within this movement because it will tear us apart. It will guarantee we lose elections.
Gingrich has managed to get himself branded as an innovative policy thinker. In reality, the agenda he’s offering is mostly just a rehash of tax cuts and “drill baby drill” with little sign of innovative thinking.
Of course it’s not clear why you would expect innovative thinking from a man who first entered the House of Representative in 1978, who first entered the leadership in 1989 and who managed to have an entire dramatic narrative arc with a rise and fall from power all 10-15 years ago. But the fact that among people who congressional Republicans take seriously, the debate is between a “reformer” like Gingrich and an opponent like Limbaugh merely goes to show that on Capitol Hill there’s really no debate at all. You’ve got those who like the current gimmicks and those who want slightly different, slicker gimmicks. Only in the states where it’s difficult to avoid grappling with reality to some extent do you see Republicans actually stepping outside the Gingrich-Limbaugh box.
Still, the rise of personal antagonism between the two key unofficial leaders of the congressional Republicans is interesting, especially given their partnership during the 1993-94 heyday of conservative rejectionism. At his trial, during the French Revolution, the Jacobin (former) leader Danton remarked that “like Saturn, the revolution devours its children” and I suppose that’s what we’re seeing here.