Steller: Conservatives take offensive in GOP ideological war

2014-01-31T00:00:00Z 2014-01-31T00:34:38Z Steller: Conservatives take offensive in GOP ideological warTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

If you thought conservative Republicans might forgive the past perceived sins of their moderate-Republican brothers, think again.

This is starting out as a pretty rough year for that dwindling species, the moderate or pragmatic Arizona Republican, though they are showing signs that they aren’t surrendering yet.

Tucson political consultant Christine Bauserman, who has run campaigns for former Sen. Frank Antenori and other conservatives, explained the situation within the GOP this way: “We’re standing up for true Republican values. We’re cleaning out the tent.

“It’s a big tent, but there’s no reason not to have it tidy inside.”

The headline grabber came last Saturday when at the GOP’s statewide meeting, Republican activists voted to censure U.S. Sen. John McCain. The main reasons came in this “whereas” clause: “Senator McCain has amassed a long and terrible record of drafting, co-sponsoring and voting for legislation best associated with liberal Democrats, such as Amnesty, funding for ObamaCare, the debt ceiling, assaults on the Constitution and 2nd amendment, and has supported liberal nominees.”

Read the text and you’ll see that the author, Legislative District 30 GOP Chairman Timothy Schwartz, wasn’t exactly a graduate of the Thomas Jefferson School of Political Declarations. But he channeled that tea-party anger at McCain sufficiently to win the hearts of the conservative precinct committeeman who dominate the party apparatus.

It was left to McCain to trot out some of his old allies — former Sen. Jon Kyl, former Gov. Fife Symington, and his former running mate, Sarah Palin — to defend him.

“At this time, it’s perplexing to see Senator McCain’s good efforts to uncover the Obama agenda being ignored and perhaps even hindered now by those wanting to censure the Arizona Senator,” Palin said in a written statement. “Despite our differences on some other issues, there is no questioning Senator McCain’s dedication to national security in spite of the White House’s agenda.”

Proclaiming the value of loyalty, Palin made the unintentionally ironic statement: “We live in a time of diminishing virtues because of societal influence towards total self-centeredness.”

Far be it from me to defend McCain or especially Palin, but the censure seemed a little over the top, especially when you consider he is a Republican who is gifted at winning elections, even if he’s ideologically impure. In any case, our senator recovered quickly from the blow of censure and returned to the Washington-insider life he treasures so dearly. On Thursday he tweeted a picture of himself and his wife with a former secretary of state and his wife: “Cindy and I had a great time with our old friends Henry and Nancy Kissinger last night.”

Another blow to moderates came on Wednesday when state Sen. John McComish of Ahwatukee, the body’s second-in-command as majority leader, announced he will not run for re-election. McComish was one of the “LegisTraitors,” as Bauserman and some others call the Republicans who voted with Democrats to expand Medicaid and pass a budget last year.

While McComish has personal reasons to end his 10-year legislative run — he plans to run for the more predictable office of justice of the peace — he acknowledged that the criticism by tea partyers played a role in the decision. In fact, just a few days before the announcement, hard-line conservative Tom Morrissey, with Bauserman as his campaign consultant, announced he would challenge McComish in the primary.

Whether the most conservative Republicans really have broad political support will become clearer in that district’s primary, where moderate GOP Rep. Jeff Dial will take on Morrissey in hopes of replacing McComish.

Still, moderate GOP representatives haven’t ceded the initiative altogether. In two Southern Arizona legislative districts, more pragmatic Republicans are taking on established conservative legislators.

In Legislative District 14, which covers Tucson’s far east side and much of Southeastern Arizona, Susan Syfert of Safford is challenging conservative Reps. David Gowan Sr. and David Stevens. And in Legislative District 11, which covers much of Pinal County and the northwest side of the Tucson area, Scott Bartle of Maricopa has entered the primary race against Rep. Steve Smith, known as one of the most ideologically rigid conservatives.

The ideological conservatives may be on the offensive now. But the fight for party purity could end up teaching conservatives to be careful of what they wish for, especially if it leads to Democratic victories.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

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