Mainstream Republicans who have woken up to reengage in electoral politics and take back their party in the wake of the shutdown insist some on the far right are immune to experience. They’ll never learn — we just have to beat them, more than a few middle-of-the-road Republicans have said to me over the last few months.
There is a lot to that. Consider the Oklahoma Senate race. Today, Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) announced he is running for the seat that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is vacating at the end of the year. Lankford is solidly conservative, pro-life and sports conservative ratings from Heritage Action (79 percent), the Competitive Enterprise Institute (100 percent), the American Conservative Union (84 percent) and the Family Research Council (100 person).
So — you guessed it — Senate Conservatives Fund and the Madison Project are declaring war on him. An e-mail from the latter reads, in part: “Rep. Lankford is a quintessential status quo Republican. After just two years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Lankford was groomed for a leadership position, serving as the number six-ranking member in the Boehner-Cantor team.” (He cooperates with leadership –mercy me!) And “worse” yet, he voted for the recent budget deal (that got 332 House votes). Instead they back a shutdown squad favorite, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), who was among the tiny group who tried to oust the speaker for perceived betrayal of the entire conservative movement. And unlike fellow Sooners, he voted against the farm bill. This is the ideal candidate for this crew.
It is funny that those groups praise Coburn as a conservative saint (“valiantly fought waste in the federal bureaucracy”). He, of course, early on declared that the shutdown was insanity. I guess the Madison Project would support a challenger against him if he had decided to run again.
In all the GOP primaries, I think it is safe to say that the candidate the Senate Conservatives Fund and Madison Project are backing are likely to be just the sort of Republican who brought the GOP to its knees just a few months ago. These are the people for whom compromise is impossible and for whom radical right-wing ideology takes precedence over every other consideration. In that sense they are like former president Jimmy Carter’s post-presidency pronouncements: If he is for someone (or something), go the other way.