Andrew Breitbart and the rifts on the right

Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart is a political gladiator. He describes his liberal opponents not just as wrong but as “evil.” He claims that he not only disagrees with them but is “at war” with them. In his new book, his long list of adjectives for the left includes “anarchistic,” “hypocritical,” “clueless,” “cruel,” “sanctimonious” and “intolerant.”

So it was a surprise to discover this past week that Breitbart has redirected some of his prodigious anger. As part of his book tour, Breitbart gave a series of interviews — some with the “Democrat-Media Complex” he loves to demonize — criticizing his fellow conservatives.

There he was on liberal Bill Press’s radio show, telling guest host David Shuster that Glenn Beck had thrown him “under a bus.” There he was on MSNBC, complaining to host Dylan Ratigan that the Tea Party had been led astray by religious conservatives. He protested to the Daily Caller that Beck had stolen material from him, and he told the Daily Beast that Beck was trying to “appease” liberal critics.

To test the newly fratricidal Breitbart, I went to his book talk at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday and invited him to dispense more friendly fire. He obliged, with complaints about Beck’s rally on the Mall and the birther movement.

Breitbart’s criticism of fellow conservatives is part of a new wave of infighting on the right. Three months after the conservative coalition gained control of the House, cracks have begun to appear.

The most obvious is the birther dispute, in which figures such as Donald Trump and Sarah Palin perpetuate the calumny that Obama wasn’t born in the United States while Republican leaders urge sanity.

Also consider the vote on the 2011 budget compromise negotiated by Republican leaders: Fifty-nine House Republicans rejected it — a rebellion expected to grow when the House takes up legislation raising the federal debt limit. House Republicans’ 2012 budget, meanwhile, opened a third rift: Republican presidential aspirants such as Newt Gingrich have distanced themselves from it, particularly the provision ending the Medicare guarantee.

The Republican presidential race itself shows evidence of the splits. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll finds Republican voters dissatisfied with the likely candidates, none of whom was mentioned as the top choice by more than 16 percent of voters.

Then there are fissures among conservative opinion leaders. Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller Web site this week published an extensive report on Beck’s lifting of other conservatives’ material. And the word “Nazi” was used in Mike Huckabee’s spat with Beck over, of all things, childhood obesity.

This loss of discipline in the conservative movement is the natural byproduct of its rise to power. It is easier to be in opposition than to make all the messy compromises needed to govern. When relegated to the minority in both houses of Congress, Republicans were unified by antipathy toward Obama. But in gaining a slice of power, they lost the luxury of being full-time naysayers.

Breitbart clearly preferred brickbats. In his memoir, “Righteous Indignation,” he describes himself as a “cultural warrior” who is “compelled to fight” against Democrats and their liberal enablers in the media. Breitbart has the zeal of a convert; a former understudy to Matt Drudge, he is a recovering liberal, just as current progressive leaders David Brock and Arianna Huffington are recovering conservatives.

He writes at length about his biggest triumph as a conservative warrior: his takedown of ACORN with a videotaped sting suggesting the community group was helping prostitution. He makes only parenthetical mention of his biggest failure: his publishing of a doctored video appearing to show that a black Obama administration official was racist, when the full video absolved her.

At Heritage, his talk was a mélange of martial metaphors: “Let’s weaponize this. . . . I war with these people. . . . We’re going to have to fight, fight, fight. . . . They get shot. . . . I’m going to go start taking out more media people — um, metaphorically.”

But Breitbart’s war ended in November 2010. He had virtually nothing to say about the past few months of shared power. So, in front of the conservative audience, I asked him to expand on his earlier criticism of friends — including his complaints about Beck’s rally on the Mall in August.

Breitbart obliged, taking issue with those who think the Tea Party “is really about God” and those who claim “Obama may not have been born in the United States.” Said Breitbart: “Don’t try and make it appear that it’s the Tea Party, because it’s a completely different animal.”

Yes. This animal eats its own.

danamilbank@washpost.com

 
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