Ideological cleansing at the RNC debate

Five candidates for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee debated the party's past and future Monday in Washington. Michael Steele, seeking a second term as chairman, came in for pointed criticism from this opponents.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Leave it to a bunch of Republicans to ignore the elephant in the room.

Monday afternoon's debate among candidates for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee was widely expected to be a bashing of Chairman Michael Steele's often clownish tenure. On that score, Steele himself didn't disappoint: When candidates were asked to name their favorite books, Steele offered "War and Peace" and then recited a line - "It was the best of times and the worst of times" - that approximated the opening of "A Tale of Two Cities."

But the four challengers hoping to unseat Steele this month weren't inclined to dwell on his gaffes, his debts, his limos and private jets, or even that RNC event at the bondage club. They directed little criticism at the chairman, and the two moderators, conservative journalist Tucker Carlson and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, invited virtually none.

Instead, the debate turned into a series of litmus tests of Republican loyalty - and in the process, the participants documented something much more interesting than Steele's checkered tenure. They demonstrated how ideologically homogeneous the party has become.

There were two white women, two white men and the African American incumbent on the dais, but not a shade of ideological diversity.

As a debate, it was about as successful as Carlson's time on "Dancing With the Stars." As a cultural indicator, it was extraordinary.

Norquist and Carlson, serving as cardinals of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, administered a long series of loyalty checks, and the candidates were nearly dissent-free. Abortion? All opposed. Lower taxes? All in favor. Gay marriage? All opposed. Cutting spending? All in favor.

Norquist asked if each would support adding a "party unity pledge" to the Republican Party rules - as if even more unanimity were necessary. Five "yes" replies were called out in rapid succession.

"Boy, that was indeed a lightning round," Carlson observed.

They likewise tripped over one another to answer in the affirmative when asked whether Sarah Palin could win a general election. Same thing when the candidates were asked who should vote in Republican primaries; all five said independents and Democrats should be shown the door.

The Republicans had, in this debate, reached the logical extreme of litmus politics: Everybody on the stage agreed on everything. The Republican leadership had been thoroughly scrubbed, cleansed and sanitized by the Tea Party movement - and the candidates took turns expressing their gratitude.

"Let us not forget," said Ann Wagner, "the Tea Party patriot and grass-roots movement is why we had such victories in 2010."

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