Budget Battle Opens Two Huge Rifts Within GOP
Of course it's not just Gingrich that is caught in the vise between primaries dominated by well-organized right wing ideologues and a general electorate that has no use for candidates who want to abolish Medicare or defund Planned Parenthood. The entire Republican presidential field will have to cope with this virtually unsolvable conundrum every day during the upcoming primary season.
The same difficulty faces GOP Senate challengers and House incumbents. Sixty one D battles for House seats will be fought in districts won by Barack Obama in 2008 - and fourteen were won by Obama in 2008 and John Kerry in 2004. In the 2010 elections, seniors voted Republican by 21%. Now that the Republican leadership and Ryan's "young guns" have rounded up all but four members of the GOP House caucus and got them - incredibly - to cast a public vote to abolish Medicare - don't expect seniors to flock to their cause again in 2012.
And in case the Republicans didn't notice, it's not just seniors who strongly oppose abolishing Medicare. All of those 45- to 50-year-olds who would be most directly affected and have paid their Medicare taxes all of these years aren't too happy either.
This of course will be great news for Democrats in 2012. Many Republicans are taking the path of the least short-term pain in order to avoid humiliation in a primary. They are refusing to distance themselves from Ryan's politically radioactive proposals. And of course candidates like Gingrich who try to head for a radioactive free zone - and then have to reverse themselves - look as though they have cast their principles to the winds. In politics, appearing to flip flop - to have no core commitment to values - is often the most toxic quality of all. Remember, Republicans beat John Kerry by - erroneously - convincing many swing voters that he was a "flip flopper."
Already we've seen the power of the Medicare issue to drive swing seniors into the Democratic column. In the Special election for heavily Republican New York's 26th Congressional District, Democrat Kathy Huchel has actually surged ahead of Republican Jane Corwin in last-minute polling - mainly on the strength of the Medicare issue.
Paul Ryan has given Democrats the gift that will keep on giving right through November, 2012.
But the second great conflict in the Republican Party will have an impact in just a few months. That's the conflict between the real base of the GOP - Wall Street and America's corporate elite -- and the Tea Party bomb throwers who are willing to risk allowing America to default on its debts to advance their ideological goals.
But they're not interested in risking the collapse of the economy, and the markets to get it. They are smart enough to prefer the billions they have in their hot hands, to the risk that their portfolios will plummet in value once again as they did in 2008. And that is exactly what might happen if their erstwhile Tea Party allies force House Speaker John Boehner to play chicken with the nation's debt limit in order to pressure the Democrats to scrap big portions of the New Deal.
But Boehner has a whole flock of these folks in his caucus, and before the default battle is over he may look like a pancake - squeezed by Wall Street on the one side, and by his Tea Party crew on the other.
It is likely that whatever deal to avoid default ultimately emerges from the Biden talks, will ultimately pass with more Democratic than Republicans votes in both houses. That means that the deal cannot contain poison pill proposals that are completely unacceptable to most mainstream Democrats. But that, in turn, may very well be unacceptable to the right-wing ideologues who see the debt-ceiling vote as their one chance to make big changes in the federal budget.
If Boehner allows a vote on such a proposal - and it does indeed pass with more Democrats than Republicans - he is afraid there may be a mutiny and he may no longer swing the big House gavel when the smoke clears.
This kind of division massively weakens the Republican's bargaining position. As the prospect of default barrels toward us, looming larger and larger in the weeks ahead, the pressure from the Wall Street/CEO gang will grown unbearable.
Now the Party's candidates and its legislative leadership are divided, confused and in disarray.
In this situation, Democrats and Progressives need to remember one important axiom: when you've got them on the run, that's the time to chase them.