Whereas the old game of attacking even very conservative Republicans as sellouts was something of a direct-mail fundraising racket, the new cause is more like a real movement.

And that’s why this time the infighting might lead to real war. For starters, the populists are much better funded and organized. Despite liberal doomsaying that Citizens United would give corporations a stranglehold over politics, we’ve seen the influence of big business decline in the GOP as new populist PACs have declared war on what they believe is the K Street wing of the party.

Also, public sentiment is much more on their side than you might guess from media coverage of the Tea Party. As political scientist Larry Bartels recently observed, the public is “more conservative than at any time since 1952.” That new progressive era liberals promised in 2008? It never happened. The public has grown more conservative during the Obama presidency. The catch: It’s grown less Republican, too.

On the day the government shutdown began, J.D. Winteregg, a high school French teacher and founder of a group called The Ohio Accountability Project, announced a primary run against Boehner. The campaign will, at the very least, give a place for grassroots Republicans to vent their outrage against the GOP leadership while waiting for polls to open.

In an interview, Winteregg said his campaign sends a message “that no one is safe.”

At every campaign stop, [Lamar] Alexander offers a parable about the future of the Republican Party based on the tale of two famous Tennesseans who went to battle in Texas almost 175 years ago — Davy Crockett and Sam Houston. It is a story about defiance and defeat vs. pragmatism and victory.

Too many of today’s congressional Republicans, Alexander says, are like Crockett, who fought to the death and lost at the Alamo. For his part, Alexander explains, he’d rather be like Houston, who made his stand on the more favorable terrain of San Jacinto.

“He withdrew to a better place — he got some criticism for that — he showed some patience. But then he defeated Santa Anna and won the independence of Texas,” Alexander said, as nearly 100 heads nodded at the Gibson County Farm Bureau meeting last month…

When it comes to Tennessee’s favorite sons, Carr doesn’t flinch. Crockett and his brigade made victory possible for Houston, serving as an inspiration that propelled them to victory — something that today’s political system needs. “Some men may have to give up their political lives for the sake of our country, and, I think, some men and women may be able to carry on, but at the end of the day, it’s the principles, the values that made this country great as embodied by Tennessee and Texas that need to be carried forward,” Carr said.

In Cruz, conservatives have found something better than a champion for their cause or a defender of their values. They’ve found a martyr.

Indeed, since the government shutdown, establishment Republicans have done little to conceal their frustration with Cruz and the “kamikaze caucus,” who have fielded pointed criticism from the likes of Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Orrin Hatch. But in the eyes of the Tea Party, the onslaught has only made Cruz seem more heroic.

“Every time one of these guys attacks him, it’s good for him,” said one Iowa Republican operative. “He’s like a superhero. The more bullets that get shot at him, the bigger and stronger he gets.”…

In his speech Friday night, Cruz made the most of his suffering and delivered a message of validation and catharsis: “I’m convinced we’re facing a new paradigm in politics. It is the rise of the grassroots.”

The establishment usually scorns the populist as a dummy, full of overheated rhetoric for the masses but not much more. When the smarty-pants set attacked Cruz for his Obamacare grandstanding, it looked like a familiar script. The elites thought it was dumb, but “real Americans,” thought Cruz was a hero, said former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Mike Gallagher, the conservative talk radio host, said in an interview with Cruz, “You’re not getting the credit you deserve from the intelligentsia, but you sure are from the American people.”

But Cruz wasn’t being mocked for low wattage the way Palin and Reagan had been. Cruz was being singled out for a lack of common sense born of his rarefied résumé. He graduated cum laude from Princeton and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. He clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, practiced law, and worked in government, avoiding the practical world of business. Even his wife—a Goldman Sachs investment banker and vegetarian—seems at odds with Cruz’s image as the tribune of the silent majority…

For now, Cruz appeals to both the truck drivers and the Federalist Society.

“The bottom line,” Steele continues, “is that when a vacuum is created in leadership, something or someone is going to fill it. And because there was no strategic plan going into this fight, and there was no idea of what we should do on the other end to come out of it, Ted Cruz filled it.”

The former Republican Party chairman adds: “For voices like Joe Scarborough and [New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie and Michael Steele, it’s kind of like being in a wind tunnel. I’ve given up talking to this intelligentsia inside the Beltway because they don’t get it. I rely on the folks outside the Beltway to send a message at the ballot box or, as we’ve seen, in polls, and impress upon the members their responsibilities to get this Congress off their ass and to do their jobs.”

Throughout my family’s more than 170-year legacy of public service, Republicans have represented the voice of fiscal conservatism. Republicans have been the adults in the room. Yet somehow the current generation of party activists has managed to do what no previous Republicans have been able to do — position the Democratic Party as the agents of fiscal responsibility…

There is more than a passing similarity between Joseph McCarthy and Ted Cruz, between McCarthyism and the Tea Party movement. The Republican Party survived McCarthyism because, ultimately, its excesses caused it to burn out. And eventually party elders in the mold of my grandfather were able to realign the party with its brand promise: The Republican Party is (or should be) the Stewardship Party. The Republican brand is (or should be) about responsible behavior. The Republican party is (or should be) at long last, about decency.

What a long way we have yet to go.

At a Senate Republican lunch the day of the vote, someone mentioned that the party wasn’t ready to run the Senate: If Republicans had held a majority in both the House and the Senate, they wouldn’t have been able to pass anything in either chamber. The senator thinks such a turn of events would have been “incredibly damaging.”

He heard a similar sentiment from the other chamber of Congress: House Republicans from his state have told him how much happier some of their colleagues would be if they were in the minority and could just lob spitballs at the Democrats. “We have to really think how we become the governing party,” he says.

[E]ver since [Tim] Scott was appointed to the Senate 10 months ago, he’s also made it clear he knows how to stay out of the limelight—which was not necessarily how it had to be. He sits in the old seat of former Sen. and tea-party godfather Jim DeMint and has been cited by Sen. Ted Cruz as part of the “new generation of great leaders” in the upper chamber. And although his ideological stances are in line with those of the junior senator from Texas, Scott still comes across as the anti-Cruz.

“Figuring out how to fix the system takes a different approach than just learning how to burn it down,” Scott said in an interview. “That may just get you a fire.”

Scott has walked a delicate line between the tea-party firebrand he was in the House and the unseen-and-unheard role that freshman senators have traditionally assumed. Yes, Scott would like to see Obamacare defunded, but you didn’t hear him saying so as part of Cruz’s 21-hour filibuster-like attack. He voted against the recent deal to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. But unlike some of his conservative colleagues, he also voted to at least move the measure to the Senate floor.

“I can get a lot of press by jumping on TV for issues that inflame the electorate, but I’m really looking at how we create the country for the 22nd century, not just for now,” he said. Scott is playing the long game: meeting with senators on both sides of the aisle on issues he’d like to tackle down the road and learning the process, knowing that both efforts will pay off when it comes time to write legislation. Cruz might be more famous, but it will probably be a while before anything he writes sees time on the Senate docket.

Just about every GOP candidate with aspirations to [Texas] statewide office in 2014 seems to be styling himself or herself after Cruz. In tight formation, they are moving hard to the right and looking for the next big populist rallying cry — secession, rolling back the state’s liberal immigration laws, impeaching President Obama, amending the Constitution to end the direct election of U.S. senators…

“Cruz was a once-in-a-generation kind of candidate. A lot of people are trying to re-create that magic,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. “Three or four years ago, the model you wanted to follow if you were a Texas politician was Rick Perry.” Perry, the Republican governor of Texas since 2000, has called the idea of shutting down the federal government to stop the health-care law “nonsensical.”…

Cruz is “the new model, and I think it’s probably going to be the last model, because it will lead us right into the demographic changes that are occurring and will not serve us well as Texas becomes a purple state,” said veteran Republican political consultant John Weaver.

“There’s no way that playing to the angry crowd is a sustainable path,” added a Republican state legislator, who did not want to be quoted criticizing his party’s biggest rising star. “If [the Cruz forces] misplay it and continue to run into the ditch, then we will hand it to the Democrats.”

Long after we are dead, pundits and political reporters will still talk about the Rockefeller Republicans vs. the Conservatives and other such archaic divisions that no longer exist except in the rhetorical habits of pretentious political reporters. The real division within the Republican Party now isn’t even between those who call themselves tea partiers fighting the establishment. “Tea party”, like “conservative” and “Republican”, has less meaning these days and I increasingly dislike using the word. Admittedly though, everyone would consider me one based on the general parameters of what the tea party is.

In any event, the real fight within the Republican Party now is between those who believe we actually are at the moment of crisis — existential or otherwise — and thereby must fight as we’ve never fought before and those who think the GOP can bide its time and make things right.

At this moment, this boils down to a fight largely between Main Street and the K Street/Wall Street Alliance within the GOP.

Via MFP.