Arizona: The national GOP in microcosm

The illegal immigration fight is tearing the Arizona Republican Party apart, to the point that its members and staff wonder if it can even compete.

And this is Arizona we’re talking about. A red state with two GOP senators. The state that gave us Barry Goldwater. And Republicans wonder if their infighting renders them hapless.

Arizona’s junior senator involved himself in negotiations for a compromise bill on immigration, saying that with Democrats holding the majority he’d rather improve the bill than sit on the sidelines.

[State GOP chairman Randy] Pullen publicized the concerns about Kyl, in response, he said, to a flood of calls and letters from angry Republicans.

His critical remarks drew the attention of the national media, and by Wednesday he was playing hardball with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. On the Fox News Channel, anchor Brit Hume declared: “That battle in the Senate over immigration legislation seems mild compared to the fight in Arizona between state GOP conservatives and Arizona’s two Republican senators.”
The entire episode has cemented the fears — and hopes — about what a Pullen reign would bring. Supporters say he’s standing up to the Washington elite and energizing the party base. Critics says he’s further dividing a troubled party — and in the national spotlight.

I don’t know Randy Pullen so for all I know he could be an abrasive sort, but he didn’t start this fight. His state’s senators landed on the wrong side of this fight from the point of view of the majority of Arizona Republicans. To be sure, there are Arizonas who support the Bush-Kennedy bill (Jon Kyl and John McCain, to name two) but most don’t. That’s how the national party is too–elected officials generally going against the expressed wishes of the majority of the rockiest part of the party’s base. They’re taking a hammer to that base by smearing it as a bunch of bigots and rubes, and the base is going to fracture and split as a result. It’s a recipe for disaster in Arizona, and it’s a recipe for disaster nationally.

I’m not saying anything here that most of our readers don’t already know, but I do know that we have readers in the White House and in Congress. I hope they’re watching what’s happening to the AZ GOP, and realize that smearing the base while pushing legislation that the base despises could very well destroy the party as we know it. I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see the next opinion polls put the president’s approval rating at 20% or less, which would be yet another historic low. Maybe he’s fine with that. But we need a party after he’s gone, and at the rate things are going we might not. He wants a legacy, and he’ll leave one alright: A permanent Democrat majority.

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