Friday, December 29, 2006

The bitter geographical and ideological divide in the Virginia GOP seems worth keeping an eye on


"Secret Talks Seek Unity For Feuding Va. GOP" (in today's Washington Post) sounds like just a local story. But maybe this bitter split among Virginia Republicans--an ideological divide that is reflected both in a north-south geographic split and in the very different Republicans who dominate the State Senate and House leaderships--is of a kind we need to pay attention to. (The photo is of State Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, about whom more below.)

If I I've got it right, the immediate issue that has caused intraparty gridlock, if not open warfare, is legislative inaction toward meeting the state's increasingly urgent transportation needs. But this is a stand-in for larger philosophical issues. On the one hand are Republicans, especially in northern Virginia, which has become increasingly hospitable to Democratic candidates, and especially among State Senate Republicans, who are trying to find ways to meet those transportation needs, which means a need to find more money, which all but inescapably means more taxes, as against those, especially in the still more conservative southern part of the state, and especially among Republcans in the House of Delegates, who are unalterably opposed to taxing-and-spending.
The resulting perception is of Washington-style gridlock that two Democratic governors have used to blame the GOP and that has helped Democrats gain six seats in the [state] House in the past three years.

The rift is also fostered by personal dislike. A GOP senator once called House Republican budget negotiators "dumb as rocks." House GOP leaders often deride their Senate counterparts as arrogant, patronizing and mean.

Sources in both camps expressed some optimism that the talks have helped. But getting both sides to compromise after more than five years at each other's throats is proving difficult. No agreements have been reached, they said.

"It's like marriage counseling, and transportation is the adulterous affair," said one Republican familiar with the meetings but not authorized to talk about them. "If you don't deal with that first, nothing else matters."
What's interesting is that the split has become so bitter that these talks between the factions apparently have actually had to be kept secret. Many of the participants' participation is merely alleged, the alleged participants refusing even to confirm that they have participated in talks aimed at bridging the divide.

Attorney General McDonnell is apparently the driving force behind the "secret talks," though even he won't confirm that such a thing is going on. His interest in bridging the party gap isn't surprising, since he's clearly preparing to run for governor in 2009, and you don't have to be a political Einstein to see that the way things are going for the Virginia GOP, the climate is going to be increasingly inhospitable for statewide Republican candidates.

How exactly this affects us on the other side of the aisle and of the political spectrum, I'm not quite sure. I guess we should be rooting for the neanderthals, on the theory that they will drive more and more moderate Republicans out of the fold? But if that happens, won't they be fairly conservative Democrats?

I don't know. I just know that this is a scenario that's likely to be played out, in one form or another, among Republicans in many parts of the country. And I think it's worth paying attention.


At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Redshift said...

It's highly entertaining. Though there are certainly social-conservative and geographic elements, the major split seems to be between the extremist anti-tax Republicans and everyone else (Republican and Democrat.) It's becoming more north/south because in Northern Virginia, anti-tax extremists have succeeded in mounting primary challengers to moderates who compromise (or anti-tax successor candidates when they retire), who then lose the seat to Democrats.

On top of their other problems, they've appointed Ed Gillespie, a national Republican with no in-state political experience, as director of the state party (possibly because George Allen still has national ambitions.)

I'm rooting for the neanderthals; they've been a big help to us so far. I'll be interested to see if there are some party switches if the Democrats take the State Senate, though I wouldn't bet on it. If it does happen, I'm not too concerned about the converts being too conservative, at least in NoVa; while they're more conservative than I'd like, there's not a lot of distance between mainstream Democrats and moderate Republicans in Virginia these days.

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