I’ve been privy to a very bitter group email exchange between a few Davidson County Republicans over the last couple days.
The subject has been the Nashville mayor’s race. Some of the local group backs Bob Clement, others back Karl Dean, and still others supported some of the candidates who lost in the first round. The gist of the emails from all sides is: “How dare you call yourself a Republican if you support candidate X!”
To call this fight “ugly,” would be an understatement. It is very personal too. It’s also patently absurd, since not one of the five mayoral candidates would get the vote of any one of these local Republicans if he had been running for any other office.
That’s because they are all Democrats. The biggest of Bob Clement’s Repuplican supporters in this race were among his biggest critics when in 2002 he was the Democratic nominee in the U.S. Senate race against Lamar Alexander. And not one of Karl Dean’s very vocal GOP friends will be on his team should he, for example, challenge Marsha Blackburn to be the next Tennessee governor.
A lot of bad blood is being spilled over a mayoral race in which all five candidates (six if you count longshot Kenneth Eaton) have demonstrated similar competence, but, quite frankly, none has stood out as a visionary leader for this city’s future. Any one of them could have been elected and Nashville would still be a great place to live four years from now, but not one is going to have a bronze statue erected in honor of his lasting memory.
“The infighting is so fierce,” says the old saw about academia, “because the stakes are so little.” And that is true in Nashville where the differences between the mayoral candidates aren’t that great. But the same level of intra-party vitreol is being flung at the national level where the stakes are far higher.
Patrick Hynes writes of “all the purges and inquisitions and cleaving of core voter segments,” that he is witnessing in the GOP today. It’s the same message as I’m seeing in the local Republican emails: “How dare you call yourself a Republican if you support candidate X!”
Politics, when done properly, is addition. The trick is to find ways of adding more voters to your side. Modern Republican politics, however, has become a game of division: purging from your team those who don’t agree with you completely. Hynes calls it “identity group conservatism,” and that its “apparent goal” is to ”reduc[e] its membership to one guy.”
Apparently that goal is nearly met, since as Hynes also notes, while only 3% of Americans think that this Democratic Congress is doing a good job, by a 12-point margin, Americans prefer this Congress to a GOP congress.