Inside the GOP 'civil war': 4 fierce conflicts

It didn't take long for Republican unity to break down after the party's historic victory in the midterms

Michelle Bachmann battles for the role of Republican Conference chairman, a job that is seen as a steppingstone to higher leadership positions.
(Image credit: Getty)

Just days after their midterm landslide, Republicans are already resuming the internecine bickering that characterized their primaries. The GOP's "civil war" pits long-time, establishment lawmakers, who say they represent the Republican mainstream, against upstart Tea-Party-allied newcomers, who believe they have a mandate to take charge. Here are four battles that have already broken out:

Christine O'Donnell vs. GOP "Cannibals"

What happened: There's no love lost between the insurgent candidate for Delaware's Senate seat and the Republican party. O'Donnell claimed Republican "cannibalism" was responsible for her loss, and went on to say that her unpopularity within the establishment was down to "bruised egos" among "big boys in the Republican party."

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What people said: Sorry, Christine, says David C. Wilson at The Huffington Post, but you're the only one to blame for your humiliating loss. You performed badly in debates, mishandled the media, and worst of all "failed to connect with Delaware voters." But don't think that the "populist vs. establishment storyline" finished with the 2010 elections, says Jonah Goldberg at the Houston Chronicle. It will be "back with a vengeance" before 2012, "particularly given the crowded field of potential GOP presidential contenders." It's unlikely that O'Donnell will be among them, though.

Lindsey Graham vs. Jim DeMint

What happened: The Republican Party's failure to win the Senate was the fault of those who pushed Tea Party candidates into running, according to South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. "Candidates matter," he said. He went on to say that Delaware — where Christine O'Donnell defeated GOP favorite Mike Castle in the primary, only to flounder on Election Day — was a "wake-up call for Republicans." Politico notes that Graham's fellow South Carolina senator, Jim DeMint, is a key figure among the "party purists", and has been accused of hurting the "party's common cause" with his alliance with the Tea Party.

What people said: Senate Republicans should "blame themselves" for not winning the upper chamber, says Erick Erickson at RedState. It didn't "fund a ground game operation" for its candidates, and instead left the money-raising to "Karl Rove." Do people like Graham really think that "Jim DeMint is stupid for siding with the voters," and not the establishment? But in "real world policy terms," say Peter Dreier and Jake Blumgart at The Huffington Post, this spat "doesn't mean anything." Both sides will now "join forces to try to stop Obama and his fellow Democrats from winning any more legislative victories."

Michele Bachmann vs. Jeb Hensarling

What happened: Congress has four key leadership positions, and they all look to have been filled by allies of John Boehner, reports Politico, except the role of conference chairman, which Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann is said to be keen to fill. However, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) is the "insider's choice," and if Bachmann wants the job she will have to "run an insurgent race" to do it. She is reportedly gathering allies in support of a run.

What people said: Senior House Republicans are keen to keep Bachmann out, says Jon Ward at the Daily Caller. The conference chair is "an elevated platform," and many feel that Bachmann would make "an unserious and unhelpful spokesman for the party." My money's on establishment choice Hensarling, says Stuart Shapiro at Liberaland. "The Republicans want 'change' but despite the rhetoric, they don't want that much change."

Rand Paul vs. the neo-cons

What happened: The newly-elected Kentucky senator pledged to introduce a balanced budget amendment, and conceded that "there's waste in the military budget," which he would work with Democrats to cut. That puts him in opposition to neo-conservative hawks in the Senate who would argue that military spending ought to be sacrosanct.

What people said: Don't forget Paul was endorsed by noted neoconservative hawk Jim DeMint, says Justin Raimondo at He moved toward "neoconnish foreign policy positions" while running for senator. "Will he stay true to his nationwide libertarian constituency?" I don't think so. Paul is becoming more and more open about his belief that "government can only be fixed by radically changing it," says Noah Kristula-Green at FrumForum. On the question of cutting defense, he's even suggesting a willingness to partner with Democrats.

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