Signs of a widespread Republican rebellion, which could unhorse the GOP congressional leadership, are showing up across the country. But two questions about the uprising will be crucial to the party's future: Who would take the place of current leaders in the House and Senate and what will the effect be on the candidacy of John McCain?
In about as bald a threat as you're likely to see from the rank and file, Republicans in Orange County, California -- who are huge party contributors -- say they may ax funding for any Republican lawmaker who won't vote to oust the leadership, conservative columnist Robert Novak writes today. To support such lawmakers would be tantamount to supporting "a permanent minority," says a letter circulating at the Lincoln Club of Orange County. And the Orange County Republicans made clear that they are not stopping their drive with local or even just California Republicans. They are trying to enlist monied GOP groups nationwide to their cause.
The leak of the letter to Novak follows by just a few days an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal by Kimberley Strassel that manages to be empathetic of the tough spot House Minority Leader John Boehner is in while harshly criticizing him for complacency. She says Boehner's leadership style of reflecting his members' consensus in the House while trying to attack and frustrate the Democrats lacks what is most needed -- defining a new and clear direction for the party. The column quotes several House Republicans who are openly critical of Boehner -- a display of open rebellion that further underscores his weakness.
All of this fuming and fussing could work to McCain's advantage. First, anything that puts distance between him and congressional Republicans -- who have trouble polling ahead of basement mold -- will be a plus. On top of that, while the party's congressional leadership is accused of a multitude of ideological felonies, government spending on earmarks is emerging as a capital crime. Conservatives can no longer abide conservative lawmakers who preach fiscal restraint but then grab what they can for their districts or states. That, in fact, is the key complaint of the Orange County Republicans. And in that cause, McCain has long been a credible leader.