Nowhere is self-destruction of the Republican Party better explained than the upcoming Arizona primary for U.S. Senate between onetime GOP moderate Sen. John McCain and fire-breathing former TV sportscaster-turned-congressman J.D. Hayworth.
They each need to prove they are more right wing, more conservative, more unreasonable and more unbending than the other.
It'll be a kill-or-be-killed bloodletting. McCain has abandoned the political high mindedness that earned him national celebrity. His star has fallen in Arizona and in the nation. His image as a heroic POW no longer has any magic. He's resumed atypical nastiness—he compares President Obama's health care reform to a Bernie Madoff swindle. He'll be brutal against Hayworth.
However, Hayworth, a glib, contemptuous, 12-year House member is no softy. Although gifted as a trained broadcaster, he observes decency as it suits him and can wither opponents with slashing rhetoric while grinning.
Age differences will come into play—McCain 73, Hayworth 51.
Every dime approved by McCain in 20 years in Washington is a target for Hayworth's "big spender" charge. And every nickel Hayworth OK'd while in Congress invites equal McCain contempt. Fact is, both endorsed huge spending projects. Both also have scandals on their rap sheets—McCain's coziness with convicted swindler Charles Keating, Hayworth's benefits from jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
(What a year for Arizona: Former Veep Dan Quayle's son, Ben, 33, is running for Congress there.)
To read McCain and Hayworth charges and countercharges, one might conclude Congress has only a limited role—to fund wars and deny funds for anything benefiting America's quality of life.
Therein is how national Republicans have lost their minds. As a party, the GOP morphed into cheerleaders for President Bush's hotheaded attack on Iraq. Republicans did nothing to curtail war costs totaling nearly $1 trillion, financed with loans from the likes of mainland Communist China. Now as born-again budget hawks who vote "No!" robotically to any Obama program.
If Republicans win back Congress and eventually the White House, what then? Will they live up to inflammatory speeches by spending more on wars, but rejecting immigration reform, rejecting health care reform, rejecting tough regulations on Wall Street, preserving the ban on gays in the military, refusing business bailouts in economic crises?
And what an era if GOP control were topped off with President Sarah Palin handling crises with a cabinet composed of old high school chums from small-town Wasilla while she recites kitchen-table homilies about Alaska's backwoods hunting culture of "real" Americans.