Dems Fueling GOP Civil War — Next Up: ENDA

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. walks out of the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The civil war raging between the Republic establishment and the tea party movement continues to heat up, and Democrats appear more than happy to sell ammunition to both sides.

Last week, Richard Viguerie, a legendary figure within the modern conservative movement, promised that the hard right would deliver a “bloodbath” to insufficiently conservative Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections. “We need to primary every single one of these big-government Republicans,” he told NewsMax.

The same week, The National Journal’s Beth Reinhard reported that more traditional, business-oriented Republicans are ready to join the battle.

Tactics being discussed among Republican strategists, donors, and party leaders include running attack ads against tea-party candidates for Congress… promoting open primaries over nominating conventions, which can produce Republican hard-liners such as Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli and shutdown-instigator Mike Lee of Utah; and countering political juggernauts Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks that target Republican incumbents who have consorted with Democrats.

It’s no coincidence that as soon as the shutdown was over – a debacle that revealed deep fissures between the Republican-friendly business community and the party’s base — the Democrats pivoted toward immigration, an issue that GOP strategists say is one on which the party must moderate in order to remain viable in national elections, while 74 percent of Republican voters told Pew in late July that the party’s stance on immigration was either just right or too liberal.

The House looks like it will take a pass on immigration reform this year – Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a key architect of the immigration bill passed by the Senate earlier this year, is urging the lower chamber to oppose his own proposal. But now, HuffPo reports that another issue that’s as likely to drive a wedge into the Republican coalition is coming into play:

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act could come up for a vote in the Senate as early as next week, according to the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

ENDA would ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. When the Senate convened Monday afternoon, Reid formally announced his plans to bring up the legislation during the current work period, which ends the week before Thanksgiving.

After Mitt Romney’s defeat, the Republican National Committee drew up an “autopsy report” which called for the party’s rebranding in order to broaden its appeal. The authors wrote that “there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be,” and added: “If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out.”

There was a polling memo released in September which found broad support for ENDA among Republicans, but few details were included and it was conducted by a GOP pollster who supports the party’s rebranding.

But we know that on same-sex marriage, there remains a significant divide between the party’s hardline base and both self-identified GOP “moderates” and the public at large. While Gallup found that 52 percent of Americans now support marriage equality, only 30 percent of self-identified conservatives and 23 percent of those who attend church weekly agreed. In the Pew poll, 56 percent of those Republicans who called themselves moderate said the party’s position on marriage was “too conservative,” while only 22 percent of tea partiers agreed.

What’s interesting about all of this is that less than a decade ago, in 2004, Republicans tried to use LGBT rights as a wedge issue to divide Democrats by pushing a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. A lot has changed since then — the public’s come a long way — and the shoe now appears to be on the other foot.

Joshua Holland was a senior digital producer for and now writes for The Nation. He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @JoshuaHol.
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