David Limbaugh

Just when President Obama is on the ropes with Obamacare and the rest of his failed policies, scandals and deceptions, the GOP seems determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory -- a victory not just for the GOP, but also for the American people.

Instead of focusing on their common Democratic "enemy," Republicans are firing at one another. Let me try to unpack this a bit.

So-called establishment Republicans tend to believe tea partiers are uncompromising, impractical, overly aggressive kamikazes who are willing to destroy the nation just to make a point. Many tea partiers, in turn, believe there is little difference between the establishment wing and Obama Democrats.

I am on the side of the tea party in this intramural rivalry, but I think some important distinctions need to be made.

Neither establishment Republicans nor tea party conservatives are monolithic. There are some establishment Republicans who are conservative on policy but strongly believe tea partiers are making a huge and self-destructive tactical error in insisting on a hard-line approach, especially in their seeming willingness to allow the government to shut down. Many of them truly believe they are just as conservative on policy as we tea partiers, but think we will never advance conservatism unless we soften our negotiating posture toward Democrats while they control the presidency and the Senate, because advancing conservatism is all about winning national elections.

But there are also many among the establishment wing who are by no stretch as conservative on policy as tea partiers. They have made their peace with a large, intrusive federal government and wouldn't roll back much of the New Deal or Great Society even if they had control of all three branches of government. Many of them favor an "energetic" federal government that implements innovative, proactive solutions to problems, rather than rolling back the government where we can and letting freedom ring and the market work its magic. They are comfortable with higher levels of federal taxing and spending and with solutions emanating from Washington -- such as in education, health care and the environment -- instead of decentralizing government control. So it is oversimplified and misleading to argue that the tea party and establishment Republicans differ only in tactics but not in policy.

The tea party wing isn't monolithic, either, in that it contains both social conservatives and social liberals, but it is unified in its opposition to a federal Leviathan that overtaxes, overspends and overregulates.

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh, brother of radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, is an expert on law and politics. He recently authored the New York Times best-selling book: "Jesus on Trial: A Lawyer Affirms the Truth of the Gospel."

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