What's going on in the Grand Old Party? Congressional Republicans are engaging in more in-fighting than those brawling Democrats.
Yesterday in the House Republican caucus, Conference chairman Jerry Lewis of California beat back a challenge by Carl Pursell of Michigan, 98-64, spear-carrier for party whip Newt Gingrich, an ideological crusader who enrolled conservatives like Mr. Pursell to kill the Bush White House's summit budget agreement. Mr. Lewis supported it.
In another contest Rep. Guy Vander Jagt of Michigan retained his chairmanship of the National Republican Congressional Committee by defeating challenger Rep. Don Sundquist of Tennessee, 98-66, the reputed candidate of White House chief of staff John Sununu. Frustration among House Republicans as they begin their 37th straight year as a minority party was evident in these rare challenges to House GOP leadership incumbents.
This frustration is evident in the Senate, too. Last month liberal Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island was ousted as Republican Conference chairman by conservative Thad Cochran of Mississippi on a 22-21 vote. The party was almost as divided on replacing the retiring Policy Committee chairman. Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma defeated Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico 23-20, with degrees of conservatism the issue. Sen. Bob Kasten of Wisconsin, slightly more conservative than Sen. Christopher Bond of Missouri, won the Conference secretary vacancy, 26-17.
Much of the intra-party fighting has been accompanied by strong and bitter rhetoric. Sociologists would call this "internalized violence" if it were happening in a deprived, isolated and hopeless community, an apt description for congressional Republicans. Their party's presidential candidates have won three straight presidential election landslides -- yet in 1991 there will be 25 fewer Republicans in the House than in 1981 and nine fewer in the Senate. Senate prospects do not seem much brighter for 1992 and 1994. As for the House, congressional district lines will be re-drawn (with partisan advantage in mind) next year by state legislatures -- in which Democrats made substantial gains in last month's election. Republican strength in the House could decline for the rest of the century.