Republican Civil War Over Shutdown Drama

GOP groups launched attacks against other Republicans after the shutdown ended.

ByABC News
October 18, 2013, 3:29 PM

Oct. 19, 2013— -- Not a single Republican senator or congressman voted for the Affordable Care Act, but the standoff over the government shutdown may have done the one thing that seemed impossible a few months ago: divided the Republican party over Obamacare.

It's no secret that several high-profile Republicans in Washington are angry with their colleagues for pushing them into a corner on a strategy that left them with a brunt of the blame for shutting the government down in an effort to defund Obamacare.

But the anger flows both ways. The uber-conservative base of the Republican Party, and the groups that support them, view the deal brokered between Senate Republicans and Democrats to re-open the government as nothing short of surrender.

"I will say that the reason this deal, the lousy deal, was reached last night is because, unfortunately, Senate Republicans made the choice not to support House Republicans," said Sen. Ted Cruz, who has alienated some of his colleagues as the standard bearer of the anti-Obamacare strategy. "I wish Senate Republicans had united, I tried to do everything I could to urge Senate Republicans to come together and stand with House Republicans."

The tension between these two factions in the GOP has already started to play out in 2014 races. But there is real risk that friendly fire among Republicans could endanger the party's chances of retaking the Senate and holding onto the House, some Republicans fear.

"Senate Republicans have effectively given away five seats the last two cycles because of bad general election nominees, most of which were aided by these groups," said Brian Walsh, a GOP strategist and former communications director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "These groups are successful at two things -- raising money for themselves and electing Democrats."

"I've been speaking out against Ted Cruz and his whole crazy movement since it started."

On Thursday, just hours after the government re-opened its doors, fiscal conservative group Club for Growth joined two other conservative groups in endorsing a tea party candidate who could be pitted against incumbent Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who has not yet announced that he would seek re-election.

It just so happens that Cochran joined more than half of his caucus in supporting the compromise bill denounced by Cruz and opposed by conservative groups like Heritage Action, Club for Growth.

Cochran may ultimately not seek another term in the Senate, but by endorsing an alternative before he has made his decision, these groups are sending a clear message that they believe retirement may be in his best interest.

"It isn't surprising that there's friction between the big government establishment in both parties and the fiscal conservatives that are now serving the House and the Senate," said Barney Keller, communications director for Club for Growth. "We think it's critical that we change the status quo."

The strategy of Republicans undermining Republicans has infuriated some in the GOP.

Certain Republican senators and moderates in the House have accused Cruz and the outside groups who back him of what amounts to disloyalty by giving Democrats a winning hand.

"I've been speaking out against Ted Cruz and his whole crazy movement since it started," said outspoken Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., this week on MSNBC. "I think that, first of all, right now there's no doubt the Democrats are winning."

The threat of friendly fire on the Republican side is neither new to politics, nor is it new to recent Republican Party history.

In fact, it is viewed by the tea party as the source of its current political power. In the 2010 election cycle, Tea Party challengers wiped out moderate Republicans in primaries and moderate Democrats in general elections.

There's no question that they hope to do it again.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin hinted that she might back tea party candidates in several races where they pose a challenge to Republican incumbents.

"We're going to shake things up in 2014," Palin wrote on her Facebook page. "Let's start with Kentucky -- which happens to be awfully close to South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi -- from sea to shining sea we will not give up."

The Republicans that Palin pointed to -- McConnell in Kentucky, Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and Cochran in Mississippi -- all voted in favor of the bill to fund government and extend the debt limit. And all face potential or declared tea party primary challenges.

And all of this attention now on Republicans who opposed an ill-fated strategy to defund Obamacare has shifted attention away from the law's flaw-ridden rollout.

"What we should have been focused on the last few weeks was the rollout," Walsh said. "Those who led the defund movement lost a lot of credibility among even some conservatives in the last few weeks."

"It's compounded when Republicans see Republican senators raising money for groups that attack their Republican colleagues."