The problem with a big tent is that it takes just a couple of people inside to ruin everyone's afternoon by misbehaving, yelling or refusing the bathe ahead of time. And that is the very problem the Republican party is facing as it seeks to placate the crazy wing of the party while trying to present a more serious and dignified conservative front.
Both major parties have their share of malcontents and blowhards. Both have people who make outrageous comments or comparisons to get attention (Democrat Alan Grayson recently compared the tea party movement to the Ku Klux Klan, which seems an especially provocative comment given that we have an African-American president who might not see the tea party's rogue actions as being quite on the level of lynching and hanging black men).
But when that element starts to define the party, then it's trouble.
The people who think not raising the debt ceiling will not cause a default, or that a default on the nation's debt would not create a massive global economic problem are not conservatives. Nor do they reflect anything in the Republican Party platform. They are either ill-informed about basic economics or are simply ready to win a war by dropping the fiscal equivalent of an atomic bomb. There is nothing conservative about that, and it's an insult to the genuine conservatives on the Hill to characterize it as such.
Then we have folks like Don Yelton, the (now former) precinct chair of Buncombe County in North Carolina. Yelton gave an interview for The Daily Show in which he defended North Carolina's new voter ID law – not because it won't disenfranchise voters, Yelton suggested, but because he simply doesn't care about the people who might not be able to vote. He told the Comedy Central show:
The law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt. If it hurts a bunch of college kids too lazy to get up off their bohonkas and go get a photo ID, so be it. If it hurts the whites, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it.
The North Carolina GOP, to its credit, asked for Yelton to step down, calling his comments "completely inappropriate and highly offensive." Yelton did resign.
The GOP can't ask tea party members to step down (nor should it – it's up to the voters who gets elected to office). But the party can make it clear that racism or serial intransigence or failure to recognize economic reality are not conservative values. No tent needs to be big enough for people like Yelton.
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