Out of the Club

The state Republican Party may be principled, but is it smart?

The euphoria of state Republican victories in November has evaporated with the Democratic coup that put state Rep. Kent Williams in the Speaker's chair and Democrats still in charge of half the House committees.

One can understand, I suppose, why the state Republican Party has gone berserk.

I'm sure the state party has been getting a lot of positive feedback from the rank and file, taking satisfaction in party chair Robin Smith throwing Williams out of the party. Smith's supporters will say she took a principled stand because of Williams' betrayal, voting with the Democrats after promising to vote for the Republican nominees.

But what has been the result? Republicans no longer have a majority in the House. The people of Carter County are so angry now, Smith has ensured Williams' re-election. The party ran an ad in the Carter County paper attacking Williams. Former state Rep. Ralph Cole, who used to hold the seat, contends the actions may create problems for other Republican candidates in the area.

Democrat Nathan Vaughan may be able to tap into this anger in a comeback bid in 2010, arguing the Republicans used dirty tricks against him. He lost his House seat in nearby Sullivan County, one of the seats that gave Republicans nominal control. (It has already been admitted that a Republican staffer created a fake website in Vaughan's name during the campaign. There was also a mail-out depicting Vaughan, who is black, as a blackbird.)

Upper East Tennessee is the most Republican area of the state. A large turnout and vote there is essential for any statewide Republican candidate. Ask Ned McWherter and Phil Bredesen if they would have ever been governor had they not cut into the traditional Republican East Tennessee vote. Republican gubernatorial candidates Bill Haslam, Zach Wamp, and Bill Gibbons will need enthusiastic Republican voters to win in 2010.

The hardcore conservative Republicans are angry at Williams, and casting him out felt good. But the hardcore Republicans will be voting for the Republican nominee. It is generally accepted that the Tennessee electorate is mostly conservative and divided into three parts: one third Republican, one-third Democrat and one-third independents. It is the independents who decide statewide elections.

Perhaps Smith could retroactively throw out other Republican turncoats. She could decree that the late Congressman Jimmy Quillen is no longer a Republican for supporting McWherter in 1986. Or how about excommunicating all the "Republicans for Bredesen" during the 2002 campaign?

The image of the Republican Party since the infamous Williams Speaker vote is one of pettiness, ineptitude, and a seeming obliviousness to the very real problems facing the state this session.

The question for the Republican candidates gearing up for 2010 is whether they can afford to have a loose cannon running the state party. Who knows what might be said or done in the heat of a campaign?

During the presidential campaign Tennessee's two Republican senators had to call on Smith and her staff to take down a YouTube video attacking Michelle Obama for her comment that her husband's successful campaign made her, for the first time, proud to be an American. The video had prompted a national reaction to the party's attack on a candidate's spouse.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker compared the anti-Michelle Obama ad to the infamous "Playboy" ad used during Corker's campaign in which a blonde woman urged Harold Ford Jr. to "call me." The ad was produced by out-of-state interests and Corker denounced it at the time.

The state Republican Party of late appears to be in need of adult supervision. The House Republicans need to buckle down and use committee chairs to demonstrate they know how to govern, should they get total control in 2010.

And the Tennessee Republican Party needs a moratorium on any more bright ideas.