Any credible account of the career of U.S. senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, must acknowledge this salient fact: He is conservative. He’s no maverick who managed to win a powerful office in a crimson state despite staking out positions that challenged the beliefs of his base.
He has opposed abortion rights, gay rights and government regulations on business. The American Conservative Union, whose ratings are considered the gold standard for grading elected officials on adherence to conservative dogma, gives him a lifetime score of 92.5 out of 100.
Still, Chambliss now finds himself under fire from right-wing extremists in the Republican Party — absolutists who believe that even a handshake with President Obama is a dangerous sign of collaboration with the enemy. So the senator will retire in 2014 rather than face a primary challenge from the right.
This is another unsettling development for the GOP, another sign of a party engaged in civil war. If Saxby Chambliss does not meet the standard for conservatism, then Republicans are doomed to bloodletting well into the foreseeable future. If a score of 92.5, which usually counts as an A, doesn’t pass muster, then the GOP is starting down the road to extinction.
The rabid right’s hostility to Chambliss grows out of his membership in the “Gang of Six,” a bipartisan group of senators who have toiled over the last couple of years to come to a compromise that would begin to eliminate federal budget deficits. Though he signed onto anti-tax activist Grover Norquist’s no-tax-increase pledge when he first sought a congressional seat, he has lately begun to voice doubt about its usefulness — as any reasonable person would.
If Tea Partiers were as worried about red ink as they claim, they would throw Chambliss a parade and hail him as a hero. But they’ve begun muttering about his conservative bona fides instead.