It’s not unusual for the rank-and-file Missouri Republicans who make up the party’s state committee to be more conservative than GOP officeholders.
Actually, “conservative” isn’t the right word. William F. Buckley Jr. was conservative. The founder of the National Review was in many ways the father of the modern conservative movement.
If he ran in a three-way primary for office in Missouri these days, he’d finish a distant third. Barry Goldwater would be second. Todd Akin would win hands down.
In that regard, a romp through the raucous history of the Missouri Republican Party adds some perspective to Saturday’s odd selection of St. Louis attorney and serial failed candidate Ed Martin as the Missouri GOP’s new chairman.
Take 1976, when Rolla lumberman John Powell helped lead the Reagan revolution in the Show-Me State. Heading into the state’s Republican convention in which delegates would choose a presidential nominee, Missouri’s triumvirate of elected Republican leaders — Gov. Christopher “Kit” Bond, Attorney General John C. Danforth and Lt. Gov. William Phelps — encouraged party faithful to support incumbent President Gerald R. Ford.
The rank-and-file revolted and got behind Mr. Powell and budding conservative star Ronald Reagan.
Two decades later, Mr. Bond, by then a U.S. senator and member in good standing of the Reagan fan club, backed Sen. Bob Dole for president. Committed conservatives packed the state caucuses again and cast their lot for right-winger Pat Buchanan.
Last year, Missouri’s top Republicans backed eventual nominee Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, for president. But far-right candidate Rick Santorum won the state’s meaningless primary.
This doesn’t make Saturday’s coronation of Mr. Martin as the titular head of the Republican apparatus any less damaging for the party’s future. But it suggests that last fall’s hand-wringing over the elevation of Mr. Akin — he of “legitimate rape” fame — to the position of U.S. Senate candidate was not an isolated event.
On Saturday, Mr. Martin defeated the incumbent chairman, David Cole, 34 to 32. The Republican political consultants who count votes for such elections tell us the vote was a payback for the GOP losses in November.
Apparently, the voters forgot that the “victory chairman” of the campaign that left Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder as the only statewide Republican to win election was . . . Ed Martin. Maybe they missed Mr. Martin’s trouncing in the race for attorney general.
They probably didn’t appreciate the delicious irony in the fact that Mr. Martin’s first act as chairman was to make a motion to “destroy the ballots” that led to his election.
Never mind that this is the standard procedure. Mr. Martin cost taxpayers about $2 million for an investigation spurred by his destruction of public records when he was chief of staff to Gov. Matt Blunt. That he would suggest destroying records puts the cherry on top of his selection to lead a party that has lost its way.
Mainstream Republicans who hope to see their party regain statewide prowess are aghast at Mr. Martin’s election.
Democrats are downright giddy.
The rest of us should just be saddened. We have seen what extremist gridlock brings us in a Congress that is better at blame-shifting than it is problem-solving. One of the bright spots in the recent fiscal cliff mess was that when all was said and done, three Missouri Republicans, Sen. Roy Blunt and Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer and Jo Ann Emerson, voted to do the right thing and allow taxes on the wealthiest Americans to rise. They chose country over party.
That was a step in the right direction. Mr. Martin’s elevation to a position of leadership is a big step backward.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.