Whatever else this season's Idaho Republican civil war may be, it is not about "conservatism" - whatever that word may mean. It is not about "philosophy." Just about all of the Republicans on the ballot this year for legislative office or higher in Idaho are small-budget, low-tax, strict Christian-oriented, business-backing candidates. In the scheme of things, their differences are far fewer those between, say, mainstream Methodists and mainstream Presbyterians. From the way the rhetoric is running, you'd think they're (metaphorically) Christians Buddhists. There's not a lot of daylight.
Even if the view here is that the term "conservative" has been so thoroughly abused as to be beyond any coherent meaning or repair (almost like "liberal" in that sense), the people running for the Republican nomination in Idaho this year are, overwhelmingly, a consistent group - more internally, ideologically, consistent than, say, the comparable cadre of Republican candidates in Washington or Oregon. As a matter of agenda, they all ought to be allies.
But this turns out to be an ugly season of internal bomb-throwing, in which incumbent legislators of the same party - even co-members of the small leadership group - are throwing (money) bombs aimed at politically destroying colleagues with whom they almost always vote in agreement in committee and floor. How to make sense of this?
A lot of it probably has to do with the fact that there are so many of them, that Democrats are such a minor opposition that they find it hard to get worked up about them any more (on a state level, that is). And those personal dislikes are weighing large. Also the likelihood that primary turnout may be smaller and it may be possible for activists to have even more sway than they have had.
There is, for example, a concerted (and complex) effort by House Speaker Lawerence Denney and Majority Leader Mike Moyle to defeat their fellow member of leadership, Ken Roberts. (That is made clear more by way of campaign money donations than by public statements.) Moyle's comment: "My goal is to make Ken's life miserable because he's making my life miserable."
It certainly isn't because the issue positions and voting record of Roberts is more than microscopically different from Moyle's or Denney's. It's easier to declare that the opposition is somehow "less conservative;" but don't expect anyone to explain what that actually means.
This is happening by way of a series of interlocking PACs, which by some reports include the Victory Fund, Idaho Land PAC, Gun PAC, Free Enterprise PAC, Idaho Association For Good Government (aka Nonini PAC) and Idaho Chooses Life.
And, says a Spokesman-Review blog entry, "Endorsements are being given and withdrawn, two Kootenai County GOP groups are clawing at each other's right to invoke the name of Ronald Reagan, and independent groups are mounting their own campaigns, either boosting or bashing various GOP incumbents under names like Free Enterprise PAC and Idaho Prosperity Fund."
This is a serious conflict, in that a number of political contests are on the line. But what have they to do with ideology?
Only this, apparently: Some activists seem to be all out, searching for the extremes and interested in throwing bombs wherever possible, especially from within the legislature; and others are more interested in relatively stable governing. A difference in approach and world view, certainly, and attitude as well.
But conservatism? Not unless a whole new definition is developed and commonly accepted for a word already degraded almost beyond meaning.