Column: Vampires, RINOs and things that go bump in the night
BOCA RATON, Fla. — From the state that gave us Katherine Harris and Mark Foley came news last week that a vampire is running for Congress.
This particular bloodsucker — actually, he does role-playing as a vampire after dark — is trying to defeat Rep. Ted Yoho in a Republican primary in western Florida. The fanged contender believes Yoho — a tea party conservative — is a liberal who has “embarrassed” his constituents.
Speaking of embarrassing, the SaintPetersBlog website reported that this challenger, 35-year-old attorney Jake Rush, has moonlighted as a participant in a gothic troupe engaged in “night-to-night struggles ‘against their own bestial natures.’” Rush, a former sheriff’s deputy, issued a news release.
“I’ve been blessed with a vivid imagination from playing George Washington in elementary school to dressing up as a super hero last Halloween for trick-or-treaters,” Rush’s statement said, adding that he also is a “practicing Christian” who “played Jesus” in a church play.
Running for office in the Sunshine State poses some unique problems for vampires, not least their difficulty of campaigning in daylight hours. Yoho will probably keep his seat, particularly if he remembers to wear garlic.
But the Rush candidacy reminds us of an important truism in politics: In Florida, anything can happen.
For more evidence of this, consider what is happening next weekend on Amelia Island, not far from where Jake Rush and the other undead play. There, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy will speak at a fundraiser for Republican moderates. In today’s Republican Party, moderates are less popular than vampires, so it is extraordinary that these two young leaders, who have assiduously courted the tea party the last five years, are willing to associate themselves with those the tea partiers deride as RINOs, Republicans in Name Only.
“It’s great news,” says Steve LaTourette, who runs the Republican Main Street Partnership and is a board member of its offshoot political action committee, which is hosting the gathering at the Ritz-Carlton. “The fact that they want to come is very encouraging as a centrist republican. ... That they at least want to break bread with us I give them credit for, because they’re certainly getting attacked for it.”That they are, in the blogosphere, on talk radio and even in fundraising pitches from tea party candidates. “Next weekend, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and 25 other members of Congress are flying to Amelia Island to collaborate with a group dedicated to defeating conservatives in Congress,” conservative pundit Erick Erickson harrumphed.
Actually, House Speaker Boehner has addressed the group before but will be on foreign travel this time. More significant is the first-ever attendance of Cantor, who has been seen as a potential threat to Boehner from the right.
The presence of Cantor and McCarthy shows their increased confidence defying the purity demands of organizations such as the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and FreedomWorks. You can’t get much more defiant than siding with LaTourette, who, in a Washington Post op-ed in September, likened 30 to 40 conservative Republicans in the House to trained monkeys, and wrote that “the monkeys are running the zoo.”
LaTourette, a former (moderate) Republican congressman, thinks it’s a sign of things to come. He noted that of the 10 incumbent Republican House members targeted for primaries by the Club for Growth’s primarymycongressman.com project, nine belong to his organization. “We’re not going to lose anything,” LaTourette predicted. He noted that conservative groups have gone from saying “they’re going to kick our ass” to saying “we’re going to win one.”
It’ll be a long time before the 52 House Republican members of the Main Street group gain any real power, but from Florida anything seems possible. Florida has given us everything from former Rep. Allen West, the most militant of conservatives, to Rep. Alan Grayson, the most strident of liberals. Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor who lost a Senate bid as a Republican and then as an independent, is running for governor again — as a Democrat — and just might win.
Florida, too, gave us Republican Rep. Trey Radel, who recently resigned after a cocaine arrest, and Democratic Rep. Tim Mahoney, who succeeded Foley after the congressional-page scandal by promising to restore family values; he lost after it was reported that he paid a staffer $121,000 to keep their affair quiet.
Now Florida is giving us vampires, RINOs and other things that go bump in the night. It is fun to believe they might be real.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.