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December 27, 2010

The New Ringleader

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Maryland Republicans spoke loudly at their recent state party convention. Given the choice between two very different candidates and personal styles, convention-goers chose recently defeated State Senator Alex Mooney of Frederick and Washington County.


The choice was clear. Mooney’s opponent was Mary Kane, most recently the lieutenant governor on Bob Ehrlich’s gubernatorial ticket. Mrs. Kane also served as the secretary of state during the Ehrlich Administration, a position she held with skill and dignity. Her husband John also ran the state party during Ehrlich’s time in the State House.


She made several trips to Frederick County during the recent campaign. She seemed very capable, appeared to have a solid grasp on issues, and possessed an easy and engaging communication style.


Her speech at the convention was described by some in attendance as lackluster. In truth, it probably had more to do with her message than it did her delivery. Mary Kane’s message was the big tent theory personified, that the GOP would build itself from without by making room for diverse views.


Ten years ago, that was the message.


Unfortunately for Mrs. Kane, embracing diverse points of view is no longer the appropriate messaging for a Tea Party-influenced Republican Party. Party leaders are striving for ideological purity, and seem committed to a purge reminiscent of the Puritan Witch Trials in order to drive out those evils moderates and RINOs.


Who better, given that, than Alex X. Mooney to set the course for Republican office holders and voters? A huffing, puffing monument to rabid partisanship, Mr. Mooney’s political world view doesn’t fit most rational definitions.


In fact, you couldn’t even accuse him of having a black and white political view. He sees politics through a monochromatic lens. To him, it’s either all black or all white, there is no gray on his palette.


It was that very same approach that relegated him to the ranks of back bencher in Annapolis. He never learned, nor seemed to care to, the old adage about picking your fights wisely. To him, every political discussion was by definition a bare knuckled brawl.


Sadly, he lost many more fights than he won. In fact, you can count his political victories on the fingers of one hand. Come to think of it, you needn’t use all five fingers.


So, his pitch for the top spot in the state GOP was based in the two things he knows best: telling you what’s wrong, and pointing out who’s to blame for it. Couple that with his demonstrated and prolific ability to squeeze donors for campaign contributions, and Senator Mooney starts looking like the GOP’s Moses, the one guy who could lead Republicans out of the wilderness of political irrelevance.


Yeah, right.


A more likely scenario is another decade of darkness for Maryland’s perpetual minority. Sure, Alex will make it fun to watch!


You can almost picture it sitting there. Every time that Gov. Martin O’Malley makes some pronouncement or Senate President Mike Miller or House Speaker Michael Busch hold a press event, reporters will race down Annapolis’ West Street to seek out the latest Mooneyism.


What the guy lacks in meaningful legislative accomplishments over a 12-year career, he makes up for in red meat quotes about the evils of unchecked liberalism. The reporters won’t even have to work hard, the political stories will write themselves.


One of his first statements following his convincing win tells us all we need to know about his tenure.


When asked what he was planning, Senator Mooney spelled out the standard party leadership pabulum: fundraising, grass roots organization, and candidate development. The one item he added generates considerable interest and serves as an omen for Democrats.


Chairman Mooney indicated that he will be looking at some social issues. Have no doubt, this means that Alex and the state GOP organization will continue to lurch right ideologically.


There are Democratic incumbents in state office who have mastered the art of avoiding certain issues such as partial birth abortion. They’ve gone to amazing lengths to bury same sex marriage and gun bans as a strategy to keep vulnerable legislators in GOP-leaning districts from having to record a vote on bills.


You can bet that with Chairman Mooney in charge, those specific issues will be front and center in the political dialogue. They have to be, they’re a major part of his fundraising strategy!


Another obvious benefit for the soon-to-be former senator is maintaining his name recognition and political relevance. He has always coveted the 6th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and considers it a sort of political promotion in return for his toils. Once Rep. Roscoe Bartlett retires, Alex’s name will be on that ballot. They’ll be many other names, too.


Maryland Republicans have now officially buried their past. They sent the era of Ehrlich off to the cemetery of deceased political careers with a New Orleans-style jazz death parade. Gone are the moderate social views blended with old school fiscal conservatism.


We’ve entered the age of hyper-partisanship, and the GOP circus ringleader is master of self promotion with a penchant for nasty campaign tricks.


Should be fun to watch!


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