Inside a pine-walled restaurant near Mobile, Ala., the South Baldwin Republican Women's club is watching the party tear itself in two. Between bites of fried chicken and sips of sweet tea, a few dozen ladies and a handful of men clap and hiss as two GOP candidates for Congress savage each other. Bradley Byrne, a mild-mannered former state legislator, has accused Dean Young, a local Tea Party darling, of misusing campaign contributions from "good Christian people." In reply, Young labels Byrne a liar, a coward, a lawyer and, perhaps worst of all, a former Democrat.
In the wake of October's government shutdown, the uneasy peace between the GOP's hard-right ideologues and business friendly moderates has given way to open warfare. And the first battle is in lower Alabama, where the party establishment has poured cash into an off-season congressional primary for the seat vacated by Representative Jo Bonner, a center-right Republican who retired in August.
Inside the lobbying shops of Washington and executive suites across the country, the GOP's bundlers and business tycoons have been surveying maps and sketching plans to counter the cohort that sparked the shutdown. Over the next year, they may plow $150 million or more into congressional races in a bid to defend vulnerable allies and unseat truculent Tea Partyers. It is "the classic battle of the Establishment Republicans vs. the Tea Party Republicans," says Young.