Sunday column: Campfield becoming a primary target of the Republican establishment

The Republican “11th commandment,” popularized by the late President Ronald Reagan, was flagrantly violated last week by some very prominent Tennessee Republicans, indicating a new height in the state GOP’s intraparty strife.

Or at least that lines are being drawn.

The 11th commandment provides, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”

The inspiration of the violation was a blog post by Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield that said: “Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of manditory (sic) sign ups for ‘train rides’ for Jews in the 40s.”

While Campfield seemed to add a new twist to the popular GOP pastime of bashing Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, it was not entirely novel. Back in January, Idaho state Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll got some attention by comparing — via Twitter and email — insurance companies signing up to participate in Obamacare to “Jews boarding the trains to concentration camps.” The Idaho Spokesman-Review reported that she took some criticism, but not from fellow Republicans. One GOP leader is quoted as saying, “When we are emotional about something, sometimes we use hyperbole to get across our point.”

In Tennessee, Republican Chairman Chris Devaney was almost as prompt in denouncing his fellow Republican as was Tennessee Democratic Chairman Roy Herron in denouncing an avowed political enemy.

Further, Devaney was more personal and more strident than Herron, who declared Campfield’s comments “outrageous, pathetic, and hateful,” predictably tied them to “Tea Party Republicans” and, more or less, to all Republicans in general, who pretty much uniformly bash Obamacare and, in Tennessee, oppose the interrelated notion of Medicaid expansion. Standard partisan stuff.

Devaney’s opening sentence: “While Stacey Campfield routinely makes remarks that are over the top, today’s comments are ignorant and repugnant.”

The Devaney denunciation of Campfield as a routinely over-the-top remarker was sent out in an email blast to media. This from a fellow who, not so long ago, declined to say anything when asked about controversial Campfield commentary on the origin of AIDS and such.

Other establishment Republicans weighed in without prodding from media, as with House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick’s email blast deeming “Campfield’s disgraceful blog post” to be “distasteful and classless.”

Why, even Gov. “Bold Bill” Haslam —famous as the epitome of equivocation in all matters controversial — opined, albeit upon prodding: “Words matter, and to make the comparison to the Holocaust is wrong, inappropriate and insensitive.”

Devaney’s commentary, however, is particularly noteworthy. It comes as Campfield is facing a Republican primary challenge against a formidable foe. Republican Party rules declare that anyone within the official party apparatus is prohibited from taking a position in a Republican primary. Devaney did so, albiet in indirect fashion. This may be seen as a de facto endorsement of his establishment GOP opponent, Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs.

Briggs, of course, was doubtless mindful of another old political adage — if your opponent is self-destructing, do not interfere with the process — when he dodged any remark to media and subsequently did a placid, Haslam-like, 11th amendment-respectful Facebook post saying, without reference to the controversial comment, that he thinks the incumbent lacks “credibility.”

Earlier this year, a group of tea party folk accused Devaney of breaking the party neutral-in-primaries rule by endorsing U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander over his primary challenger, state Rep. Joe Carr. This came after Devaney served as master or ceremonies in an Alexander campaign event. No, said Devaney, Carr hadn’t announced at the time and so he wasn’t endorsing; just acknowledging appreciation of a Republican officeholder.

Still, it’s pretty clear that in the escalating war between “tea party Republicans” and establishment Republicans, the party chairman is on the establishment side — along with Haslam, Alexander, House Speaker Beth Harwell, etc. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who has become something of a middleman between the two factions, has endorsed Campfield’s re-election. But he also opined that the Holocaust comments were “out of line.”

The Aug. 7 Republican primary elections for legislative seats have several contests where lines are being drawn fairly clearly, and all this speaking ill of Campfield indicates his race is the main feature. And for the establishment, apparently the primary target.

Note: This is an unedited version of a column written for Sunday’s News Sentinel. The edited version is HERE.