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EDITORIAL: The circular firing squad

Sometimes conservatives can’t recognize real squish

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Conservatives are sometimes their own worst enemy. A group of Capitol Hill aides who worked for Jim DeMint when he was a senator from South Carolina have set up a political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund, to cleanse Congress of whom they consider squishy Republicans. It's a worthwhile endeavor, except when the "squishes" turn out to be conservatives.

The fund, along with the free-market advocacy group FreedomWorks, recently put its weight behind a Tea Party primary challenge to Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, who boasts near-perfect scores from the American Conservative Union, the National Rifle Association and pro-life groups. Mr. Sessions can't be faulted, even by the fiercest of conservatives, on his record.

But to some conservatives, he committed a crime when he opposed the threat of a shutdown of non-essential government services to force Democrats to agree to defund Obamacare. Mr. Sessions thinks the tactic won't work like the "shutdown" conservatives think it will, and that the ploy could threaten the survival of sequestration and the spending caps adopted in the last session of Congress. As the former head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is responsible for re-electing Republicans in the House, Mr. Sessions has informed concerns about Election Day fallout. There's the further concern that the Obama administration will ignore whatever Congress does. After all, he made "recess appointments" when Congress wasn't in recess. "Even if we shut down the government," Mr. Sessions told one Tea Party activist, "it will do nothing because the president, all he has to say is, 'it's mandatory spending.' "

This isn't a disagreement over whether Obamacare ought to be stopped in its tracks. Mr. Sessions voted against it and wants it gone as much as anyone of considered good sense. It's a tactical disagreement over how to accomplish the job. It's true that the continuing resolution is the only source of leverage Republicans have to win concessions on Obamacare, but it's naive to think that a shutdown guarantees victory. Avoiding genuine risk doesn't make someone a member of the "surrender caucus" nor a secret Obamacare lover. Besides, Mr. Sessions might even be right with his assessment of the politics of the matter.

Conservatives must rethink strategy. The forces of big government are united in pursuit of their dream of an ever-expanding federal leviathan. Neither Republicans nor other conservatives have the luxury of dividing themselves over tactics. There's no shortage of "Republicans in Name Only" within what sometimes actually is the Grand Old Party. A conservative with a 16-year track record of voting the right way is the last incumbent who deserves a primary challenge.

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