In years past, the fact that Senate and House GOP leaders meandered their way to the Republican Main Street Partnership gathering this weekend in Florida’s picturesque Amelia Island would hardly raise an eyebrow.
After all, the group is run by one of their own, retired Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio, a close ally of Speaker John A. Boehner, and the retreat is the classic junket staged during a congressional recess. Republicans usually would be looking to stage a show of unity in a midterm election year that is trending their way.
But 2014 has proved to be different, as a long-simmering anger on the right side of the Republican Party has fomented a larger coalition of conservative ideologues, tea party crusaders and grass-roots activists determined to put a stop to what they see as a decadelong liberal drift to their party.
The result is that this year’s Main Street meeting has become a flashpoint for battle-ready conservatives looking to make examples of lawmakers who attend a group with moderate views and funded by Democrat-leaning labor unions.
“It’s basically the big-business, cheap-labor wing of the Republican Party — not the mom-and-pop store owners, the startups, the entrepreneurs, the small-business people,” said independent Ron Maxwell, a motion picture director and writer who lives in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s home state of Virginia.
Mr. Maxwell can barely suppress his ire toward what he regards as the pragmatic liberal and centrist GOP lawmakers who are heading to the meeting Saturday at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Amelia Island, Fla.
To the rank-and-file conservatives, the biggest sin of Main Streeters’ like Mr. Cantor, Sen. John McCain, Mr. Boehner, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and others is that the group they are endorsing with their presence over the years gangs up on the likes of Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Mike Lee and tries to isolate them as extremist obstructionists.
The Main Streeters jump on the brash new conservative icons of the Senate for opposing compromises viewed as giving Democrats approval to expand spending, national indebtedness to other nations and increased dependency on government by businesses, the middle class, blue-collar workers and legal and illegal immigrants.
Whether they use the words or not, the rank and file see the GOP leadership in Congress and the former GOP governors, party chairmen, corporate elite and top-echelon consultant class as co-conspirators in the Democrats’ socialization of the American economy and culture.
“The Main Street Republicans have become an echo chamber for the left,” said Mr. Maxwell, uttering a battle cry spoken privately by many others. “They correctly see grass-roots conservatives and the tea party as the authentic base of the GOP and therefore a threat to the levers of power that the party’s behind-the-scenes leaders — the Bushes, Karl Roves and Haley Barbours — control.
“They’re terrorists in their own party. They label Republicans who don’t agree with them as extremists,” said Mr. Maxwell, who is helping Mr. Cantor’s challenger in the June 20 state GOP primary election.
Larry Nordvig, executive director of the Richmond Tea Party, which claims an email list of 5,000 and has 6,700 “likes” on Facebook and 4,000 Twitter followers, is part of the grass-roots movement attempting to oust Mr. Cantor.
Grass-roots activists joke that attempting to beat Mr. Cantor in the primary is like a novice hiking club taking on Mount Everest: It’s doable but not easy.
Mr. Cantor has the name recognition and ability to outraise his challenger, university professor Dave Brat, many times over from donations by big business and the GOP establishment that signals where contributions should go.
The Republican Main Street partnership, which has gone by a number of names over the years, including the Main Street Coalition, is led by Mr. LaTourette, a Washington lobbyist who is not at all defensive but rather proud of the cooperative role that GOP lawmakers in his group play with Democrats in Congress.