WASHINGTON — You could be forgiven for thinking that there were two Republican parties on display over the last few days at the Conservative Political Action Conference in suburban Washington.
On one side was the "compromise equals surrender" crowd led by Sens. Rand Paul, Ky., and Ted Cruz, Texas, with an assist from Sarah Palin and her Big Gulp soda. On the other was what passes for the party establishment represented by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, Fla.
The two groups' analysis of the current state of the Republican Party made it sound as though they were on two different planets. Cruz, who delivered the final speech of CPAC on Saturday night, insisted that "we're winning right now." Bush, who spoke 24 hours earlier, told attendees that "way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker."
The divide apparent at CPAC has been reflected in Congress, where House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has struggled to lead a conference strongly tinged with those who pledge fealty to the Paul/Cruz wing of the party. (See the political disaster known as "Plan B" during the "fiscal cliff" debate.) And, Senate primaries shaping up in Iowa and Georgia also could demonstrate the split between the two Republican parties.
One recent episode typifies the split. Last week, Sen. John McCain, Ariz., referred to Cruz, Paul and Rep. Justin Amash, Mich., as "wacko birds." In his CPAC speech Saturday night, Cruz offered this retort: "If standing for liberty and standing for the Constitution means you're a wacko bird, then count me a proud wacko bird. I think there are more than a few other wacko birds gathered here today."