Speaker of the House John Boehner has come in for ample criticism from all sides for his leadership — or lack thereof — in dealing with Republican House members as the federal government remains on life support. Oregon Second District Congressman Greg Walden should be prepared to share in that criticism, because there's certainly plenty to go around.
The criticism for Walden may just be beginning as he faces the unenviable task of spearheading the election efforts of House Republicans, a group whose brand is not exactly riding high at the moment. Beyond dealing with a disgruntled electorate, he and other Republican leaders have a virtual civil war brewing within their own party.
Tea party members of Congress and the GOP members who fear that ultra-conservative contingent are making life difficult for Boehner and Walden as the federal shutdown heads into its third week and toward the fiscal cliff of default. Their demands for defunding the new federal health insurance system are as hopeless as they are ridiculous, and their shutdown of the government is fueling a nationwide backlash against the Republican Party.
Walden is trying to put a brave face on it, saying, "It's too early to tell how this will play out for 2014" and suggesting that voters will turn back to the GOP after they've had enough of "Obamacare."
Who is he kidding? Probably not himself.
Walden disputes a national report, first published in The Daily Beast website, that he told potential donors his fellow GOP House members are allowing the tea party wing to run things because "If we don't, these guys (Republican congressional members) are going to get primaried and they are going to lose their primary."
Walden says he never said that, and we have no way of knowing one way or the other. But we are pretty darn certain that even if he didn't say it, it's what he thinks.
There's no question that the Republican right has laid down the law to anyone in the Republican Party who dares stand up to them: Fail to toe the line and you will have a primary challenger.
As chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Walden's No. 1 goal is to get Republicans elected to Congress. But his No. 1A goal is to re-elect the incumbent Republicans who boosted him into one of the top spots in the GOP. Those No. 1 and 1A goals pose a conflict that must be causing him some sleepless nights.
As Walden's goal is to elect Republicans, he will no doubt endorse any GOP primary winner, tea party member or no tea party member. But he also knows if a more centrist member of his caucus is "primaried" and defeated by an extreme conservative, the Republicans' chances of keeping that seat will be diminished. The tea party scares the bejesus out of moderates in both parties.
Thus, the sleepless nights.
The important criticism of Walden, however, will not come from the far right in his party. Rather, it will come from the middle, from people who thought they sent him to Congress to do what's best for the country rather than bow down to a group that is leveraging this nation's good name and stability as part of an ideological crusade.
It will come in spades from the people, and businesses, who see their financial futures damaged by that crusade and by the failure of those alleged leaders to stand up for what they know is right.
Walden can keep telling himself it's OK. But we don't believe it, the country doesn't believe it and, deep down, while he's staring at that ceiling at night, neither does he.