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What does it take to earn the opprobrium of the Senate Republican caucus? Would running a write-in campaign against a Republican Senate candidate who won a fairly contested primary be enough to do it? If the offender is Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski, apparently not.

As we all know, Murkowski lost to Joe Miller a few weeks ago in the Alaska primary, proceeded to pout for a while, then announced a write-in bid for the Senate, which we had urged her in the strongest terms to forgo. It’s a desperation move, but with nearly $2 million to spend in the sparsely populated state she has the potential to cause some mayhem and complicate Miller’s path to victory.

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Given this, it would make sense to strip Murkowski of her status as the ranking member of the Energy Committee because 1) she deserves it; and 2) her appeal is primarily based on her pork-barreling prowess as an inside-D.C. player. Earlier in the week, it seemed Senate Republicans would do just that. At a meeting Tuesday, Republicans decided to boot Murkowski, and several news outlets reported as much. Minority leader Mitch McConnell was quoted saying there’s “an issue as to whether or not it’s appropriate for her, under the circumstances, to continue as ranking member on the Energy Committee” — Senate-ese for, “She’s gone.”

Then, the Republicans held a conference meeting where the worst chummy instincts of the Club took hold. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina says he was the only one to speak out in favor of stripping Murkowski. We are told that Murkowski’s friends spoke in her favor, and a secret vote was held — and, amazingly enough, the Alaskan won.

This is perverse on several levels. As we noted before, it leaves intact part of Murkowski’s campaign message. It sends the message that Senate Republicans expect her to win and are therefore hedging their bets. But, more important, it serves to create conditions over the long term for the potential fracturing of the Republican party.

It doesn’t take a long memory to recall the days when it was considered a possibility that the tea party would run third-party candidates against Republicans and Democrats. Instead, they have invested their energy in a good-faith attempt to win Republican primaries and influence the course of the country through the GOP. They have played by the rules, and often, they have won. That has prompted moderates to go rogue and switch parties, run as independents, and wage sour-grapes write-in campaigns.

Unless Republicans crack down on this behavior in the toughest manner possible, what incentive do tea-partiers have to play nice when a primary outcome goes against them? Why would they feel loyalty to a Republican party that doesn’t take its own rules seriously? Jim DeMint is urging people to donate to Joe Miller to boost him against Murkowski, and we urge our readers to contribute to that effort. Not only is Miller a better conservative, his race is an important test for tea partiers around the country. It’s too bad more Senate Republicans don’t realize that some things are more important than their colleague Lisa Murkowski’s feelings.



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