But these conservative voices mind a great deal if Beck notes that Republicans have an embarrassing record when it comes to deficit reduction, the national debt, government spending, and increasing the size and scope of the federal government’s powers — an observation that happens to be true.

What an odd movement. ~Steve Benen

It isn’t really all that odd. This is what you would expect from partisans when they are confronted with an ideological attack against their party. It is what happens when the people who prate that their conservatism takes priority over partisan concerns are confronted with the reality that they have been peddling falsehoods. What makes Beck’s attack all the more infuriating to them is that he used their own movement venue (CPAC) and their own self-serving arguments about the Bush era (“we were blameless, it was the Republicans who betrayed us!”) to strike a blow against their short-term political objectives (i.e., electing more Republicans). Beck’s rhetoric and his ability to mobilize activists are useful to them so long as these are directed into anti-Democratic, anti-Obama channels, but when he actually proposes holding Republicans accountable and holds them to even a few of the same standards it becomes time to point out that he is a bit crazed and out of control.

This is pretty standard practice. Whenever someone on the right points out that the GOP is virtually indistinguishable from the other major party on many major areas of policy, which is frankly hard to deny, he is treated as a fringe lunatic, a splitter, an “objective” liberal, or possibly a saboteur aiming to demoralize and discourage the rank-and-file. When it was the party line that “big government conservatism” was necessary and right for Republican political success, these sorts of criticisms of Republicans were confined largely to the margins inhabited by consistent small-government and constitutionalist conservatives. When it became useful to denounce “big government conservatism” as the supposed cause of Republican electoral defeat, these criticisms were actively encouraged, but they had to be kept within certain limits. The new line is supposed to be that Republicans have learned their lesson on excessive spending, they have rediscovered “first principles,” and everyone is supposed to be united in common cause against Obama. Beck’s offense is to remind the audience that Republicans cannot be trusted, which would naturally make some voters think twice about supporting Republican candidates. He also made the mistake of suggesting that the party’s electoral objectives don’t take precedence. Beck’s critics on this point would like for the movement and party to benefit from the activism Beck can mobilize, but they would like to keep the GOP immune from the populist backlash that the GOP’s policies helped to create.

This is not new. For the last several months the GOP has hoped to benefit from the anti-bank backlash while positioning themselves as even more reliable defenders of financial interests. They would like to tap into the anger the public feels toward the financial sector, but they are never to craft regulatory reform to address the causes of that anger. So they will appease the crowd with strong anti-TARP language, but it would never occur to them to embrace the substance of populist policies. Just as Republicans hope to win by default this fall, they are hoping that the public will become so angry with with the majority is doing that the public will fail to notice that Republicans are trying to play both sides to their detriment.