It is difficult to find a more conservative politician than Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. On virtually every count, the state's senior senator has the credentials many only can long for.
He has a 96 percent approval rating from the American Conservative Union. He has a 100 percent approval rating from the National Right to Life Committee. Both the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America have given him a solid A. Heritage Action said he is one of the nation's top five most conservative senators. He's been endorsed by the Kansas State Rifle Association, 79 Republican state representatives, 31 Republican state senators, all statewide elected Republican office holders on the ballot in 2014, the Kansas Black Republican Council, and all members of the Kansas congressional delegation.
Roberts has spent a political lifetime building up his conservative credentials. He's had three terms in the Senate, preceded by eight terms in the House, to earn his 0 percent rating from the National Abortion Rights Action League.
Still, he's drawn an opponent for the 2014 primary -- from the right.
Dr. Milton Wolf, a Leawood radiologist and political novice, believes he's the true conservative when compared to Roberts. And he's earned the endorsement of at least one hard-right organization, the Madison Project, which is chaired by former Kansas Rep. Jim Ryun.
The battle is on for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.
Interestingly, the GOP establishment brought it upon itself when it welcomed the Taxed Enough Already crowd in 2010. Eager to seize the majority of the House of Representatives, Republicans welcomed tea party candidates with open arms. Not only did they reclaim the House, state legislatures around the country had solid GOP gains just in time for redistricting. Tea partyers didn't do as well in the U.S. Senate, either in 2010 or 2012, but candidates such as Wolf are lining up for the upcoming elections.
Joining the Madison Project to promote "more pure" conservatives are the Senate Conservatives Fund, Heritage Action and Club for Growth. The 16-day government shutdown in the fall is being blamed on the influence these groups already have in Washington as they attempted yet another repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
That effort was futile other than raising millions for those political organizations. And it angered a lot of high-ranking GOP leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who believe the party suffered in the public's eye.
Ultraconservatives are emboldened to take over the party.
"If Mitch McConnell and John Boehner think the grassroots are going to sit back and let them continue to work with Democrats to mortgage our nation's future, they're mistaken," Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, said in a statement. "It's time for Americans to rise up and begin replacing establishment Republicans with true conservatives in the 2014 primary elections. There's no question anymore about where these leaders stand."
The litmus test for true conservatism nowadays appears to be 100-percent commitment to overturning Obamacare, voting against any legislation or spending bills that add to the deficit, opposing any debt limit increases, reducing the national debt without touching defense spending or raising taxes, reforming immigration in a way that does not allow any path to citizenship, and never working with Democrats unless they've ceded every single item you're seeking.
Aside from health care and bipartisanship, the list doesn't sound all that different from the Republican Party platform stretching back to at least the days of President Dwight Eisenhower -- when Roberts' father was the GOP National Committee chairman.
Who is a RINO, Republican In Name Only? We would suggest it's the tea party faction. We'll see what the public has to say about the matter in 2014. Sen. Roberts' race will be one of the telltale signs.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry