Too many Republican leaders are acquiescing to a poisonous "demagoguery" that threatens the party's long-term credibility, says a veteran GOP House member who was defeated in South Carolina's primary last month.
While not naming names, 12-year incumbent Rep. Bob Inglis suggested in interviews with The Associated Press that tea party favorites such as former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and right-wing talk show hosts like Glenn Beck are the culprits.
He cited a claim made famous by Palin that the Democratic health care bill would create "death panels" to decide whether elderly or sick people should get care.
"There were no death panels in the bill ... and to encourage that kind of fear is just the lowest form of political leadership. It's not leadership. It's demagoguery," said Inglis, one of three Republican incumbents who have lost their seats in Congress to primary and state party convention challengers this year.
Inglis said voters eventually will discover that you're "preying on their fears" and turn away.
"I think we have a lot of leaders that are following those (television and talk radio) personalities and not leading," he said. "What it takes to lead is to say, 'You know, that's just not right.'"
Inglis said the rhetoric also distracts from the real problems that politicians should be trying to resolve, such as budget deficits and energy security.
"It's a real concern, because I think what we're doing is dividing the country into partisan camps that really look a lot like Shia and Sunni," he said, referring to the two predominant Islamic denominations that have feuded for centuries. "It's very difficult to come together to find solutions."
Inglis' refusal to join in on the Obama-bashing of the far right played a big role in his landslide defeat on June 22. Leading up to the election, he frequently challenged voters who questioned the president's citizenship or patriotism. At one town hall meeting, he was jeered for saying that Beck, a Fox News Channel host, is a divisive fearmonger.
In his primary runoff against prosecutor Trey Gowdy, Inglis failed to break 30 percent, an improbably low result for a sitting incumbent not embroiled in scandal.
Inglis said he was shocked during the health care votes as he watched protesters jeering Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who was beaten as a leading civil rights activist in the 1960s.
Inglis said he was too far away during the jeering incident to hear whether the protesters shouted racial epithets, as Lewis and other black lawmakers have claimed. But Inglis said the behavior was threatening and abusive.
"I caught him at the door and said, 'John, I guess you've been here before,'" Inglis said.
Inglis, 50, who calls himself a Jack Kemp disciple because he has emphasized outreach to minorities as the late Republican congressman did, thinks racism is a part of the vitriol directed at President Barack Obama.
"I love the South. I'm a Southerner. But I can feel it," he said.
Inglis was first elected in 1992 and left after six years to honor a term-limits pledge. But he won the seat again in 2004. He doesn't yet know what he'll do when he leaves Congress in January. He said it's unlikely he'll run for office again, but he didn't rule it out.
"It's hard to see how it works for me," he said. "But things change, and maybe something changes here."