What once seemed impossible has come to pass: Kentucky Republicans are even more fractious than the state's famously infighting Democrats.
A state GOP that 30 years ago was almost irrelevant has grown big and powerful enough to spawn internal rivalries — and owes its rise in no small part to Sen. Mitch McConnell's leadership.
McConnell's tactical prowess earned him his party's top spot in the U.S. Senate. A Republican takeover in November could make him the majority leader. No Kentuckian has risen that high in Congress since the FDR era when Democrat Alben Barkley led the upper chamber.
McConnell's is not a record to casually discard, which is one reason Republicans should not retire him in favor of Tea Party greenhorn Matt Bevin.
Another reason is Bevin.
The Louisville businessman is charming, energetic and photogenic. But in two meetings with the editorial board, he showed no inclination toward pragmatism, compromise or a real exchange of ideas, all critical to legislative success and leadership.
Lest that be mistaken for a rejection of any Tea Partier, keep in mind that four years ago we endorsed Rand Paul in the Republican primary.
Our qualms about Bevin stem from his shallow view of a senator's responsibilities. He would gladly subject his constituents to economic catastrophe rather than exercise the power of the government he's seeking to help lead.
Case in point: the Troubled Assets Relief Program that Bevin blasts McConnell for supporting in 2008 but that Bevin praised in a letter to his investment firm's clients. Bevin's signature appeared on a document that described as "positive developments" the "$700 billion TARP (don't call it a bailout) and the Federal Reserve's intention to invest in commercial paper."
Bevin now says that, though TARP did stabilize financial markets, he never supported rescuing the banks and that he would always oppose using public money to bail out private companies. "I don't care what the outcome is. ... There's something cathartic about free markets."
Without TARP, the catharsis might well have stopped paychecks and sent Americans away from ATMs empty handed as years of reckless decisions caught up with banks and froze the flow of capital.
It is shameful that those responsible for the bad decisions escaped punishment and that Republicans are inviting another crisis by trying to dismantle financial reforms.
But the "bailout" despised by Bevin spared us from a depression (the recession was bad enough). And the government's aid to banks has been repaid with interest.
Bevin also attacks McConnell for helping avert a government default in February when House Republicans unsuccessfully tried to force cuts in the budget Congress had just approved. Bevin paints McConnell as an Obama ally when McConnell was really trying to spare the GOP from being blamed by the public as it was for the 2013 government shutdown.
In fact, anyone who has been paying attention the last six years recognizes as pure fantasy Bevin's insinuations that McConnell has tried to do anything but undermine Obama, even when it was wrong for the country.
Bevin argues that after three decades as a Washington insider, McConnell is so unpopular in Kentucky that he can't defeat presumptive Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Most polls show McConnell and Grimes in a statistical tie with 10 percent to 15 percent of voters undecided.
Primary voters thinking about who would play better in November should consider Bevin's fumbling of criticisms about his inconsistent stands on TARP. He further weakened his credibility by insisting he didn't know he was speaking at a pro-cockfighting rally. Later, an undercover video by Louisville's WAVE revealed that Bevin was present when an earlier speaker said the purpose of the rally was to legalize cockfighting.
Republicans who see a silver lining in risking economic ruin, or who think compromise is a dirty word, should bet on the untried challenger.
GOP voters who want a senator who can work the levers of government should stick with McConnell.
Unendorsed candidates who met with the editorial board may submit a 250-word response by noon Wednesday.