Cliff Stearns
Cliff Stearns in the seamy spotlight.

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) was a moderate back when GOP moderates were allowed in the House of Representatives. Those days are past, however, and Stearns has had to scramble to adapt to the new atmosphere of Tea Party fruitcakery. He was trounced in the race for chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2010, largely because his colleagues viewed him as a squish. Earlier this month, he announced he’s leaving his district to escape a Tea Party primary challenge, jumping to a newly drawn district nearby. Now he’s desperately trying to bank enough money and credibility with conservatives to survive beyond 2012.

The process has not been kind to his dignity or his integrity. Instead, Stearns has wormed his way into one of the seamier niches in the Republican ecosystem: circus ringmaster for show-trial investigations designed to create headlines, the niche Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) had hoped to dominate. The investigation into Planned Parenthood and the investigation into Solyndra are both Stearns’ babies; both have dragged on forever and both have uncovered zero wrongdoing. That hasn’t stopped Stearns from playing partisan warrior with a crude zeal that frequently crosses the line into cringe-worthy absurdity (like when he said Energy Secretary Steven Chu should be fired over Solyndra).