The Republican Party appears to be undergoing a bout of sectarian strife worthy of Sunni and Shia, or perhaps more accurately Cavaliers and Roundheads. Consider these examples:
When Mississippi Tea Party senator-wannabe Chris McDaniel narrowly lost a primary runoff to longtime incumbent Thad Cochran, he refused to concede because the election was invalid. Why? Cochran received votes from Democrats. Black Democrats.
Rupert Murdoch, the Australian turned English turned American press panjandrum, opines in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, which he owns along with right-wing cable network Fox News, that there should be swift action by Congress on immigration reform.
Fox News propagandist Neil Cavuto gets into a shouting match with tea party favorite Rep. Michelle Bachman who was beating the drum for Speaker Boehner’s plan to sue the president for usurping power and violating the Constitution by issuing executive orders. Cavuto mocked this course as pointless election-year grandstanding. Bachman said, well then, they would vote to defund the executive branch which brought more scorn from Cavuto. Well then, Bachman riposted, we’ll impeach him. Whereupon Cavuto suggested a country beset by problems needed governing, not theatrics.
What gives? The Tea Party wing, which has always had a whiff of Puritan witch-burning zeal about it, is convinced not just of its rightness on all issues but also demands absolute purity. It tolerates no compromise with other Republicans let alone Democrats. Anyone who wavers from the true faith is not just wrong, confused, the loyal opposition but the Antichrist.
Clearly, it is hard to do government on this basis. To the Tea Party every issue is akin to abortion, a life or death struggle. You are either a baby killer or a member of the righteous. All issues are black and white. Compromise is apostasy. So immigration is to be dealt with by impenetrable borders where aliens trying to enter illegally are shot on sight and those already here are rounded up and deported.
Dealing with the budget means balancing it tomorrow without raising taxes even if that means an end to every government program from the armed forces to Medicare and Social Security and defaulting on the debt. Anyone suggesting a middle ground on these or any other issue is unclean and must be shunned.
Obviously, to this crowd, President Obama, as Rep. Bachman suggests, should not just be bested in hard bargaining but should be taken to court, denied all the power of his office, removed by impeachment and cast into outer darkness from whence he came.
The other Republican Party, what’s left of it, is the so-called Establishment wing It is no fan of Obama and Democrats but hasn’t got quite the Grand Inquisitor fervor of the Tea Party, libertarians and evangelicals. It is made up of business types who can be moderate on social issues and just want low taxes and minimal regulation and are prepared to deal to get half a loaf. The Tea Party types lean to scorched earth.
Unfortunately for the Republicans, in order to amass enough votes to win national elections and control Washington, you must accept the necessity of a big tent. But that means diversity rather than purity. When the factions can’t abide one another, how do you get them into the same tent together?
For several years the Establishment types have tried to jolly the Tea Party along, to throw them sops, like committee chairmanships, to promise pie in the sky by and by. They have welcomed their energy in campaigns but have not embraced their candidates or platform. They may be lukewarm since loony Tea Party candidates have lost the party up to a half dozen winnable Senate seats.
Now it appears the Establishment has had enough of the tail wagging the dog, in their view of the world, enough of the lunatics taking over the asylum. Murdoch bucking the Tea Party on immigration and siccing one of his attack dogs on Bachman shows Establishment Republicans are fed up with Tea Party purity and the obstruction, gridlock, dysfunction and unpopularity it produces. In many races Establishment incumbents have raised big money and run vicious primary campaigns to beat Tea Party challengers.
The Establishment is the voice of big business and big money, favorable trade deals, interventionist foreign policy, and globalization. They couldn’t care less about most social or small business issues as long as the markets go up, business booms, taxes are low and regulations written by their pet lobbyists. They will deal with anyone to make a buck — Ayatollahs, Chinese communists, Russian oligarchs, even Democrats.
Whereas, the populist, libertarian Tea Party wing tends to be isolationist, nativist, small government, small business, purist and uncompromising. My God, they sometimes sound like Elizabeth Warren in their attacks on Wall Street, bankers and corporate power.
According to polling by Pew which divides the electorate into eight psychographic segments, the Steadfast Republicans comprise 12 percent and the Business Republicans 10 percent while Solid Liberals account for 15 percent. Each party must cobble together majorities by attracting support form the other five groups who are somewhere in the middle, leaning left or right but much less fervent. (For a useful exposition of this research see “The Vital Incoherent Center,” by E.J. Dionne, Wash. Post June 29).
The problem for Democrats is the Steadfast or Tea Party Republicans have got a huge advantage in zeal over their loyalists. The problem for Republicans is their two factions show no ability to co-exist. The Daddy Warbucks, MBA millionaire, Mitt Romney crowd and the huntin’ fishin’ Duck Dynasty, Sarah Palin types are really strange bedfellows.
When you get a General from one faction, the troops of the other tend to go AWOL or host a circular firing squad. It is instructive that in the McDaniel-Cochran shootout, the 2008 running mates each endorsed a candidate. McCain favored Cochran and Palin backed McDaniel. Thus, when the Republicans get together these days it is less like a Party than a family reunion — of the Hatfields and the McCoys.