The GOP Civil War, Revisited

To my knowledge, this blog originated the meme that the GOP was going to enter into a civil war (in the current context)–my original blog posting on this issue, The GOP Civil War–Coming Soon to an Election Near You, is dated October 7, 2009. I’m not aware of this idea being bandied about elsewhere prior to that time–though it is always possible that I am wrong. Indeed, for a new, low-traffic blog like this, the post got an inordinate number of hits here, on Twitter, and on Free Republic, and, in the days after I made this posting, I began seeing the same meme repeated online by others who inhabit some of the same spheres of influence that I do.

To be honest, the meme has gotten a lot of flack–often by people who seemed to have just seen the title of the blog post, but who did not actually read the article. Now, after several months, and after Scott Brown’s victory in Massachussetts, it seems good to take stock of how well the article has held up.

First, the basic premise of the article was that there is a large segment of people in the GOP national apparatus who are in reality Rockefeller Republicans, and who are spouting a conservative line simply to get votes and stay in power, but who have no intention of actually voting conservatively or supporting conservative issues. Certainly, the experience of NY-23, where the GOP tried to ram Dede Scozzafava down the electorate’s throat, seems to back this premise up. Here was a candidate well to the left of both her GOP predecessor and her prospective Democrat opponent, yet she was selected by the local GOP because of her liberal social views–not despite them. The local GOP wanted to make a conscious effort to move the national GOP left on social issues. The result was a cat fight. Now even though magazines such as the National Review tried to say that there was no division in the GOP over Scozzafava, this certainly seems untrue when one looks at the facts on the ground. Further, in the fall-out afterwards, many people accepted the meme that the conservative candidate, Doug Hoffman, lost because he received Sarah Palin’s support–Palin was and is blamed by even many in the GOP for the debacle, even though there are many other reasons for Hoffman’s failure that are much more plausible (for one thing, he did not actually live in that congressional district and seemed out of touch with local issues there). That people within the GOP believe that somehow Palin’s support for a candidate would make that candidate radioactive–a liberal meme if there ever was one–shows the fissures within the GOP.

Second, what of Scott Brown? I and many other conservatives certainly supported him in his race, as he was the most conservative candidate who had a chance in what is a local election. However, Brown’s position on abortion alone would disqualify him from any service in the executive branch in my book, and many if not most social conservatives believe the same. Yes, we are willing to come together for the common good on local elections, but does this mean that someone like Brown should be the GOP candidate for president? Heaven forbid! Yet, many people in the GOP are quietly saying that Brown presages the future of the GOP–that we need people like him to run in national elections.

Indeed, according to many people’s perception, the big winner in Massachusetts was Mitt Romney. Forgive me, but Romney’s father was one of the original Rockefeller Republicans, and proudly so. Mitt himself very much fashioned himself in the mold of a Rockefeller Republican for most of his political career until he decided to run for president, when he suddenly discovered conservative social issues. Yet, even with his new-found faith in the pro-life cause, he still pedals himself on the basis of competence–the basic approach of a Rockefeller Republican. Yet, what kind of competence can the man who gave us the Massachusetts health care system offer America? Indeed, if there is any lesson to be learned by the election of Scott Brown, it is that the people of Massachusetts were very much reacting against Romneycare and its bastard child, Obamacare. Romney was wrong on abortion, wrong on Romneycare, and wrong on the issue of competence–and if he becomes the standard bearer of the GOP, half of the party will bolt. Yet, Romney seems to be exactly what many pundits and people in the leadership want. So much for party unity.

There are other fissures as well. The tea party movement gains most of its strength from independents who are angry with how things are going in Washington, and worried about the future. However, while they are united in their anger, they are by no means united in what they stand for. Yet, many in the leadership of the tea party movement are unyielding in their hardcore conservatism. This has already caused problems. Is any candidate pure enough in their eyes? Or will this become the return of the mugwumps to the GOP? Since America is a center-right nation, and not a hard right nation, any national election must be fought in the middle with an appeal to independents. Yet, already some conservatives are wanting to throw Palin to the wolves because she is campaigning for the ultimate independent, John McCain. Can the conservative movement get through the next round of elections without tearing itself apart and running off the independents, whose support they desperately need? And if not, what effect will this have on the GOP?

At this point, there is a very real possibility of the GOP learning the wrong lessons from the current political landscape, and trying to field candidates who are socially liberal, but running on the issue of competence. The result will be a split in the GOP, with an attempt to start a third party. However, since no one in the third party will be able to agree on anything, this too will fail. In this scenario, all will depend on how bad Democrats mismanage things over the next three years–if Obama continues on this course, then it does not matter who the Republicans field in 2012–that man will be the next president. However, we will end up with politics as usual, and the toxic political atmosphere will continue. There has to be a better way.

What are the right lessons that the GOP should learn? To an extent, Frank Lunzt is entirely correct in his analysis, though he does not go far enough:

But political moods are sometimes ephemeral. So Republicans must be wary. “Republicans—not President Obama or Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid​—will decide their future,” Luntz says. The midterm elections in November “will require a genuine break with the past.” Luntz’s advice includes opposing earmarks, “a laser-like focus on wasteful Washington spending,” and “no tolerance for ethical malfeasance whatsoever—no more Mark Foleys.”

Lunzt has put his finger on two things, I think:

  1. The GOP must be a party of conviction once again, and not just of convenience. For too long, the GOP has tolerated people who run on platforms supporting social conservatism and fiscal responsibility, and who then do something different when in office. People like Scott Brown can and should be tolerated within the GOP, because they stand for something and are real. While I do not agree with many of his positions, to have conviction in something–to believe in something and follow through with it–is very much a GOP trait, but it is a trait that has been largely forgotten by many in Washington DC. By this same token, I would have more respect for Romney (though I would still not support him for the presidency), if he were more honest about his position on abortion. As it is, Romney appears to stand for nothing.
  2. There must be a break from the dry rot that represents the past way of doing things in the GOP. Business as usual needs to come to a stop. Currently, opinion polls show that while Americans are more readily identifying themselves as conservative and identifying themselves with the tea party movement, they still hold the GOP in nearly as much disdain as they hold the Democrats. People are not returning to the GOP fold–they simply have few choices for who to vote for, and are voting for the GOP by default. To this extent, the GOP has not sealed the deal and things are still very much up in the air. Bush and the Iraq War are not the cause of the situation, despite what many in the GOP seem to think. Rather, the cause is Foley, Sanford, Stevens, Delay, Specter, Lott and any number of GOP leaders. When people look at the GOP, they still see these same kinds of men and this same kind of thinking running things. To a large extent, the GOP must be rebranded, but changing the outside of the package is useless unless the rancid contents are also jettisoned and the product is improved.

So, there is still very much a conflict going on within the GOP. Fortunately, it looks as though the conflict will be played out in local primaries–as it should be–rather than in actual elections. The best possible solution is for the GOP leadership to stop trying to rig the system, to stop trying to ram bad candidates and policies down people’s throats, and let the people decide. If this can happen, if the GOP leadership will stop playing favorites and start contesting every open seat, then there may well be a GOP renaissance. However, this may require many in the leadership of the GOP to step aside and let others lead in the fight.

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