Much is being made in the news right now about a GOP that is pulling itself apart. The common representation of the struggle is that it is a battle between the far right and the far, far right, or as Mother Jones framed it in describing the Karl Rove PAC dedicated to supporting hand-picked Republicans in 2014 primary battles:
The Conservative Victory Fund’s creation threatens to stoke an already fiery internal battle over the future of the Republican Party. There are the Roves and Laws of the GOP, the pragmatic Beltway operators who backed Mitt Romney and who believe the party must tone down the demagoguery on immigration and social issues if they ever want to control Congress and the White House again. On the other side are the ideologues, the GOP’s conservative wing, the Koch-backed groups and tea partiers and Grover Norquist acolytes who believe the party’s future lies in veering hard to the right and doubling down on pure conservative ideals.
This analysis is self-contradictory on its face. Citing “Koch-backed groups and tea partiers and Grover Norquist acolytes” as the real source of the rift in the GOP demonstrates that there is only one issue that unites the grassroots rebellion within the Republican party and it’s not immigration or any social issue, it’s fiscal profligacy.
The Koch-owned Cato Institute, for example, is a libertarian organization that takes a firm stand supporting civil liberties, has defended the overturning of DOMA, is non-dogmatic when it comes to immigration reform and argues to end the drug war, yet the Koch brothers are regarded as squarely conservative because of their dedication to limited government and fiscal restraint.
Similarly, the Tea Party started as a tax protest, taking its name from one of the seminal events of the American Revolution, a tea-tax protest. The Tea Party itself has experienced a schism resulting in a branch that stands firm to the pure anti-tax message at its root and a branch that has taken a stand on a broader range of issues, but that in itself was the result of the Republican establishment deliberately co-opting these upstarts to bring them back into the fold.
Finally, the much-feared Grover Norquist is just a one-trick pony whose organization’s name is synonymous with its mission: Americans for Tax Reform.
Even the widely-circulated new Pew Research poll, which goes out of its way to paint conservative voters in general and Tea Partiers in particular as focused on social issues, cannot hide the fact that the only issue in which any majority of conservatives want the GOP to move right on is – you guessed it – Government Spending. (Take the poll below to see if this bears out.)
In an effort to put a face on the battle for the soul of the Republican party, the media is personifying it in Chris Christie and Rand Paul – implying that Christie is a moderate on the issues and Rand Paul is some kind of right-wing extremist. I agree fully that these two personify the battle, not because of Christie’s position on the issues, but for his naked admissions in word and deed that he believes in the power of big government and he wants personally to wield that power. On the other hand, Rand Paul, self-identified Tea Partier and “libertarian Republican,” aims to represent the body of grassroots conservatives who are spurred to action first and foremost in an effort to save our country from out-of-control government.
Although it is clear that grassroots conservatives of every stripe prioritize fiscal restraint over social legislation, fiscal restraint is the one thing the GOP ruling elite cannot give them. It is the first tenet of the Republican political strategy that big government is necessary for meaningful power, and they will do everything they can to divert the rank and file from this inherent conflict of interests. In short, the battle for the soul of the Republican party isn’t a battle of right vs. right, it is actually the age-old battle of us vs. them, writ small.
(For a lively discussion of this subject, listen to my podcast from Sunday’s show: Monica Perez Show Podcasts. For a full exposé of the origins of the Republican strategy to establish a “conservative welfare state,” see my article: Confessions of a Neo-Conservative.)