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Tilting at Windmills

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January 2, 2008

GOP 'IDENTITY CRISIS'....After a year of presidential politics, it's hardly a secret that the Republican Party is burdened with a none-of-the-above problem -- the GOP has, at various times, had about a dozen candidates seeking the party's nomination, and none of them can draw support from all the various Republican constituencies. It seems hard to believe, but only 42% of Iowa Republicans* say they could support any of their party's nominees (among Iowa Dems, the number is 61%).

But there are several worthwhile reports this morning that point to the broader problem for the GOP -- it's not just that their presidential field is unimpressive, it's that the fissures between the party's various factions are quickly becoming chasms.

The long-standing coalition of social, economic and national security conservatives that elevated the Republican Party to political dominance has become so splintered by the presidential primary campaign that some party leaders fear a protracted nomination fight that could hobble the eventual nominee. [...]

That instability has fueled fears that if a winner does not quickly emerge in a primary calendar loaded with contests in January and early February, a prolonged primary fight could delay the GOP's focus on election day in a campaign in which Democratic voters already have contributed more money and, according to several polls, expressed greater satisfaction with their choice of presidential contenders.

The WSJ's Jackie Calmes and Ross Douthat are thinking along the same lines.

Business interests, the religious right, and defense hawks have been kept together under the Republicans' umbrella with smoke, mirrors, and chewing gum for the better part of a generation. But now the factions are drawing lines in the sand, and making clear who they won't vote for -- business interests won't tolerate Huckabee, the religious right rejects McCain or Giuliani, and hawks look askance at everyone but McCain or Giuliani. Romney has tried for a year to tell all the constituencies that he's with them, but given that he felt the opposite up until fairly recently, no one seems to believe him.

Granted, this isn't the first time talk of a GOP "identity crisis" has emerged, but I'd argue it's probably the most credible. The Republican factions used to be able to largely ignore one another; now they're actively hoping to defeat one another, and there's no presidential candidate who can step up to keep the gang together.

Yes, this can change. Once there's a nominee, and once Dems offer the GOP a specific target, the factions tend to settle down and get back together.

But I'd argue that more so than in any cycle in recent history, this seems far less likely now. And with no frontrunner, and the possibility of a protracted nominating process, this may very well get ugly and leave the coalition in tatters.

* poll data corrected.

Steve Benen 11:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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What's different this cycle isn't so much the widening of the fissures among the factions, but the absence of an heir apparent. The fissures have always been present, but GOP voters are so house-trained that they have voted as instructed, ignoring their intra-party preferences.

This time, there's no official command from the GOP Olympus, and it's every man for himself.

Posted by: Snarkworth on January 2, 2008 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

...the possibility of a protracted nominating process, this may very well get ugly and leave the coalition in tatters.

I like ugly.

Posted by: natural cynic on January 2, 2008 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Was it jprichva who summed it up: "There isn't enough popcorn in the world"?

Posted by: shortstop on January 2, 2008 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

... only 42% of Republicans say they could support any of their party's nominees

Actually, I find that figure alarmingly high. That means that 42% of the respondents don't care whom they vote for, as long as it says (R) by its name.

Posted by: craigie on January 2, 2008 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't the religious right mellowing toward McCain?

I wonder if he won't have more trouble with the pro-torture faction, whoever they are ...

Posted by: gus on January 2, 2008 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Who do they hate more? Us? Or each other?

I'm betting Us.

BTW, since Republicans are at what, 30% party ID? So it's 42% of 30%, or about 13% or so of the electorate as a whole. With a crazification factor of 27% I find that good odds.

Posted by: MNPundit on January 2, 2008 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

It is not that the factions of the Republican party are fighting with each other. It is that they are shrinking as a share of the population in the U.S. The Democratic party knows that in the long run, the growing Hispanic, black, and Asian population will give it an advantage that the Republicans cannot beat.

The real question is what will the U.S. be like as a one party state when the Republicans become irrelevant to politics?

Posted by: superdestroyer on January 2, 2008 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

"The real question is what the U.S. will be like...when the Republicans become irrelevant to politics..."

I'd be happy to get there first, and worry about it later.

Posted by: Snarkworth on January 2, 2008 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

I'll have to agree with the above, the GOP despite all their internal conflicts have one unifying theme a hatred of "Liberals."

The Business Interest will jump ship if they don't get their way, but everybody else will rally around the GOP nomination because whoever the Dem is, they will eventually painted as an American Version of Pol Pot.

Posted by: Dervin on January 2, 2008 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

because whoever the Dem is, they will eventually painted as an American Version of Pol Pot.

Or Madame Mao.

Posted by: Julia Grey on January 2, 2008 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

I must agree with Steve. The Republican coalition looks flimsy. It will be interesting to see where the Huckaby followers go when he drops out.

The Dems aren't in such good shape, either. Hillary isn't as popular as she should be, given that she's the obvious choice, yet might come in third in Iowa.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 2, 2008 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

The Business Interest will jump ship if they don't get their way

Are you sure about that? Look what they've put up with under the Bush maladministration in order to get their cookies. Who are they going to vote for if the GOP nominee's Huckabee? Then again, HRC is enough of an established corporatist that...well, better not go there yet.

but everybody else will rally around the GOP nomination because whoever the Dem is, they will eventually painted as an American Version of Pol Pot.

No doubt they'll join in demonizing the Democratic candidate, but it seems more likely to me that the truly values-motivated religious voters (this leaves out the ones whose votes are inspired solely by power) will jump ship if the nominee's Giuliani or McCain.

But hell, I don't know with this freak show of a Republican primary season. I'm just glad Orville Redenbacher SmartPop comes in those individual 100-calorie bags.

Posted by: shortstop on January 2, 2008 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

Is 11:19 too early to start miking the popcorn? Because I am loving ex-liberal's ongoing freak-out that someone besides "Just fucking bomb everything in the Middle East except Israel" Rudy is going to get the nomination. Good times.

Posted by: shortstop on January 2, 2008 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

This looks like the end of the Republican Party (Thank You GW ) If Bloomberg gets this I party off the ground and with all the great stuff GWB did with Presidetial Powers we may never have to place a R by any name again.The one and only useful thing GWB every in his life,Did right.

Posted by: john john on January 2, 2008 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

The Republicans will nominate an idiot, with whom a huge number of voters will instinctively identify.

This is always their ace-in-the-hole.

Posted by: chance on January 2, 2008 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

"The Republicans will nominate an idiot, with whom a huge number of voters will instinctively identify."
Posted by: chance on January 2, 2008

Curiously, the ones who stay with the (R) will vote identity and pick an idiot.

But, some will caucus in Iowa with Dems and it's being said they'll identify with Barack Obama. That's gotta be surprising, but nobody is flinching yet.

Whazzup?

I think it makes more sense for them to vote for Edwards. It helps ensure them against getting Hillary or a black man (and you know they aren't keen generally on electing either of those 'identities').

True Independents are like the rest of us in makeup. They just usually decide at the last moment what to do.

Posted by: MarkH on January 2, 2008 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

I am truly enjoying the spectacle of the country club and Wall Street republicans, and their pundit cheerleaders, pulling their hair out over the fact that an evangelical candidate has stepped out of line and is mounting a credible, Elmer Gantry type run.

Posted by: Chris Brown on January 2, 2008 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

You know, it could be just the simple old fact that so many people have left the Republican party that the GOP leadership is realizing that even if they have 60% Party support for a candidate, 60% of 10 million Republican voters isn't all that much.

Posted by: sheerahkahn on January 2, 2008 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

The Dems aren't in such good shape, either. Hillary isn't as popular as she should be, given that she's the obvious choice, yet might come in third in Iowa.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 2, 2008 at 12:14 PM

Obvious choice? Aw, forgive us Dems for not anointing her.

Posted by: Vincent on January 2, 2008 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Its three-legged coalition of defense hawks, economic conservatives and religious and social conservatives that Ronald Reagan fused in 1980, completing the work begun by 1964 nominee Barry Goldwater, has splintered... - Jackie Calmes

It's interesting that all three of these factions represent insane policies that have either already clearly failed or nobody wants to try.

1) Economic conservatives: We are finding out yet again that cutting taxes doesn't create miracle revenues, and always focusing on endless supplies of cheap inputs hasn't brought prosperity to everyday people--we've just become well... another cheap input.

2) Social conservatives: Remove separation of church and state? ...Um, voters are thinking maybe we'd better just keep those separate...

3) Defense hawks: Brought us costly wars of choice that have made things worse instead of better.

What's there to like about any one of these factions? The R's are fucking doomed and they know it.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 2, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

>" despite all their internal conflicts have one unifying theme... a hatred of "Liberals."

Bingo.

They have been basically a party based a negative or regressive platform since the late 50's.

Posted by: Buford on January 2, 2008 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't the religious right mellowing toward McCain?

I wonder if he won't have more trouble with the pro-torture faction, whoever they are ...

McCain voted for the MCA, just like Mini-me and Warner. As they say, talk is cheap. McCain endorses torture, just as long as he's not the one getting tortured.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on January 2, 2008 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

"It seems hard to believe, but only 42% of Republicans say they could support any of their party's nominees (among Dems, the number is 61%)."

Can someone disambiguate this sentence for me?

Posted by: shams on January 2, 2008 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't the religious right mellowing toward McCain?

You mean the adulterer McCain who abandoned his wife and children for an affair with a young girl 17 years younger than him? Well sure -- what's not for the religious right to like in someone who embodies their values that way?

Posted by: Stefan on January 2, 2008 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

They hate us libruls with a passion, but they're the sort that fights hard and dirty, and holds grudges for a long time. Plus, they've always had a weakness for the "enemy within" school of thought. It's just that, up until now, their internal fifth-column has always been us, to the point where we're now their real enemy, and the 'Islamofascists' are just the justification for getting their war on against us.

But the harder and dirtier they fight each other now, the more they'll see the other factions in their own party as the internal betrayer in their war against liberalism, and those factions will increasingly become the objects of their true ire.

More popcorn, please!

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on January 2, 2008 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

shams, I believe it means that if any one of the current candidates happened to be chosen by your party, would you vote for them?

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 2, 2008 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

"It seems hard to believe, but only 42% of Republicans say they could support any of their party's nominees (among Dems, the number is 61%)."

I would also infer from this that most Dems don't consider Kucinich a kook while most R's DO consider Paul a kook. The R's lot is far more polarizing.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 2, 2008 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

"Look, up in the sky...More liberal in spending than the Democrats, More religious than the Pope, More hawkish on Zionism than BiBi Netanyahu...it's SUPERGOP!"

Posted by: Luther on January 2, 2008 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

It is my opinion that in the past the likelihood that the Republican candidate would win was what kept the coalition together. Each of the three groups has different things they want from a Republican President, and as long as they worked together to elect a Republican, they all were winners. The leaders of the various factions would get together and hammer out a compromise candidate, and the rank-an-file would dutifully tag along.

This year no one thinks the Republican can win. That was the glue that held them all together, and now it is gone. The fact that there is no heir apparent is merely a symptom of the fact that no one the Republicans nominate has a snowball's chance in Hell of winning. So the leaders of the various factions are jockeying for positions of power in the minority party that is out of the White House. There's a lot less to share in a losing party than there was in a winning party, so none of the different groups wants to share anything with the others.

That's what we are watching. Ugly is good, and the longer it lasts, the better.

Unfortunately, the "Ugly-watching" party will be over for us non-Republicans after the general election at the latest. The problems the Republicans are having are of their own making, not something that Progressives or Democrats have done to them. Digby's right when she says the conservatives have built some long-lasting institutions. They are still in place, and the Progressives and Democrats have nothing in place to counter them, and the current Democratic leadership seems remarkably unaware that anything is needed. That was Carter's position after Watergate, and look what it gave us.

After the general election the leaders of the various Republican groups will have sorted out the new pecking order and they will begin to reassemble the Republican Party like the monster in the second half of a horror movie after the first time the protagonists thought it was destroyed.

Posted by: Rick B on January 2, 2008 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

"I believe it means that if any one of the current candidates"

I bet a lot of people answer as if the poll question was "will you vote for your parties candidate whichever of the top few (romney, guiliani, hukabee) it turns out to be. They aren't considering Paul, Keyes, etc as realistic possibilities.

Similarly I'd bet on the democratic side the question really functions as would you vote for any of Clinton, Obama, and Edwards.

Posted by: jefff on January 2, 2008 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Re: (romney, guiliani, hukabee)

Heh, well that's their list this week. That third slot is pretty unstable!

Posted by: jefff on January 2, 2008 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

"with no frontrunner, and the possibility of a protracted nominating process, this may very well get ugly and leave the coalition in tatters."

Dear God, please make it so!

Posted by: CT on January 2, 2008 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK
obvious choice xxx-lax at 12:14 PM
A choice, not an echo

One of the more amusing parts of Jesus Camp was the pledge of allegiance to the cardboard Holy Dubya and the casting of liberalism into the pits of hell.

Posted by: Mike on January 2, 2008 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe they should draft George Bush Senior.

Posted by: Stuart Eugene Thiel on January 2, 2008 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

What about Fred Thompson? C'mon, everyone will rally behind Fred, right? Right? Anyone? Helloooooooooo?

Posted by: Eric on January 2, 2008 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Somebody's gonna need to buy Ted Lowi a drink. This election season's about as close to his thesis in "The End of the Republican Era" as I've yet seen.

Posted by: WatchfulBabbler on January 2, 2008 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

The Republicans don't have to do a thing except select their nominee. The media will do the rest, first to portray the gink as all white things to all white people, and most important, treat the imbecile like he was, well, say, a Nobel or Oscar winner or both.

Posted by: Mooser on January 2, 2008 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP coalition has remarkable staying power. The glue that holds it together is hatred of liberals. In addition, as some have already remarked, there is a lot of overlap among the factions. Pundits and loudmouths like Fred Barnes and Rush Limbaugh have managed to juggle all three balls successfully for years. Now, however, you have Rush attacking the Huckster--not on religious grounds (he's always been okay with that) but for his perceived economic deviance. (Pat Buchanan has been putting down the neocons for a long time, but some have detected sinister motives.) Once you find some all-purpose wingnut ecumenicist like Limbaugh or Hannity cutting loose an entire segment of the club, then and only then do you know the party's over.

Posted by: Henderstock on January 2, 2008 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

Well, while watching the ulcerated metastatic growth that was the republican party, turn in upon itself and consume itself will be entertaining, the problem with the cancer of corruption that the Neo-cons brought to D.C is that it won't be completely excised come '09. The republican rank and file may be hopelessly pole-axed at their change in fortunes, but the cockroaches in DC have been quietly arranging things like Kstreet and lobby laws for a return to predation at some future date. To say nothing of the current media, which will be doing everything it can to restore the party of it's owners back to power.

Most importantly, is that the corrupting agents of corporations will still be there, slowly sowing their seeds in a new party. Lobbyists and campaign contributions will restart the rot, and indeed, after a quick glance at Hillary and Obama's campaign war-chests, they already know which way the wind is blowing. I predict that if we do get an honest candidate, he or she will have an uphill battle trying to get anything done at all versus all the entrenched interests already on the scene.

I want to believe that after the Neo-cons are removed the nightmare will be over, but I don't think we are going to be that lucky in the end. Someone's got to clean up the mess in D.C. or the rot will simply spread to fresh new tissue and start again. I agree with Rick B., This beast ain't dead yet, don't turn your backs.

Posted by: Aaron on January 2, 2008 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP coalition has remarkable staying power. The glue that holds it together is hatred of liberals.

That has only been possible because all three segments of the conservative coalition have stayed together. They are now splintering badly and when the economy tanks this year they will be busy blaming each other, IMO. The economic conservatives will blame bad Fed policy and wasteful war spending (taking aim at the warhawks), the social conservatives will blame lax immigration policies (taking aim at Big Money). The real popcorn event isn't only going to be watching the GOP duke it out amongst themselves, it will be watching all their cheerleaders in the media implode.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 2, 2008 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 2, 2008 at 7:16 PM

"The real popcorn event isn't only going to be watching the GOP duke it out amongst themselves, it will be watching all their cheerleaders in the media implode."

Gonna be setting my tape recorder... if O'Reilly's head explodes on the air, I'm gonna have my very own copy to treasure forever. And if anyone captures the exact moment on film when Coulter's head begins spinning at high speed, I want a copy. Thanks.

Posted by: Aaron on January 2, 2008 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

For what it's worth my take on the Republican implosion is that they no longer can hide behind "respectable" figures such as Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan or Bush1. I say respectable, because whatever else one feels about them, they understood that there were limits in politics and wouldn't go beyond them (at least not as standard operating procedures). I really don't think those I mentioned considered Watergate or Iran/Contra as something that should be permitted, simply based on their understanding of the Constitution. Perhaps I'm naive, but I really think they believed in our republic and their opposition to Democrats was their fear that WE would destroy the republic or deform it so badly that it would no longer be recognizable.
In order to remain "electable", Republicans supported (or weakly opposed) programs that benefited the country, but not particularly their Republican bases. I use the plural because the bases have always been there, it's only under the "genius" of Mr. Rove and the "permanent" Republican majority that those bases, especially the crazier ones, were actually given something in return for their votes.
But in doing so, the present leaders of the Republican party have let the tiger out of its cage. Now each of those bases knows that the Republican party depends on them and they aren't going to settle for anything less than complete control. But, having rejected politics as we have practiced for the past two hundred years (compromising, rule of law, etc.), that means that whoever wins, the others lose. And they'll fight to the death to prevent that.
I wouldn't be surprised if Norquist, Rove, the neocons and religious nutjobs have finally destroyed the Republican Party of Lincoln, TR and, yes, Eisenhower. I'll miss it, but, given its track record the past 40 years, I won't mourn it.


Posted by: Doug on January 2, 2008 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

The crucial factor in a protracted nominating process is that the Republican party heavily depends on attracting unaffilliated voters.

The longer the various factions of the Republican party are fighting each other, the less opportunity they have to put on a friendly face to independents and/or conservative Democrats.

As one example, George W Bush would have had a more difficult time getting away with a mushy platitude like 'compassionate conservatism' if he had to simultaneously defend it against Democrats claiming it wouldn't be compassionate and a primary opponent claiming it wouldn't be conservative. In that case, he might have been forced to be specific enough to scare away some of the 'moderates' that voted for him.

Posted by: tanstaafl on January 2, 2008 at 10:27 PM | PERMALINK

In American politics, one of the less talked about ingredients is the loyal opposition. Our individual parties(factions) do not revolt each time they lose power because we believe that our opponent party is not going completely disenfranchise us. That is one of the reasons for the Sectarian violence in Iraq. Whoever loses KNOWS that they are, for all intents and purposes, doomed. With the political climate as it is now, that may become the case soon here in America, if we as a people do not take more care on how we practice party politics.

Posted by: Aaron on January 2, 2008 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Paul offers the GOP a new identity and offers younger voters.

Compared the crowd that supports Paul and the one that supports the other GOP candidates and you'll see the difference. For the sake of two-party politics, it's time for a new Republican Party

Posted by: Sean Scallon on January 3, 2008 at 1:07 AM | PERMALINK

Ever since before Bush's splendid Iraq adventure got underway, there has been an anti-war protest at the Nichols Fountain at 47th & Main in KC every Sunday afternoon. It started as a bunch of neo-hippies and old hippies and was, frankly, pretty easy to ignore by anyone not looking for a new weed connection. But in the last couple of months, it has grown and the energy is different. That is because Paul supporters have pretty much taken it over.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on January 3, 2008 at 1:23 AM | PERMALINK
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