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October 03, 2013 4:36 PM What Would It Take For “Moderate” Republicans To Walk?

By Ed Kilgore

The ever-insightful John Judis of TNR has a sweeping analysis of the origins and significance of our particular moment of political history that you don’t have to agree with entirely to find illuminating. He views today’s conservative revolt against government as parallel to and in some respects derived from the antebellum nullification movement and the coalition that fought the New Deal. His prognosis for where we are headed if radical conservatism isn’t curbed is not cheerful:

The largest effect is likely to be continued dysfunction in Washington, which if it continues over a decade or so, will threaten economic growth and America’s standing in the world, undermine social programs like the Affordable Care Act, and probably encourage more radical movements on the right and the left. Think of Italy, Greece, or Weimar Germany. Or think about what the United States would have been like if World War II had not occurred, and if Europe, the United States, and Japan had failed to pull themselves out of the Great Depression.

But in discussing possible ways to reverse this trajectory, Judis says something worth pondering:

Politically, the Republican far right has to be marginalized. That can happen either through ordinary conservative Republicans like Tennessee Senator Bob Corker or California Congressman Devin Nunes bolting the party or by the conservatives and moderates reclaiming control of the party and forcing the far right to create its own party along the lines of the old Dixiecrats or George Wallace’s American Independent Party. In the former case, you would have the emergence of an FDR-strength Democratic majority; in the latter, an Eisenhower era collaboration between the parties.

In other words, the current chaos and tension within the GOP could lead to an actual split with one side or the other controlling the elephant’s tired old carcass.

How likely is that? Not so likely, I suspect. For all the back-biting and RINO-hunting and “they’re crazy” whispering that has long afflicted the GOP, it’s important to understand that a lot of the divisions involve strategy and tactics rather than actual policy goals or fundamental ideology. All the “moderates” bad-mouthing Ted Cruz this last week did, after all, vote against Obamacare and for the Ryan Budget. Nearly all of them favor abortion bans and oppose tax cuts even if they are necessary to achieve any sort of bipartisan fiscal deal. And on the other side of the barricades, for all the endless accusations on the right of Republican Establishment gutlessness and betrayal, the hard-core conservatives did in the end loyally back the last two GOP presidential candidates (though they did so after forcing them well out of their own ideological comfort zones).

So I wouldn’t count on a big split in the Republican ranks any time soon, much less a real divorce.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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