Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bold Prediction: Republican party will split

I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that before the 2014 mid-terms, the Republican party coalition will split, with the conservative wing going one way and the fundamentalist wing going another way. (Note that I'm using "conservative" in an Andrew Sullivan way rather than a Sarah Palin way.) This could happen in one of two ways: either the fundamentalist wing will solidify its control of the GOP, forcing the conservatives to set up their own party, take over a third party, or become Democrats (as many have already done). Or the fundamentalist wing will break off and take over the Conservative Party or form their own party. I sort of think the latter is more likely, as the right-wing movement thrives on its image as outsiders and insurgents (even when it simultaneously controls the government).

Why do I think this? Two things are prompting me. The first is the special election in New York's 23rd congressional district:
A three-way Congressional race in upstate New York has become the stage for a national political battle between establishment Republicans and grassroots conservatives. The outcome could foretell the GOP's near future as it struggles to find itself. The National Republican Committee and party leaders such as as Newt Gingrich have officially endorsed Dede Scozzafava, a moderate Republican. But bloggers, grassroots organizers, and now party luminaries such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann have lined up behind Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party nominee.
When you have many prominent national Republicans spurning their own party's nominee and endorsing a candidate further to the right, you have a recipe for a major schism. I guess Reagan's 11th commandment, "Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican." is not binding on the current right wing grassroots, as much as they idolize him.

The second sign of GOP schism that I've noticed is that fact that Newt Gingrich, once the standard-bearer for right-wing movement conservatives, is now being denounced as not conservative enough by various right-wing pundits. When Newt Gingrich is too cozy with liberals for your taste, I think you have little choice but to go off and form your own little club outside the current GOP.

It seems the right-wing base would prefer and ideologically purer party, electoral consequences (outside certain geographic regions) be damned. I'd really hate to be a Republican strategist these days. Yes, they may very well pick up some seats in the 2010 midterms. But the basic problem seems to be that for much of the country, anyone right-wing enough to make it through a Republican primary is way too right-wing to win a general election.

I see a several possible scenarios unfolding over the next several years:
  1. With the current GOP coalition split between the old GOP party and the new conservative party (whatever that turns out to be), the Democrats increase their majorities in congress and hold on to the presidency. National politics becomes even more a one-party affair than it currently is. This would be good for progressives in the short term, but without a meaningful opposition holding them to task, the Democratic party would get flabby and self-serving pretty quickly (or rather, get more flabby and self-serving)/
  2. The GOP scrambles rightward to keep the right-wingers from breaking off. This leads to a gradual erosion of GOP power as demographics and changing social mores make them less and less appealing. Results similar to #1, above, but an intact GOP maintains a hold rural areas and the Deep South, at least for a while. This is the strategy they seem to be currently pursuing.
  3. The right flank of the GOP breaks off and forms its own party or takes over the Conservative Party. The GOP moderates use this opportunity to move left, and recapture many independents and conservative Democrats. If the three parties balance out at something like 45% Democrat, 30% Republican, 25% (right-wing), this would actually give the Republicans a lot of power: they could be the swing votes in Congress that the Democrats and right-wing fight over. The center of political gravity might shift, depending on how the alliances played out.
  4. The GOP abandons its right flank and remakes itself to be more appealing, modeling itself on the British Conservative Party. The right-wing is left howling in the political wilderness (possibly leading to an increase in right-wing domestic terrorism). A political equilibrium between Democrats and Republicans gradually re-asserts itself, but this equilibrium is a good deal further to the left than the current equilibrium. The emergence of a reasonable conservative party in America is Andrew Sullivan's fondest wish, but he doesn't see signs of it happening yet.
  5. Some GOP evil genius figures out how to make American-style right-wing politics appealing to non-whites. The GOP comes surging back. At some point, this will probably happen, but my guess is it will be at least a few decades before the link between right-wing politics and white superiority has faded enough for large enough numbers of non-whites to feel comfortable joining a right-wing coalition. But who knows?
By the way, I know I'm totally talking out of my sleep-deprived ass here. But there does seem to be some kind of crack-up happening. I'll try to follow it here.


Blogger joeld42 said...

Unlikely, I think. Now, in an off-election cycle, different factions are competing for control of the party, and so it helps them to differentiate themselves. Same thing happened with the dems during Bush's first term.

However, when an election approaches, they will converge on a viewpoint just right of center, using a few polarizing issues.

Here's an interesting article describing the phenomenon:

I think it would be very good for the our political health if both of the two parties would split into a handful each. It would bring politics back towards the issues instead of tactics and media. However, without a complete overhaul of our voting system, I don't think this can happen.

3:47 AM, October 28, 2009  
Anonymous Heraldblog said...

The GOP split is essentially one of cultural conservatives squaring off against business interests, and the latter are ripe for the taking right now. That's one more reason for Republicans to be freaking out over health care reform - there's genuine fear that reducing health costs will be popular with the business class, which will draw more of those voters - and their money - to the Democrats.

12:14 AM, November 12, 2009  

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