The Republican war cuts through CPAC

March 11, 2014

The 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference has ended but the harsh debate between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party goes on. Though nothing remains static indefinitely. Things do change.

The venerated conference, for example, begun years ago in a room at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel, has more of a corporate, insider feel than in the Reagan days. During the 70s and 80s, this meeting possessed a revolutionary “up the establishment” flair.

Some in the Tea Party complained that this year’s conference favored establishment incumbents, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.), rather than offering a platform to their conservative challengers.

Many attendees, however, still hailed from the anti-status-quo ranks. This was clear in the crowd’s reaction to one speaker’s attack on Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor. Sharp criticism of Snowden ignited a chorus of boos from the audience.

Those boos revealed the stark fault line between the Republican Party’s two factions. The insiders (a.k.a. neo-conservatives, Bushies, establishmentarians) are invested in maintaining national security, buttressed by corporate and state power. The outsiders (a.k.a. Tea Party, Reaganites, conservative movement, and populists) are focused on anti-state power, personal freedom and competition.

These warring factions are now more antagonistic than at any time in Republican Party history.

The insiders have argued for years that the Reagan conservatives have been the impediment to the GOP winning majority control of Congress. Yet if the public’s attitude toward privacy is any indication, it is the insiders who might be the real impediment.

As long as the establishment embraces the security state, the GOP can’t make a clear and consistent pro-privacy, pro-personal freedom argument. A strong argument can’t be made to attract a majority of voters if they perceive that the Republicans are speaking with conflicting voices.

The left and the Democratic Party has long built voter support by asserting that conservatives wanted to put government between a woman and her doctor when it came to abortion. It worked politically.

Now the GOP has the chance to make the even stronger argument against government coming between you and your doctor under Obamacare. Or government getting between you and your email or cell phone because of the NSA surveillance; between you and your private tax filings because of Internal Revenue Service misdeeds; between you and your right to free speech because of the Federal Election Commission, and between you and your bank account because of the Justice Department.

The fly in the buttermilk, though, is that the GOP establishment is viewed as often being on the opposite side. That Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) won the CPAC straw poll going away over longtime establishment darling New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be a source of concern to the Washington insiders. Paul has raised too many questions about NSA policies, making establishment Republicans uncomfortable.

Don’t kid yourself. These differences are real. They are cultural as well as ideological and philosophical. The two sides really have a different worldview when it comes to government, foreign policy, federalism and the executive power of the presidency.

But now outsider-Tea Party-populist-Reaganite conservatives have finally developed their own sources of financing and media power. With funding from Charles and David Koch, Harlan Crow and other supporters including talk radio kingpin Mark Levin and Internet powerhouse Glenn Beck, the conservatives say they are ready to take on the establishment. They aim to stand up to the Bush-High Tory-neoconservative-establishment insiders, who — courtesy of Wall Street/Big Business and K Street corporate largess — have long held that type of power.

The fight is more vicious than before, however, because both sides are now dug in and deeply hostile to each other. Consider the harsh name-calling of Representative Peter King (R-N.Y.) as just one example.

CPAC confirmed that neither side of the GOP looks ready to stand down any time soon.


PHOTO (TOP): Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) gestures at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, March 14, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

PHOTO (INSERT 1): Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill, Maryland, March 6, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

PHOTO (INSERT 2): An attendee in Colonial dress hangs out at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst


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Who will have a better chance of beating Hillary?

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

This is the ongoing American question since Jefferson’s time: “What do we do with the paranoid, racist loonies down south?”

We fought them back in the Civil War. They were adopted by the Democrats after the Civil War. They were then abandoned by the Democrats and Adopted by the Republicans after the Civil Rights movement. Now we see the division between Wall Street Republicans and Kentucky Bible-Thumpers growing each day. Having to endure a black President was enough to precipitate the forming of a nominal third party (Tea), but no one takes them seriously because they are only powerful as part of the GOP machine, leveraging their few votes within the existing party framework.

There are no parties left to adopt them. So it is time for them to strike out on their own and pay their own bills.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Let’s move “forward” in freedom. Name calling has never been helpful. Let’s support candidates who are for less government and pro-constitutional freedoms for the people.

Posted by LisaLine | Report as abusive

There is mostly common ground between what the author describes as traditional and establishment Republicans, and more Tea Party/Reaganite/Libertarian Republicans. There is a lot more uniting the various groups than dividing forces, and they mostly share common values. When the time comes to vote for or against the GOP presidential candidate in 2016, for example, neither group is likely to bolt and support former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Republicans stand for economic growth and opportunity. They support personal freedom and responsibility, and limited government. The public is tired of the Democrats, especially their spending, taxing, over-regulation of the economy, and catastrophic mismanagement of the federal government’s entitlement programs, which have many $tens of trillions of unfunded liabilities between them. Most people mistrust the Democrat’s reflexive “government first” mentality in addressing problems, that President Obama for one exemplifies and demonstrates continuously. Though they have a lot of money and vast institutional power, Democrats will have a very hard time defending the status quo in 2014 and 2016.

Posted by ExDemocrat | Report as abusive

Its funny how the sheep in this country really think we have two parties. The Republicans and Democrats are both part of the Capitalist party. This is a one party state.

America, just like every great power, is authoritarian. We just provide more social freedoms than most places.

But this idea of “us vs. them” is a deeply American attitude. We in America have to have “the other side” to blame.

The “other side” is the other side of the same coin!

Posted by KyleDexter | Report as abusive

So true KyleD. The reality is so depressing. There is nothing resembling the integrity our minds continue to seek.

Posted by SaveRMiddle | Report as abusive

@ExDemocrat: “Republicans…support personal freedom and responsibility, and limited government.”

How do you figure that going out of your way to OUTLAW gay marriage, OUTLAW abortion, OUTLAW pot….. is some kind of support for personal freedom and limited government.

Your own PR is becoming outdated with what your party actually does, vs. what it says it does. The GOP has been a moral crusade for 30 years now, and that is exactly why your market share in the 18 – 45 bracket (the next generation) has shrunk by 60% since Regan’s time. Your own strategists admit that as the old republicans die off, your party is shrinking by the day.

So keep telling yourself cute anecdotes about personal freedom. No one is buying it any more, except for Christian home-schooled kids who have been brainwashed to buy it :)

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

They will continue to pay lip service to freedom and justice but then work to suppress and oppress freedom and justice. Only the really brainwashed continue to buy this junk. Ditto for the Democrats.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

I agree that less govt would be better. However, if you think eliminating to a shell of it former self will serve the majority of the people, you are naive at best. The govt is the only thing that stands between the upper 1 percent and the rest of us. And they are barely standing. I can’t imagine what would happen to this country if we turned it completely over to them.

Posted by fromthecenter | Report as abusive

I agree with @KyleDexter and @SaveRMiddle. There is only one true party. We need less government, but stronger government that is not controlled by corporate America.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

There may be “one true party” – the corporations – but which party’s constituents are trying their best to change that? The Republicans? Nope. One guess left.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive