Opinion

The Great Debate

The five clans of the GOP

By Bill Schneider
April 17, 2014

If we’re lucky, we’ll get a contest between Republican Jeb Bush and Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Both are responsible adults, relative moderates in their respective parties. Either could get elected.

Clinton faces the easier path to nomination. Her party is united. Bush faces warring clans. Sure, Clinton will face some opposition on the left, which is critical of her hawkish record on Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. But most Democrats will see her as a good contrast with President Barack Obama. She’s the tough guy. She won’t get rolled by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Or by House Republicans.

In a CNN poll taken in February, only 10 percent of Democrats said they would prefer a Democrat who is “more liberal than Clinton.” Fifteen percent wanted someone more conservative. Seventy percent of Democrats said she’s fine.

Bush’s prospects are more difficult.  For one thing, there’s the problem of his name. The minute voters hear the name “Bush,” they say, “Oh no!  Not another one!” It brings back all the bad memories — the war in Iraq, the financial crisis, Hurricane Katrina.

Most people who remember the Clinton years remember good times. We were making lots of money, and no one seemed to threaten us. When CNN asked voters earlier this year how they would vote if the choice were Clinton versus Bush, Clinton won by a landslide — 57 percent to 37 percent.

Of course, most Americans don’t know much about Bush. He last ran for office a dozen years ago, in Florida, where he is remains popular (though Clinton is more popular there). Jeb would have to introduce himself to voters as a different variety of Bush. That’s exactly what he started to do in Texas this month.

Bush’s remarks about illegal immigrants set off a conservative firestorm: “Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love.” It sounded a little weird — until you remember that Bush has been married for 40 years to a woman who was born and grew up in Mexico, the daughter of a migrant worker. He speaks fluent Spanish. He converted to Catholicism. For Republicans who worry about their party’s inability to connect with Latino voters, Bush looks like a dream candidate.

Nonetheless, many conservatives won’t forgive Bush for violating their canon of political correctness. He’s sympathetic to illegal immigrants! He supports Common Core education standards! He has friends on Wall Street! Off with his head! As conservative blogger Michelle Malkin tweeted, “He’s pro-amnesty, pro-Common Core, pro-Big Business & he wants to be president. #CancelJebBush.”

The problem with the Republican Party is that it has been taken over by the conservative movement. In a movement, you have ideological conformity. Supporters are expected to agree on everything — taxes, abortion, same-sex marriage, Obamacare, education, illegal immigration, climate change, everything. If you don’t agree on everything, you can be driven out.

In the United States, political parties are supposed to be coalitions. To be part of a coalition, you have to agree on only one thing: You are for the party’s candidate. No further questions. “You support President Obama?” Democrats ask.  “Fine.  You’re one of us.”

But before Republicans can build a winning coalition, they have to unite the movement. That may not be so easy. Republicans have now become a party of true believers, and true believers do not tolerate heresy. Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the party’s former vice presidential nominee, told Iowa Republicans last week, “This is the Lenten season. Here’s what I say: we give up infighting, tunnel vision, acrimony. We need to unite the clans.”

There are five Republican clans, so uniting them might be hard to do. Each has at least one preferred candidate for 2016.

  • The religious right has former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who came in second in 2012, and maybe former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who came in second in 2008. They care most about moral issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. A lot of Republicans don’t want to talk about those issues.
  • The Tea Party has Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Ryan and Texas Governor Rick Perry and maybe Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. They care most about public spending. Which led to a damaging government shutdown last fall.
  • Libertarians have Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.). They care most about government surveillance. A lot of Republicans are uncomfortable with Paul’s isolationism. If Paul somehow ended up becoming the Republican nominee, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) would very likely endorse Clinton.
  • Neo-conservatives have Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). They care most about U.S. foreign policy. They’re eager to take on evildoers — communists and Islamic radicals and Russians and enemies of Israel.
  • The party establishment, a.k.a. the big-business wing, has New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Bush. A veteran Republican fundraiser told U.S. News, “Christie’s issues leave the New York-Wall Street fundraising establishment searching for an alternative. Jeb is a former governor, current adviser to Barclays [Bank] and a Bush. That’s comfort food for the group.”

The establishment’s issue? Winning. Business is nothing if not pragmatic. That’s why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending money to oppose Tea Party candidates in Republican primaries. Tea Party candidates are often losers in the general election. Fair enough — except the party establishment engineered McCain’s nomination in 2008 and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s in 2012 because they looked like winners. But they didn’t win.

Movement candidates want to make a statement. That’s not Bush’s style. What does he want to do? He told Fox News that the GOP should focus on nominating “candidates that have a vision that is bigger and broader and candidates that are organized around winning the election, not making a point.” He added, “Winning the election should be what we’re about.”

 

PHOTO (TOP):(L to R) Texas Senator Ted Cruz, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush,  Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. REUTERS/Jason Reed, David Manning and John Sommers II

PHOTO (INSERT 1): Texas Governor Rick Perry makes remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Maryland, March 7, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

PHOTO (INSERT 2): Former Senator Rick Santorum speaks at the National Rifle Association-Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the site for the NRA’s annual meeting in Houston, Texas, May 3, 2013. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Comments
3 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Winning the election by Bush means saying anything or not saying anything to get elected…Not necessarily lie but then not really tell the whole truth…which is it..If getting elected is the ultimate goal then the less you say is probably better..especially if its the GOP Sara Palin talking points handbook. Democrats are all over the place on issues but the GOP seems to focus on a few issues and they are the issues that get them in trouble with minorities and Women and the poor and the gays and the transgenders….To many negative things…Probably more than a few things.

Posted by akita96th | Report as abusive
 

Interesting article. Lots of truth in it too. Thing is, I’m a middle of the road Republican. Friends accuse me of being a RINO (Republican In Name Only) because I don’t hew 100% to the party line and worse, I support some left-leaning (Democrat, liberal, take your pick) policies. E.g. universal preschool education and getting lead out of the environment. Go figure.

My point? I’ve been a reliable Republican voter but I would consider a Democratic party candidate if I believed they would do what’s best for ‘all’ of the country.

Taxes? Yes, I believe they’re too high but it’s a complicated problem. For example, I have no objection to raising gasoline taxes. Why? It’s because they’re a very easy to collect them and we need roads and bridges, which are deteriorating because we’re not collecting enough tax to account for our more thrifty national fleet. Duh!

Libertarian? I abhor the thought of a transponder in my automobile for purposes of monitoring miles driven in order to tax me for road and bridges. Why? Simply because at it’s most base issue, I don’t trust the government to have this data.

Neo-con? I have some Hispanic heritage. However, I don’t give a darn about Cuba (other than I believe we should stop all the BS with respect to Castro because enough is enough). Israel is more complex and while I’m not Jewish, I support them in principal – but – I want the Palestinian issue to be dealt with as fairly as possible and if it entails a twos-state solution, then get it done o stop the flow of money! Russia? Put tanks in Poland and Estonia. Do it now. Further economic sanctions? I understand their historical ties to Crimea but how Mr. Putin went about this is all wrong so in my view, pour the sanctions on and make him cry Uncle because you, whomever candidate wins, will have my support. China? More complex still but we had better be prepared for them to act in their own interests and setting the Japanese to counter them is part of a solution but not all of it because we have to trade with both so in my view, more US Navy resources makes sense.

Tea Party? I’m not part of it but much of what they say resonates strongly within me. Take for example, our regulations, which are out of control and in some cases, nonsensical. Specifically, take the FAA, which actually makes it more dangerous for me to fly my antique airplane (made in 1954 and which I use 100% for business purposes). How? They have rules, which preclude my installing USA-made modern avionics (like autopilots and digital screens) while allowing them in other airplanes sharing the same airspace. It’s ludicrous for an artificial distinction to result in my being less safe when flying but there you have it. Believe it or not, this is my government making my flying less safe and this means reduced regulations are a hot button issue for me!

Religion-wise I have my beliefs. For example, I wouldn’t want my daughter to get an abortion . . . but it’s her decision, not mine. And it’s most certainly not the business of some religious nutcase to decide. What part of separating religion from politics don’t these people understand? How is it different from the Taliban and their religious beliefs shaping the Muslim world? Thus, Mr. Santorum and Huckabee can take a hike and I would be guaranteed to vote for a Democrat if they won the nomination. I believe these types ‘need’ to be marginalized on the Republican political scene.

Confused about what I would do? I’m not. No ‘one’ issue drives me. I’m more complex than that. FWIW, I supported Mr. Romney last time around. I like Mr. Bush this time around but if Mrs. Clinton put together a reasonable plan forward for this nation, e.g. cut regulations, smart taxes, smart foreign policy, plus consideration for reasonable environmental thinking and universal preschool I might not be a RINO but a Democratic-voter.

GOP – consider yourself warned.

Posted by jbeech | Report as abusive
 

Mitt lost, not because he was an establishment candidate, but because he found himself in a wing nut, rightwing corner after the republican primaries.

Posted by Leftcoastrocky | Report as abusive
 

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