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


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