Opinion

The Great Debate

The five clans of the GOP

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.

Santorum and the Tea Party crackup

By Michelle Goldberg

The views expressed are her own.


It’s easy to read too much into Rick Santorum’s stunning finish in the Iowa caucuses after months of dismal poll numbers. In some ways he won by default, emerging as the last conservative candidate standing because no one took him seriously enough to attack him. Nevertheless, by virtually tying with Mitt Romney, he has become the leading conservative alternative in the race. And that should put to rest the exhausted conventional wisdom that the American right is primarily motivated by a desire for small government. Because Rick Santorum sure isn’t.

Since the Tea Party burst onto the political scene in 2009, we have heard over and over again that the revolt against president Obama was driven by anxiety about government expansion. Because conservatives told pollsters they were most concerned about fiscal issues, conventional wisdom hyped the belief that the culture wars were passé. In Politico, for example, Ben Smith wrote that the Tea Party had “banished the social issues that are the focus of many evangelical Christians to the background.”

Certainly, Tea Party voters wanted to shrink government spending and lower taxes. That’s perfectly in line with the ideology of the religious right, which holds that families and churches should provide the social safety net. According to Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition’s main legislative goals in 1994 and 1995 were tax cuts for middle-class families with children and balancing the budget. And fifteen years later, polls showed that the Tea Party was largely the old Christian right in a new guise. A September Public Religion Research Institute survey found that three quarters of Tea Partiers describe themselves as Christian conservatives, while only a quarter identify as libertarians. The Tea Party-inspired House prioritized anti-abortion legislation even when it meant raising taxes, championing a bill that would have ended current tax breaks for individuals and small businesses buying health care plans that cover abortion, as the vast majority of plans now do. Nevertheless, the notion of the Tea Party as a libertarian force endured.

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