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The beginning of a Republican split?

PH2009102804559.jpgTwo outcomes seem possible from the mess in New York's 23rd District, where the Republican Party picked a relative moderate, and conservatives -- including Republican Party elders like Dick Cheney -- have rallied around an independent with more comfortably neanderthalic opinions. On the one hand, this could be the beginning of a split between the Tea Party/Glen Beck/Rush Limbaugh types and the Republican Party itself. On the other hand -- and this seems more likely -- it could persuade the Republican Party to support extremely conservative candidates, leaving them with weaker candidates come the 2010 general election. Neither outcome seems particularly good for the GOP's chances. When Newt Gingrich is trying to pull you back to the center, you've gone so far right that the average voter can't see you any longer.

Photo credit: Steven Senne/Associated Press.

By Ezra Klein  |  October 30, 2009; 8:40 AM ET
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Or they could learn that having 12 county chairman choose the candidate in a backroom without solicitaing input is not a real good way to operate. A more open candidate selection process probaly would have resulted in a nominee who split the difference between the RINO and the fringe.

Posted by: WoodbridgeVa1 | October 30, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

As long as it's just ultra-conservatives running as third party candidates, the effect will be inconsequential.

It's only when straight-forward conservatives try to take their party back by running against the incumbent ultras that this process will produce results.

The plain conservatives need a Club for Growth of their own.

Posted by: nycguy2 | October 30, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

The worst thing that could happen to the Democrats at this stage of the game would be a moderate, sensible Republican. Fortunately for them, this is rapidly becoming an oxymoron.

Imagine a charismatic guy who offers some alternative that's at least plausible to most of the public. Basically McCain before Palin.

Before it can make a real comeback, the GOP needs to hold a seance to channel Dr. Freud for a little help to rein in their id. Sounds a little too pagan for the evangelicals, however.

My feeling is that they're welcome to follow the Mr. Hyde route. It's a free country after all. But they won't be taking America with them. Certainly not me.

Posted by: grelican | October 30, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Hoffman has a real shot of winning this thing.

Posted by: scarlota | October 30, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

To WoodbridgeVA1:

Even in your comment, where you try to take the "middle-of-the-road" approach, you use a term that pretty much says it all. "RINO". Republican In Name Only.

That sort of implies that the other side is the true Republican. "Hey, might be fringe of the party, but at least he IS a Republican, unlike the other guy."

I wonder how much it hurts Republicans that you are either a Republican or a RINO, and RINO is used in a derogative sense? Seems to be a symptom of the wider sickness currently effecting the Republican Party, where in truth, the 'fringe' already seem to have taken over.

I notice that there is no DINO term out there? Blue dogs are just conservative Democrats, and Liberals are just Liberal Democrats. None are called "Democrat In Name Only", and all are included in the Democratic Party.

I also wonder why it is that Independents always seem to caucus with Democrats? Probably because they're consider even less likable than RINOs by Republicans?

That tent just keeps getting smaller... I wonder when Republicans will wake up and realize that ideological purity without any introspection, coupled with a closed mind, just creates ideologican inbreading and crazy (to the rest of us) zealots. The perfection they pursue will never be shared by the majority, who don't share their in their absolute beliefs.

Seems more like a religion than a party to me...

Posted by: JERiv | October 30, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

(sorry about typos in above comment)

Anyway, just saw an article that sort of related to my comment:

Why Republican Leaders will have Trouble Speaking to the Rest of America

and another one:

Toward a General Theory of Democratic Disgruntlement, Part 2

Seems like what it comes down to is that as Republicans keep filtering to reach that ideological purity, they're building a much smaller, ideologically hardcore coalition, and may have more difficulty reaching out to the rest of us.

Democrats keep a more open tent, have a different set of problems because of it, but that in itself does not mean that their wider range of supporters can't relate to their views and to the results that are delivered. Which in the end means a wider range of support.

We'll see... Just one major blowup can make everyone take a really hard look at whomever offers them "salvation", even if those folks were considered too "out there" prior to the blow up.

2010 and 2012 should be interesting.

Posted by: JERiv | October 30, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

The only reason it is not stupidly obvious that the GOP is a rump verging on fringe southern party is that so much of the national media still acts like we are still in the days of the Permanent Republican Majority.

Posted by: jeirvine | October 30, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Until fairly recently, "conservative" was a popular brand with mostly unpopular products (except for tax cuts, who doesn't like free money?), while "liberal" was an unpopular brand with popular products. (Even today, a "far Left" Medicare-for-all Public Option polls better than health reform in general.) Liberals responded to this by seeking to nominate presidential (and other) candidates with cross-over appeal. Those with incredibly long memories will remember that this was one of Obama's selling points when he was running for president way back in 2007-08.

Cross-over appeal is toxic to the far right because it represents surrender to the "enemy" - the carefully constructed straw bogeyman of "liberalism" which is literally synonymous with socialism, fascism, communism and any other evil "ism" you can name. To these zero-sum reactionaries, Obama is not someone with bad policy ideas, but rather someone who is affirmatively trying to harm America and already has millions of minions carrying out his evil designs. To allow Obama to govern - to allow liberals to make any gains whatsoever - is as unthinkable to them as making Pat Buchanan or Nick Griffin Prime Minister of Israel would be to Israelis.

In the fifties and sixties, the far right was identified with Dixiecrats and Birchers, and as a result, they were seen as "the Other" even by people who were pretty darn conservative and not all that thrilled with the civil rights movement. As the Other, their opinions were marginalized and handed out on mimeographed sheets instead of gracing the pages of the NYT, WaPo, LAT, etc. If the far right is similarly marginalizing themselves today, it will be a good thing, not just for Dems, but for the future of a decent conservatism that does not draw its sustenance from hate.

Posted by: geoffcgraham | October 30, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I voted R for governor twice - Arne Carlson in MN. Interesting story about how the conservative R imploded at the last minute in a naked swim party with underage girls scandal - which actually enabled the Rs to run a moderate in his place - who WON!!! Thanks to people like me. But anyways, the days where someone like Carlson could get nominated to run for office on the R ticket are long gone. And the days when I would consider crossing over for a federal office are likewise long gone. I think this is what they want.

So yeah, obviously they are going for purity. It will probably work as well for them as their purity balls keep their daughters chaste.

Posted by: luko | October 30, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

After Barry Goldwater lost big in 1964, the GOP had a dilemma: choose people and policies that appeared more moderate, or claim they would have won if their candidate (BG) had been more 'pure'.

Nixon was the product of the first tendency (which he strengthened with the Southern Strategy (anti-civil rights) to win the 'old south' Dixiecrats over to the GOP - and succeeded.)

Pat Buchanan was the product of the second tendency, but he didn't grab enough traction at the time. But in the longer term, this cadre has become the new GOP, which is largely a southern/religious right/crazy conservatism phenom. '

The inability of either Senate or House republicans to even agree on an alternate health care proposal results in 'just say no to everything except tax cuts' party. It's hard to see that as a viable long term party. When Romney is too liberal for the party, things are off the track.

For now (and 2010/2012 probably), the GOP is 80-90% in the hands of the purists that have never won a national election. I'm happy with that, and don't see how they have a other-than-regional appeal.

There's a party yet to be formed that consists of moderate/conservative Dems, some Indies, and the shreds of the GOP (think Snowe) that aren't a fit for the McConnell/Boehner/crazies. But that seems a long way away, if ever. I keep thinking that a party (like the 19th century Know Nothings) of the far right can only get more extreme, not less.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | October 30, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

For comparison's sake, it would be interesting to go back through Ezra's columns on the health care debate and count how often he's called upon Democrats on the left to threaten moderate Democratic congresspeople with primary challenges. Which party is closer to splitting?

Posted by: tomtildrum | October 30, 2009 12:13 PM | Report abuse

"Which party is closer to splitting?"

When you have whittled your party down to the hard core, there is obviously less chance of a split. Also less chance of actually governing, (lord help us).

When your party is a tumultuous big tent, of course you are going to see more chances for disagreement. As GeoffCGraham nicely stated above, that tent holds most of the actually popular positions, so there's plenty of room for primary elbow throwing without risking diminishing your party's appeal. When a few Blue Dogs renounce their party - call me worried then.

Posted by: jeirvine | October 30, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

On the "closer to splitting" commment, can you really call the Tea Party folks part of the Republican party? I mean really? Will they back a candidate put forth by the Republican party, be it conservative, moderate, or other, due to electability issues?

Now, which party is actually already fractured?

Posted by: JERiv | October 30, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

The GOP shifting to the hard right isn't a good thing for anyone. The Democrats will lose eventually. Say Schumer and Corzine become the party's defining face, while unemployment sticks at 10+%, and you have both Lieberman and the bloggers flipping out at the White House. Say there's some unforeseen scandal with the White House or Pelosi. Say there's a terrorist attack and Cheney does a full-court press.

The scary thing about a two party democracy is that you don't get to define your preferred alternative. If you don't like the Democrats, you vote Republican. Even if Glenn Beck scares you.

Posted by: NS12345 | October 30, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

To NS12345:

Agreed. And due to this, I do wish we had more than 2 political parties.

On the positive side, the US political system does tend to self-correct. Otherwise, we would have imploded by now.

At some point (probably in the near future) the Republicans will get their act together. Until then, it will be interesting to see just how far the Democrats can take it. Or if they have the guts to take it anywhere, really.

And don't be too concerned about ideological purists getting into power in the US. Usually, when that happens, there's a hard shift to the other side to, again, try to self-correct.

Example #1: Bush for 8 years, pendulum swung, now we have Obama.

Posted by: JERiv | October 30, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

jeirvine: "The only reason it is not stupidly obvious that the GOP is a rump verging on fringe southern party is that so much of the national media still acts like we are still in the days of the Permanent Republican Majority."

So completely true that it needs to be repeated. And the organization that happens to host this particular blog is one of the main culprits. Their kowtowing to the extreme right by employing failed pundits - Bill Kristol, George Will, etc - is mindboggling in 2009, and has achieved zero credibility with the right wing.

Liberal Media, my ass. Lazy Incompetent Media is the real danger today.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | October 30, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

NS12345 and Grelican are both right: the Republicans are getting crazier, and it's probably good news for Democrats in the short term - but it's bad for the country. Our system needs two sane parties.

Posted by: WarrenTerra | October 30, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

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