Conservatives have long used fear as a tool to obtain their political objectives. However, fear and dread is now seeping into the minds of establishment Republican leaders. The outsiders in the GOP Presidential race were supposed to have faded from the scene by now, replaced by establishment candidates known to be more appealing to the middle of the road independents who will decide the next Presidential election. One of the outsiders, Fionina has been reduced to the status of an also ran, and Carson’s popularity has waned somewhat. However, Trump remains at the top of the top of the heap in almost every poll and seems to have grown stronger with each additional outrageous statement. Cruz, the insider with excellent outsider credentials has surged.
On the other hand, all of the establishment candidates except Rubio have receded to the back of the pack. While Rubio’s star had been on the rise, he now seems to be having trouble getting additional traction with Republican voters. What should be even more alarming to Republican leaders is the fact that all of the establishment candidates combined only account for about 30% of the votes in most national and early state polls. Meanwhile together the outsiders – Trump, Cruz, and Carson – fairly consistently account for over 60% of the vote in those same poles.
Ever since the late 1990’s when the migration of the far right Southern voters to the Republican Party was nearing completion, the Republican establishment has maintained an uneasy alliance with its ultra conservative base. The Deep South, with its deeply gerrymandered Congressional districts, usually provides enough Republican Representatives to maintain control of the House of Representatives. It also offers opportunities to control the Senate as well and it is the foundation on which every recent Republican Presidential campaign was built.
However, it has provided its challenges for the Republican establishment as well. Ultra conservative Southern voters, when combined with ultra conservative Republicans in other parts of the country, have shoved the GOP sharply to the right over the last decade or two. This means that early on candidates have often had to take stances on issues further than to the right than was prudent in order to secure the Party’s Presidential nomination. Then with the nomination secured, recent GOP Presidential nominees have found it difficult to effectively tack back towards the center sufficiently to win the general elections.
In recent years the Republican base has made accommodations with the Party establishment as well. They have supported more moderate establishment Republicans such as John McCain and Mitt Romney over the strongly conservative candidates they preferred because they were told over and over again that more moderate candidates like McCain and Romney were “more electable”. Since that strategy has not worked well recently, the ultra conservatives have become increasingly frustrated.
They have become even more frustrated with the inability of the Republican Senators and Representatives, who now control both houses of Congress, to move the country to the right as expected, even though that hasn’t actually not possible to this point. Their frustration has boiled over in this Presidential nomination cycle into an actual revolt. The message the Republican base seems to be sending the establishment is, “Okay, we played it your way and that hasn’t worked. You have failed in your leadership role so you are not in charge anymore. This time we are going to vote for the candidates who best speak for us instead of supporting your establishment favorites because of their electability.”
Meanwhile establishment Republican leaders are trying to come to grips the ever increasing possibility of with having someone like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz as their Presidential nominee. They seem to be none to happy about the prospect. I imagine they would have trouble publicly supporting a candidate who would not only lose handily to Hillary Clinton, but who also could conceivably keep the GOP from having a reasonable chance of winning the Presidency for the foreseeable future. I’m sure that some are thinking privately what Bob Dole said publicly about perhaps sleeping in Election Day if Ted Cruz becomes the Republican nominee.
The rift between Republican Party factions has escalated into an all out war with the radicals having taken over the megaphone. It’s basically the blue collar Republicans and the Tea Partiers battling it out with business oriented Republicans for the soul of the Party. The word got out recently that the Republican leaders are hoping for a contested national convention where no one candidate has enough support to secure the nomination in the first round of voting. Then when delegates are released from their obligations to support specific candidates, the convention would revert to back room deals which might be used to elect a more “acceptable” nominee. Carson and Trump instantly responded to those rumors with threats that they would leave the party (and run as third party candidates) if anyone tries to “subvert the will of the people”. Everyone knows that such a desertion would assure the Democrats of victory in November.
The Grand Old Party has indeed split into two warring factions. The only thing that still holds the two together is the realization by both sides that if they split up, neither could be a real force on the national political stage alone. But what about the future? Will the two sides eventually reconcile and patch over their differences? Or are we looking at a splintered and ineffective Republican Party for the foreseeable future?