The Republican Party’s Cold War

Since the advent of the Tea Party, the Republican Party has been enmeshed in a Cold War—a war of ideas and strategy—hurtling toward Mutually Assured Destruction. On one side are the Old Guard Republicans, who have dominated the party for decades and have more often than not gone along with the Democrats’ big government proposals. They keep the party afloat with the help of their crony capitalist friends who benefit from the complexities of the administrative state. On the other side of the Cold War are a new breed of Republicans—Reformers—who represent the values of the Tea Party and/or have strong libertarian leanings.

Exhibit A for the frosty relations between the two sides is John McCain’s comment after Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY)  filibuster over U.S. drone policy. McCain criticized senators Paul and Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), saying the March filibuster was “ludicrous” and “inappropriate.” He also said,

“But I also think that when, you know, it’s always the wacko birds on right and left that get the media megaphone.”

Amash, a libertarian, responded via Twitter:

“Sen McCain called @SenRandPaul @SenTedCruz & me ‘wacko birds.’ Bravo, Senator. You got us. Did you come up with that at #DinnerWithBarack?” (referring to a dinner party the president threw for selected Republican senators the night of the filibuster).

Rand Paul responded not long after in his speech at CPAC, saying,

“The GOP of old has grown stale and moss covered. I don’t think we need to name names here, do we?”

Many Reformers in this Cold War–including Paul–were swept into office in the 2010 GOP landslide election. Their constituents elected them to oppose not only the Democrats, but also the RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) in the GOP.  Many of the latter are the Old Guard Republicans who not only resist change, but resent the upstarts who refuse to compromise if it means reneging on their campaign promises.

The Old Guard can often be seen flailing about, throwing their values and ideology to the wind in an attempt to attract one special interest group after another, as we saw in the RNC’s “post-mortem” report after the 2012 election. Conversely, Reformers tend to be ideological conservatives who believe that the GOP will grow only if the party takes bold stands and remains moored to its values.

As one such Reformer, freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), speaking at a recent America’s Future Foundation dinner, cited Rep. Ron Paul and President Reagan as leaders who, despite their advanced age, inspired young people because they stood on principle and didn’t compromise their values.  Said Cruz,

“I’ll go to my grave with Ronald Wilson Reagan defining what it means to be President.  To stand for principle, to do the right thing and to do so in a way that brings people together.”

So where is this Republican Cold War leading? At the moment the party seems to be headed in the direction of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Under the theory of MAD—as seen in the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the U.S.—each side possesses enough nuclear weaponry to destroy the other. And so it is with the GOP.  Each side has the ability to blow up the party, and there is a very real possibility that this could happen.

The Old Guard controls most of the money and some of the most well-funded Super-PACs in the country, including Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and his (fake) Conservative Victory Project, which aims to select RNC-approved primary candidates. (Many have noted the utter failure of Rove’s American Crossroads, which spent $129 million in the 2012 election with 0% of its supported candidates winning their races.) The Republican leadership also controls committee assignments and even redistricting. Recall that Rep. John Boehner threatened Rep. Jim Jordan with gerrymandering if he didn’t get on the Boehner Bandwagon during the 2011 debt ceiling “crisis.”  The Old Guard has the money and the political clout to potentially take out any undesirable conservatives they decide to target.

Still, Reformers hold some powerful cards of their own. The conservative base is so disgusted with the Old Guard and the Cold War mistrust is so severe, that if a handful of conservatives and/or libertarians decided to bolt and start a third party, they would take a large enough number from the base that it would decimate the party for years to come.

The Reformers hold another advantage: they are smart, articulate, and charismatic. The world Sen. McCain and his compatriots currently rule over in Congress relies on backroom deals and behind-the-scenes maneuvering to gain power. In this new world of blogs, Twitter, and YouTube, Americans—especially those of the younger generation— now demand authentic, substantive candidates and lawmakers who can intelligently articulate their positions. The dinosaurs of the Old Guard who remain mired in the 1990’s may soon realize that they have been left behind by legislators who came to Washington to focus on the Constitution rather than cocktail parties.

While we may see a détente—a thawing—in the relationship between the two factions of the GOP, it seems more likely that they are on a collision course.  The Old Guard GOP won’t go down without a fight.  They will likely play hardball and pull funding from lawmakers who won’t get with the program. If they do so, they’ll likely force conservatives to bolt to a third party.  On the other hand, Reformers could issue a “Mr. Boehner, tear down this wall!” order and demand that the Old Guard, the RNC, and the party leadership take their ideas and conservative values seriously and pull the party—and the country—back from the centrist precipice and MAD.

If that happens, we may find that the Old Guard, like the old Soviet Union, turns out to be nothing more than a paper tiger, stagnant and crumbling under its own weight.


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Paula Bolyard describes herself as a Christian first, conservative second, and Republican third. She is a member of the Wayne County Executive Committee and is owner and moderator of the Ohio Homeschool Yahoo! Group. She is a contributor at PJ Media Lifestyle, PJ Media, and RedState.

All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.

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