The party might be over.
Mark Twain wrote that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” For the Republican Party, 2014 may end up sounding a whole lot like 150 years ago, and we might be seeing the end of the conservative party, as we know it.In 1864, prior to the end of the Civil War, a faction of radical Republicans believed President Lincoln was incompetent, and therefore unelectable. These anti-abolition extremists broke away from the establishment under the name Radical Democracy Party, while Lincoln and establishment Republicans created the National Union Party with the intent of attracting War Democrats and Border State Unionists who would not have ordinarily voted for the Republican Party. The party nominated incumbent President Lincoln alongside a Democrat – Andrew Johnson. The rebranded establishment ticket went on to win the 1864 election in a landslide, and the radicals were brought back to the fold under the Republican Party brand shortly thereafter.This week, the Tea Party aligned Senate Conservatives Fund called on House Republicans to force out Speaker John Boehner in an email that read, “Unless we install a new leader who will actually go on offense, Democrats will never fear us and we will never have any leverage.” We may be witnessing the genesis of another temporary or permanent fracture of the Republican Party, for what was once a happy coalition of secular and social conservatives, united to defeating Obama and liberalism, has turned into an openly hostile civil war for control of party, and by all measures the Christian Right/Tea Party faction are winning in their objective of purging what they believe are Republicans In Name Only.The highest ranking Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, is under siege from the far right with lobbying groups Freedom Works, Madison Project, and the Senate Conservatives Fund spending up big in an effort to tear down the senior Senator from Kentucky. Fox News contributor and Red State blogger Erik Erickson writes, “Defeating McConnell is essential to asserting the Tea Party’s dominance over the Republican Party.” In latest polls, McConnell’s opponent leads by 4 points.After suffering a heavy defeat in the 2012 election, establishment Republicans believed the sure fire way to wrestle control of the party back from the clutches of the unelectable Christian Right/Tea Party was to raise enough Wall Street and Chamber of Commerce cash to crush the social conservative moment. But that plan has gone awry given the Federal Electoral Commission revealed that Tea Party and social conservative groups raised nearly three times as much as GOP establishment groups in 2013.The Christian Right/Tea Party faction is using this wave of fund raising to oust incumbent establishment politicians who fall even smidgen shy of ideologically pure. In fact, the radicals on the far right have become so authoritarian and cultish that they would rather take out an incumbent GOP officeholder in primary challenge than beat a Democrat in the general. Ron Christie wrote in the Daily Beast, “This could be the cycle pitting those who believe that winning is important coming head to head against those who believe holding firm to principle is important. It would be a sad day for our democracy if winning elective office and holding firm on principle weren’t one and the same. Those in the GOP leadership would be wise to bridge the gap of trust between their base before conservatives form a circular firing squad that kills their chances at victory in November.”Not only are moderate or establishment Republicans being purged in this internal civil war, but also many are voluntarily leaving the party they barely recognize anymore. In the past two weeks alone, three high profile Republicans have renounced the party. Former Polk Country Republican Party of Iowa Co-Chair wrote, “My opinion is the "Duck Dynasty Wing" of the Republican Party has taken over the GOP, and they’re not about to retreat in their war on science and common sense.” Former Nevada state senator and gaming commissioner has been a Republican for 73 years, but two weeks ago she told the Reno Gazette-Journal, “It’s grown so conservative and Tea Party-orientated and I just can’t buy into that. I’ve left the Republican Party and it’s left me, at the same time.”In the weeks that followed the government shutdown, it appeared establishment Republicans were finally ready to stand up to the extremists, but moderates are either folding or exiting the party altogether. Mike Lofgren, who spent 28 years in congress as a Republican wrote in his book The Party is Overthat the far right “have managed, through their shrillness, dogmatism, inflexibility and belligerence, to become the center of gravity of the party. The Republican Speaker of the House, the constitutionally designated third-ranking elected official in the government, does not issue orders to them; he takes orders from them, as all of America saw during the debt-limit negotiations and the payroll tax fight.”The fact Christian Right stalwart Mike Huckabee leads in a hypothetical poll against fellow 2016 GOP hopefuls says much about which direction the ideological war is heading, too.This is a war establishment Republicans cannot win for not only is the Christian Right/Tea Party faction the most reliable and agitated voting bloc within the party, but also they’re now out raising Chamber of Commerce-sponsored establishment candidates thanks to a cabal of hyper-religious organizations, the Club for Growth, and the Koch brothers. Since August, the Koch’s Americans for Prosperity has spent more than $27 million on ads, which puts it on pace to outstrip its overall $38.5 million spent on the 2010 election.Theda Skopcol, who is a government and sociology professor at Harvard, writes that the Christian Right/Tea Party faction is more likely than not to win the Republican Party’s civil war. “Unless moderate Republicans can defeat them, they will triumph by hanging on long enough.”It’s worth noting that there barely remain any open shirted “moderate Republicans.” Almost two-thirds of House Republicans voted against bipartisan efforts to reopen the federal government and prevent the U.S. defaulting on its loan obligations. The non-partisan Mann and Ornstein write in Its Worse Than it Looks, “The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier – ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”As the Christian Right/Tea Party faction continues to exert its growing political punching power, there will be no room for those moderates who fail to meet ideological purity litmus tests. This is not just an existential threat to the Republican Party, but also an existential threat to our democracy, as the Christian Right/Tea Party seeks to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical pro-corporate theocracy, and nullify the entire federal government. Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists, warns, “I think that the wider public hasn’t grasped the ideological roots, nor the fact that the destruction of government – and they have found the weapon to do it – has long been part of their game plan, and is something that they rejoice in, rather than see as a temporary evil. They see government as something that, largely, has to be abolished, and they have found the weapon, the mechanism, to essentially do just that.” When establishment Republicans realize the unwinnable war is lost, they’ll be faced with one of three options: either declare allegiance to the theocratic, neo-confederate, social conservative base or join the likes of fellow Republicans who have voluntarily departed the party to become Democrats or independents, or rebrand under another party name like Lincoln had in 1864. In other words, the party is over.
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