Saturday, October 31, 2009

Conservatives vs. Moderates: What is going on in the GOP?

Today's breaking news out of New York is that Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava has withdrawn from the race for New York's 23rd District. Dede cited a slip in the polls and a lack of funding for her departure from the race.

New York's 23rd has drawn national attention because it shows a fracture in the Republican Party where the far right seems to be taking hold of the party as a whole, as a far right candidate ran after not receiving the nomination as an independent, and has gained the endorsement of the Republican Party. Some are suggesting that this means the end of moderates in the GOP, while others indicate it is a shift right for the nation. I think the latter may be wishful thinking.

There is a clear rise in strange occurrences that are clearly not from the moderate wing of the GOP from the Tea Parties, to the Birthers, and so on. To better understand it, it may be worth looking to Kansas, where a Democrat won two terms as Governor in a state that is almost 2/3 Republican. It begs the question of "how does a Democrat win in Kansas?" And the answer was a rift in the GOP that may be showing up in many forms around the nation.

There are essentially four major factions of the Republican Party: Neoconservatives (Defense hawks, not primarily concerned with domestic policy), Paleoconservatives (small government), Christian Conservatives (religious, even theocratic at times), and moderates (pragmatists). In Kansas, the Neocons and the Christian Cons aligned against the Paleocons and the Moderates in a vicious battle. In the end, the campaign was so bitter that either the other faction didn't show up or it showed up for the Democrat to spite the faction that received the nomination.

In the case of that set of coalitions, it illustrates a fundamental problem in the GOP factions: A fight over government philosophy within the GOP. Christian Conservatives, fundamentally, want a theocratic democracy, where the government can enforce morality. Neoconservatives are focused on foreign policy and power, they almost share a Machiavellian view of controlling the people, which would naturally align with Christian Conservatives because when you control the religion of the people, you can control them.

These views are fundamentally at odds with Paleocons who believe in limited government almost to the point of Libertarianism, but not quite to that point. They believe there are some other things the government can do, but limiting that is the best course. Moderates in the GOP generally are softer, squishier Paleocons who want low taxes and limited government, but realize more things need to be run by government. They probably don't mind Social Security, and may think some Medicare is good, but are fundamentally at odds with a single payer system or any universal government run health care system as being too much government.

This is essentially the fundamental problem being seen today. It is why Sarah Palin and John McCain didn't generally see eye to eye, with McCain being a lifetime Paleocon to moderate Paleocon, and Palin being more of a Neocon-Christian Conservative, the views of government were fundamentally at odds at the most basic level.

The problem for the moderates and Paleocons is that the Neocons and Christian Cons are more easily organized and mobilized, and often are more extreme because they believe, at their core, that they are fighting a war about the future of the world, and if they lose, they have lost America's destiny or God's mission for them. That is why the Paleocons have harkened back to the Founders through the symbolism of the Tea Party.

Democrats are trying to fan those flames, to feed the extremes, and to expose those extremes to expand their party and their base. It is a large part of why President Obama isn't "taking" the spoils of victory but rather insisting about gaining moderates on legislation. To take it would be to unify the right against him and rally them, but to continually reach out makes the moderates feel, on some level, that the Democrats are willing to work with them as the extremists on the right start to kick them out.

This is why New York's 23rd has gained such national attention. It is a district that has traditionally gone Republican for over 120 years, but President Obama narrowly beat John McCain there, and a split in the GOP may well bode well for the Democrats. This district is a race that will tell us a lot more about the impact of this split going on nationwide in the GOP, and how far reaching its implications are. If a Democrat wins it, it will signal real problems for Republicans nationwide as contested primaries create major divides in the party, leaving openings for the recruiting of moderates for Democrats.

While demographics may be key to Democrats taking states like Texas, the New York race may start to foreshadow the primary between Perry and Kay Bailey for the Governor's office in Texas (assuming Kay Bailey actually starts to campaign seriously). If Texas goes Democratic, it will dramatically change the electoral map in the nation.

As for New York's 23rd, it may well turn out the way California's Governor race where Gray Davis used campaign dollars to influence the GOP primary getting the far right candidate the nomination, leaving the moderate by the wayside and Gray Davis, a rather poor and uninspiring Democratic candidate to win relatively easily. We will have to wait and see because it has been such a strong GOP stronghold, but the Democrat vs. the far Right makes you wonder where the moderate Republicans and Independents will fall in the race.

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