When the media (or even Republicans themselves) say “The Republicans did X” or “The Republicans believe Y,” they fail to appreciate that “Republican” is now an uneasy alliance of competing ideologies and factions. (When you say “The Democratic position is . . .” there is no such confusion. The Democratic Party controls the White House and exercises remarkable party discipline, as we saw in the Senate on the votes on delaying Obamacare). This makes it tempting for left-leaning pundits and other liberal elites to ascribe the most radical views and tactics to the entire GOP. The Republicans’ failure to rein in the hardliners during the shutdown face-off only made this easier. It is not surprising, then, that most Americans think “the Republican Party” set out to shut down the government in an effort to defund Obamacare or that “the Republican Party” is anti-government.
The “Republicans” also include House leadership, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), economist Thomas Sowell and GOP governors — who all opposed the shutdown. There are Republicans who would trade sequester caps for entitlement reform and those who’d staunchly oppose it. There are Republicans who now think tax relief is “crony capitalism” and those who think, like Milton Friedman, that any tax reduction is a good thing. It’s not merely on matters of domestic policy that the GOP has fragmented. Is “the Republican position on Syria” the stance of Sen. John McCain of Arizona or Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky? The areas of commonality (pro-life, pro-Israel, pro-regulation reduction) arguably no longer outweigh the differences in style and substance.
And that brings us to the next major divide. The shutdown was about more than “style” or “tactics”; it was about the purpose of politics and the obligations of elected leaders. There are the Jim DeMint/Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)/Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)/House hardliners who think politics is about expressions of fidelity to a political ideology, not about advancing the ideology through legislative compromise. Call them GOP Fighters. Then there are the GOP governors/Senate moderates/House leadership who consider the furtherance of conservative policy to be their objective. Call them Republicans for a Republican Majority (“Majoritarians”). Fighters don’t much care about majority status, but for Majoritarians it is the whole ball of wax. Majoritarians can be very conservative (Coburn) or not (Collins), but they disdain fighting for fighting’s sake and think success is measured in legislative accomplishments and electoral victories.
A minority party that wants to govern can’t afford to lose many (any?) bodies unless that directly contributes to its ability to pick up even more adherents who are equally committed to electing Republicans. If the Fighters leave, Majoritarians should be prepared to backfill and add to the party if they want to advance conservative policies and win electoral majorities. Fighters who think the party can never be too small so long as it is ideologically pure may find themselves irrelevant if they bolt or won’t run with colleagues who can plant them in the majority (or hold out hope for the majority).
In short, if Majoritarians really want to rid themselves of the Fighters, they should advance an agenda and adopt techniques that can expand the party so it can win elections. And if Fighters really want to rid themselves of the Majoritarians, they should think long and hard about whether giving up even the pretense of governance is worth it. The irony here is that the Fighters — who claim superior conservative credentials — in many cases are no more conservative than some Majoritarians; they simply don’t ascribe a priority to winning and governing. They just can’t admit that (Send money for purity, not for victory!). Goodness knows that people might not give Jim DeMint money if he isn’t part of the effort to win elections and obtain conservative results.