Potential GOP Fissures

February 7, 2011

Republicans look strong each time President Obama assaults the treasury or the democratic process, but people seem more willing to forgive his infractions than they are with other politicians. That, along with the possibility of fissures among conservatives, could make him a formidable candidate for re-election.

It’s mystifying that anyone other than pure leftists and those on the public dole could even consider voting for Obama after the way he’s governed and behaved in office, but he seems to have nine political lives. It’s amazing that he could enjoy high approval ratings while his policies are so unpopular. But so many invested their hope in him to be the man he pretended to be, and they don’t want to let it go. The mainstream media are happy to nourish that sentiment, and their job will be even easier if the economy continues to rebound despite Obama’s repeated body blows to it.

All of which is to say that Republicans had better bring their best game, both in their governance and in managing the various factions inside their big (and, one hopes, growing) tent. That, I’m afraid, could be easier said than done.

Let me just point out a few problem areas and warning signs for Republicans, not as some ominous foreboding or as a surrender to pessimism, but as potential pitfalls to avoid.

The tea party movement is an enormously positive force for responsible and accountable government and for the resurgence of constitutional principles and the rule of law. Its primary contribution has been its unwavering commitment to fiscal responsibility and its refusal to be absorbed and then emasculated by the Republican Party — to the detriment of both.

The tea party is clearly opposed to the leftist Democratic Party and is naturally aligned with the principles the GOP stands for. The problem is that the GOP has so often abandoned its principles that it has been put on probation, with the tea party being the probation officer and the judge.

With the tea party breathing down its neck, the GOP is mostly making a good faith effort to rehabilitate itself. Granted, there are constant setbacks, but we’re finally seeing some real progress, such as the House vote to repeal Obamacare and all 47 GOP senators also voting to repeal.

But there will be backsliding and ongoing tension, which could lead to some movement from the tea party actually to form a political party and field a presidential candidate. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that should that happen, no one would be happier than Obama. A better method of accountability would be to threaten to run more conservative candidates against Republican congressmen who refuse to acknowledge the urgency of the looming national debt crisis and govern accordingly.

Beyond GOP dissipation, there are other potentials for GOP splintering, as well. There is recurring friction between social conservatives and libertarians. Though almost all tea partyers are economic conservatives and their most animating issues are concern over the deficit, the debt and the Constitution, I dare say the lion’s share of them are also social conservatives. Some libertarians are saying that social conservatives should just back off, while social conservatives are warning them not to ignore their concerns.

Ironically, to a certain extent the near panic among conservatives over the national debt is working in Obama’s favor because some conservatives are so concerned over it that they’re willing to allow social issues to be crowded out or severely subordinated. I pray they don’t make the mistake of assuming they can get away with this, because there is not a more motivated coalition inside the conservative movement than social conservatives, and they will not tolerate being shunted aside. It’s not negotiable.

The good news, though, is that these groups can continue to live in harmony inside a big tent that is committed to defeating Obama’s destructive agenda, provided the latent animus between the purists from each doesn’t explode. Reagan conservatism is based on the three-legged stool of economic, social and national defense issues. Those three legs have to remain strong and steady, or the stool will fall.

Finally, there is conflict between strict neoconservatives and other conservatives over foreign policy, which has bubbled up over some neocons accusing other conservatives, skeptical about the allegedly democratic movement in Egypt, of hysteria and conspiracy mania. These conservatives have returned fire, charging that the neocons are so ideologically wedded to the idea of democratic movements and nation building that they’re naive about the real possibility that the protest movement in Egypt is not in fact “democratic” and could produce a government hostile to America and Israel.

Republicans should be mindful of these problem areas and remember who their real political opponents are. None of these potential fissures should ripen into a major crack, provided they’re not downplayed or ignored.