The GOP Civil War – Part 1

SplitGOPby N. A. Halkides12/30/15
In discussing politics, one of the most frequently committed errors is “to fail to see the forest for the trees,” that is, to focus so completely on one issue that we fail to see the whole picture. That tendency had led many to be baffled and angered by the rise of Donald Trump and to completely misunderstand the significance of House Speaker John Boehner’s recent resignation. It has led them to see a number of recent political fights within the Republican Party as isolated skirmishes between ordinary factions when in fact they are battles within a larger war between the Establishment and the rest of the Party. If anyone thinks I’m exaggerating by using the term “war” – and there are many who continue to deny its existence – let me trace its history, point out some of its casualties, and reveal its significance.

That the GOP should be divided is nothing new, as I pointed out in Know Your Establishment Men.  The principle division has been between the Establishment, those dedicated to preserving large business interests who have been in control of the Party, and Conservatives, who have provided the votes and the ideas necessary to sustain a party.  Conservatives have thus been both the brawn and the brain, yet the Establishment has provided the organization and therefore run the show.  A third faction, the RINOs (Republicans In Name Only for those who haven’t heard), are basically a fifth column but still less destructive than the Establishment because they don’t pretend to be Conservative – at least not convincingly.

Throughout the twentieth century, the Establishment (hereinafter GOPe for short) always pretended to be an opposition to the increasingly-Left Democratic Party, and because of its greater pragmatism regarding national defense (it realized America had to defended from foreign enemies whereas many Democrats advocated what amounted to pacifist surrender) it allowed the GOP to be seen as an opposition party during the years when the Cold War was a dominant factor in American politics.  It also avoided internal dissent this way, since Conservatives agreed with the Establishment that America deserved to be defended, although we may wonder why the GOPe’s actual national security strategy did not come under stronger attack by Conservatives during Viet Nam and the First Gulf War (cf. the “nation-building” attempts by the administration of G. W. Bush in the early years of the twenty-first century).  Perhaps Conservatives were insufficiently organized, or perhaps their dissent was stronger than I remember.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, we might have predicted that there would be an immediate split between Establishment and Conservative, and yet this did not happen despite the disappointing Presidency of G. H. W. Bush (1989 – 1992).  The reasons are probably not important, although we might mention the distraction of H. Ross Perot’s Presidential campaigns in 1992 and 1996 which divided the anti-Democratic vote and helped conceal the Establishment’s basic electoral weakness in peacetime.  Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” meant that Conservatives could believe the Republican Party was actually going to stand for something, and small Conservative policy victories over sitting President Bill Clinton (e.g. welfare reform) gave some further cause for hope.

The Islamic terrorist attacks on 9/11 put national security on the front burner once more and helped G. W. Bush eke out a very slim margin of victory over the far-Left John Kerry in 2004.  More significantly for our purposes here, it helped hold the GOP together since even though Conservatives by then had a lot of reservations about Bush, he at least understood the danger of terrorists in possession of WMD and was against same-sex “marriage,” which had become a hot-button issue during 2004.

But apart from mishandling post-Saddam Iraq, Bush and his Republican Congress were stumbling badly.  Bush advocated something he called “compassionate conservatism,” which apparently meant using big government to achieve supposedly conservative aims – a logical contradiction which led to significant policy failures (you can’t reduce government’s power by increasing its size).  Over on Capitol Hill, Congressional Republicans proved they also had no aversion to big government, they merely wanted to run it themselves, and produced monstrosities such as the pork-laden $286 Billion 2005 transportation bill.  This, plus the general perception of the electorate that Republicans could not be trusted to handle the economy (which was correct, although voters had far too much trust in the Democrats), set the Party up for inevitable electoral defeat which of course happened in 2006 and 2008.

A defeated Party is much more likely to produce internal dissent than a victorious one, and even though the Party united in opposition to Obamacare (much to its credit), there were differences that could no longer be papered over.  Republican acquiescence to ever-increasing levels of national debt was a sore point that set the stage for the Tea Party movement, and on 2/19/2009, Rick Santelli delivered his famous “rant” on CNBC.  Then on April 15, 2009, protesters unloaded one million tea bags in Washington’s Lafayette Park, and it was hard to deny that a movement had begun.

It is not my purpose here to chronicle the origins of the Tea Party; the significant fact is that the TP’s wrath was directed as much against the GOPe as it was the Democrats.  Even though the TP lacked intellectual rigor, by opposing mortgage and Wall Street bail-outs it was directly or indirectly against the prevailing philosophy of heavy government involvement in the economy.

The next year (2010) Republicans took back the House, and now in theory had some real power to compel Obama and the Democrats to make some concessions.  To the dismay of Conservatives, this did not happen, and their discontent increased.  Then from the GOPe came a number of capitulations and betrayals so craven, so disgusting they are hard to believe.  Let us briefly review eight of them now.

1. December 2013 – The Backroom Budget Deal of Paul Ryan and Patty Murray

Since the House takeover by Republicans in 2010, Senate Democrats led by Harry Reid (D – NV) had simply refused to pass a proper budget.  The result was that the government had to be funded through a series of Continuing Resolutions (CRs) with the Democrats constantly threatening a “shutdown” if they didn’t get everything they wanted, knowing their allies in the mainstream media would see to it that Republicans got the blame.  An agreement known as “The Sequester” had been reached, which would force each party to accept budget cuts it didn’t want if they didn’t reach a comprehensive budget agreement by March 1, 2013.  For the Republicans, this meant Defense cuts; for the Democrats, social welfare spending.  Everyone expected the “threat” of these relatively small cuts would provide the necessary incentive to reach an agreement, but it didn’t work out that way, and the cuts were implemented on schedule.

Now in a properly-functioning government, we should expect the legislature to hammer out some sort of budget compromise with input from all sides.  Instead, in a move worthy of a South American banana republic, a group of just four people (Paul Ryan and John Boehner from the House and Patty Murray and Harry Reid from the Senate) met in secret and presented their agreement as a done deal to be rubber-stamped by the people’s representatives.  And what a deal it was!

First, The Sequester was no more.  In its place were theoretical budget cuts in the future, with spending increases to take place immediately.  The FY 2014 budget cap of $967 billion was blown off and replaced with one of $1.012 trillion, while that of FY 2015 was increased from $995 billion to $1.014 trillion.  Thus, one of the few Conservative victories – The Sequester – was given up, and in return for – nothing! Those “budget cuts” were to take place in future years (2022-2023!) not covered by the agreement, which means they were non-binding, which means that when the time comes the Democrats are sure to renege on the agreement – something Ryan must have known.  Even worse, despite Ryan’s assurance that the deal contained no new taxes, some of the claimed deficit reduction was in the form of higher “fees” (i.e. taxes).

Now it is true that with the government divided, Republicans could not be expected to get everything – a fact that Establishment-men Ryan and Boehner were fond of repeating.  At the same time, what they actually got was nothing – a net negative compared to the small $65 Billion in sequester cuts, with spending and tax (“fee”) increases for the Democrats and no cuts to anything for Republicans except the restored spending on defense and, of course, the avoidance of the dreaded “shutdown” which had terrified the “leadership” into complete submission.

2. February 11, 2014 – Debt Ceiling Increase

This of course had been contentious with Democrats (as usual) insisting on an increase in the limit on how much the country could borrow with no spending cuts whatsoever, thus continuing the country on the path toward eventual fiscal collapse as debt continues to mount.  Conservatives had hoped to use the leverage of increasing the debt ceiling – Democrats, still in control of the Senate, could not do so on their own – in order to get some spending concessions or at least a restoration of cuts to military pensions or approval of the Keystone Pipeline in return.  Here is Fox News’ summary:

“Boehner relied on mostly Democrats to bring the bill over the finish line 193 Democrats voted for the bill, while just 28 Republicans did the same. Boehner and other GOP leaders were among those who voted yes.”

What Boehner and the “other GOP leaders” were afraid of was another government “shutdown,” where some government activities were curtailed when Democrats refused to negotiate.  Not for the first time they surrendered the power of the purse, giving Democrats everything they wanted in return for nothing.

3. March, 2014 – Mitch McConnell’s Promise to “Crush” the Tea Party

The birth of the Tea Party movement was mentioned above.  While not synonymous with the Conservative movement, at least a good part of the TP is basically Conservative, and it was inevitable that primary challenges to Establishment and RINO Republicans would be made.  Three of these occurred in the U.S. Senate races in 2014, with Matt Bevin challenging Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, Chris McDaniel running against Thad Cochran in Mississippi, and Milton Wolf trying to unseat Pat Roberts in Kansas.  This is what McConnell had to say in an interview with The New York Times as reported by Business Insider:

“I think we are going to crush them everywhere.  I don’t think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country.”

No apologies for his and his party’s failures, not even excuses for his bad leadership – just threats.  And as a matter of fact, the Establishment trio did ultimately emerge triumphant, although Roberts just barely edged past Wolf in Kansas, and as for what happened in the Mississippi race we shall learn more in a moment.  But the signal fact here is that McConnell and the Establishment had the opportunity to become part of the TP movement, which was active in the base of their party, and chose instead to fight against it and its goal of (at least) reductions in federal spending.  This meant the GOP Establishment was now openly at war with its own base, a seemingly suicidal position.  Did the GOPe really imagine it could find enough voters elsewhere to replace its base?  For the “base” should logically be defined as a political party’s largest identifiable and reliable block of voters.  For Republicans, this has meant Conservatives.

The only conclusion I can reach is that McConnell and other E-men somehow calculated (and still believe now) that by secret deals and machinations coupled with promises to Conservatives they never intended to keep and piles of money from the Chamber of Commerce they did intend to keep, they could somehow maintain control of the Party.  If so, it would mean that the Republican Party Establishment had ceased even pretending to represent the people it was supposed to – an astonishing state of affairs.

4. June, 2014 – Barbour family attacks on Mississippi Conservatives

Just how the Party E-Men thought they could maintain control of the GOP can be seen in their conduct in the McDaniel/Cochran race in Mississippi, mentioned above.  After no one had a majority in the primary, a runoff was held between just the two men on June 3.  Cochran, who had been in the Senate since 1979, ran openly on his ability to bring home the pork to the poor state – not exactly a Conservative message.  McDaniel for his part promised to repeal Obamacare entirely, reduce the national debt, cut taxes, and enact term limits (story told at Politico).

But it was Cochran’s support from his fellow E-men that was to prove most revealing.  According to State Republican Chairman Ed Martin, Mississippi Republican National Committeeman Henry Barbour’s PAC funded ads by a man named Bishop Crudup (a name you couldn’t make up) that accused “the Tea Party [of wanting to] discriminate against African-Americans.” Using images from the Civil Rights era, one Barbour flyer stated that “the Tea Party intends to prevent you from voting.” The flyer was heavily distributed to black neighborhoods in clear echoes of the kind of race-baiting that is typical of the Democrats and the far-left organizations that support them.  Barbour is allied with Reince Priebus, RNC Chairman and consummate E-man, and is of course the son of former RNC Chairman and Mississippi Governor Hayley Barbour.  (More details may be found in Conservative HQ).

Cochran ended up winning the runoff by 6700 votes (after coming in second behind McDaniel in the primary itself), but the story didn’t end there:  it was alleged that ineligible voters, some of whom had voted in the Democratic primary, had illegally voted in the Republican runoff.  Whether legal or not, the high number of votes cast, 380,000, certainly invites the suspicion that a lot of non-Republicans must have participated in the election (only 320,000 votes were cast in the primary).  In effect, the GOPe had allied itself with its nominal opponents in order to vanquish Conservatives – a move that echoes Boehner’s using Democratic votes to increase the debt ceiling.

End of Part 1.

Nik is a freelance writer, former professor, and has written for FrontPage Magazine.
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9 Responses to The GOP Civil War – Part 1

  1. Rosalys says:

    Thank you, Mr. Halkides. This is why Donald Trump looks better and better to me – he’s not part of the club. And the fact that everybody seems to hate him (G.W. Bush saying, “I just don’t like him.” – care to give us a good reason, Mr. Bush? Of course not! He just doesn’t like him.) speaks very well for Ted Cruz.

    I can’t say I’m in the “anyone but Hilary camp any more. Certainly I’ll vote for a lamp post before I’d vote for Hilary, but I’d also vote for a lamp post before I’ll vote for Jeb Bush. I’d have to hold my nose (again!) to vote for Rubio or Christy. I’m not looking for a savior (I already have One and He isn’t running for office!), but it would sure be nice to be able to take someone at his word.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      In the end, however reluctantly, I’ve always ended up voting Republican for President, but off-hand, I can say I’d be extremely reluctant to vote for either Bush or Kasich. Otherwise I’d be less than thrilled with most of them, but after all the alternative is the Fire Witch, Slick Hilly. One has to wonder if we can survive 4 years of that, much less 8 — particularly given the moral cowardice (best case) of the GOP Beltway Bandits.

      • Rosalys says:

        “In the end, however reluctantly, I’ve always ended up voting Republican…”

        Yeah, me too. But one of these days I’m just not gonna do it! At some point I will have had enough. It’s rather a moot point whether we can survive four years of that evil, lying, murderous bitch, Hilary, as I can’t be certain that we have survived seven years (with one to go) of that evil, lying, murderous bastard, Obama! And he has promised he will be no lame duck. No indeed! It’s full steam ahead for him! And I have absolutely no faith in that steaming pile of humanity(?) on Capitol Hill that they will do anything to stop him. Woe is us!

        • Timothy Lane says:

          In both 1992 and 1996, I only finally decided to vote for the GOP at the presidential level when I got to the voting booth. A for the Beltway Bandits, my preference will be for any candidate who is NOT popular in Versailles-on-the-Potomac.


      You’re very welcome, Rosalys! Part 2 is on its way to Brad.
      — Nik

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    The Cochran-McDaniel race was crucially important. I’ve read bloggers recently who still remembered it, and haven’t forgiven the GOP Establishment for this gross betrayal of their grassroots voters. In 2014 I received frequent e-mail requests for money or labor from McConnell, and I invariably responded that i couldn’t do so until he condemned the Barbour shenanigans (which, of course, he never did).

    It was such Establishment betrayals that created the Trump movement – and so stupid are they that their response was the Ryan omnibus atrocity. (As I mentioned elsewhere, there are reports that the omnibus has some good points on civil liberties issues, though these presume that the Obama Gang will obey mandated limits or face effective punishment if it doesn’t, both of which are doubtful. But Ryan certainly never made any such defense himself.) I jokingly speculated elsewhere that Ryan was really in Trump’s pay. It makes more sense than anything else.

    • Rosalys says:

      “…and haven’t forgiven the GOP Establishment for this gross betrayal of their grassroots voters.”

      Yeah, the “Grand” Old Party pulled the same crap here in Rhode Island back in 2006. We had a decent candidate in Steve Laffey running for Senate, but in the primary, the RNC backed that arrogant, mental lightweight and turncoat RINO, missing-Linc Chaffee. I just love it when The RNC calls every other year, begging for money. It gives me an opportunity to tell them exactly what I think of them and that I will NEVER forgive them for what they did to Laffey.

      I was just doing some fact checking on the web and discovered that Laffey is now living in Colorado (I knew he’d left RI) and is making a run for Congress. Hopefully he hasn’t been co-opted by the Republican Establishment, but who knows. I don’t think he’s a rich man, so he’ll be needing money – that is always a danger to one’s integrity.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Republican acquiescence to ever-increasing levels of national debt was a sore point that set the stage for the Tea Party movement, and on 2/19/2009, Rick Santelli delivered his famous “rant” on CNBC.

    I suspect the roots of the Tea Party movement lay in George W. Bush’s refusal to veto one spending bill during his first term. Had he done so, the country would have considerably less debt than it does.

    In addition to Bush’s fiscal insanity, he pushed for amnesty in 2006 and 2007. I believe the combination of Bush’s profligacy and amnesty push set the stage for the Tea Party and the present dissatisfaction with government.

    Trump is simply driving down the road that Bush and later Obama paved. Any other candidate could have done the same.

    • Bell Phillips says:

      Could have, but didn’t.

      Why no one did is a very good question for which I have no answer. There is more going on than the simple desire to keep winning elections.

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