The GOP’s New Civil War

The pragmatists and the ideologues are already squaring off, and the future of a party is at stake

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

Delegates listen to the National Anthem on the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, Aug. 30, 2012.

And so it begins. When Senator Saxby Chambliss announced last week that he no longer considered himself bound by a no-new-taxes pledge he signed two decades ago, the Georgia Republican made an important break with a GOP article of faith — an early sign that compromise could yet be possible in the coming weeks and months.

(MORE: Meacham: Make A Deal Now, Obama)

And maybe years. Endorsed by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and by Representative Peter King of New York, the Chambliss decision — one that put him on the other side of Grover Norquist and the conservative base — is reminiscent of what began happening among Democrats in the aftermath of the 1984 Reagan landslide. Old allegiances to traditional Democratic constituencies were re-examined; the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) urged office holders and candidates to adopt centrist rhetoric and a promarket orientation.

It worked. In the 1990s Bill Clinton became the first two-term Democratic president since FDR, and Al Gore — another early DLCer — won the popular vote in 2000. The climatic moment of the New Democrat ascendancy came in 1996, when Clinton declared that “the era of big government” was over.

(MORE: Meacham: Why Obama’s Second Term Isn’t Doomed)

Republicans are overdue for their own rethinking. After the exhaustion of the first decade of the new century, it’s understandable that such self-examination has been slow in coming, but it apparently has finally come. Whether the GOP is to be pragmatic in the mold of George H.W. Bush or more ideological in the mode of his son is a live question. The Chambliss-Graham-King moment suggests the debate is very much on.

In the short and medium term, President Obama may be able to take advantage of the fluid opinion within the GOP to get a lasting fiscal deal. In the long term, the kind of party the Republicans choose to be will help define our politics as surely as the rise of the New Democrats did.

VIDEO: TIME Explains: The Fiscal Cliff

99 comments
jopen7
jopen7

The Repukes need to learn that just because you repeat a lie it will never come true.

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

The democrats learned their lesson after McGovern and Dukakis and swung their party closer to the center (initially under Clinton); repubs need to wake up and move their party from the wingnut right closer to the center.  They also need to be less obstructionist (e.g., the lowering of our credit rating) and more compromising.

SamSmith
SamSmith

The American voter elect the politicians, NOT Norquist.  All the money in the world will not win the peoples vote as the 2012 election showed us.  Republicans, having spent billions in campaigns and ads lost.  The American people are truly more smart then the Norquist and his croonies.     

T.P.Chia
T.P.Chia

It is high time that Republicans change their ideological thoughts in the interest of the nation--if the GOP is going to survive in the future.  Republicans should do something positive for America by abandoning Grover Norquist's no-new-taxes pledge, which is an insult to themselves and the nation.  If the GOP continues to be the political servant of the rich, it is destined to face the desert of the electorate.

57% of Americans favor raising taxes on the wealthy, including billionaire Warren Buffett.  Is the GOP going to ignore the wishes of the American people?  Luckily, there are some Republicans who are reasonable, moderate and fair-minded. Senators Saxby Chamblis and Lindsay Graham and Representative Peter King, among others, are doing a great service to the GOP and the nation by rejecting the no-new-taxes pledge.  They care about the future of America.

President Barack Obama stands a better chance to avoid the "fiscal cliff"  crisis.

DonRamsey
DonRamsey

If the President gives the GOPers a way to save face, they'll fall all over themselves to make a compromise deal. It's the only way they can go to their constituents in 2014 and show off what they've done. (Despite all those nasty ol' libruls.)

drbillykidd
drbillykidd

I saw Reagan's son, Ron Reagan,, Jr., on TV say that his father would not adhere to "Reaganism" if he were alive today. His father was far to willing to work with everyone. Furthermore, Ron Reagan, Jr., said his father could not get nominated for president in today's Republican party. Apparently, the guy just couldn't hate liberals enough to make the grade.

noman
noman

why politics are called as 'politics' ? "Polite" people rarely seen here!

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

I miss the conservative party that were intelligent bankers that served the interest of fiscal responsibility and left their noses largely out of social issues like abortion or gay marriage.  Whatever happened to those guys?

mbhposter
mbhposter

Never say never, never say always. Otherwise you set yourself up in a position to no compromise on anything. Or you put yourself in position to do the "right" thing at the wrong time. 

reallife
reallife

blah blah blah Liberals talking about how Republicans should be more like them... surprise surprise... how innovative.  Meanwhile the only Republicans that win are the "real" conservatives like Reagan and W.                                                                                                                blah blah blah  we heard this talk about the dissappearance of the Republican Party in 2008... then you had your arses handed to you in 2010. The Tea Party is alive, well, and growing so get ready for another shellacking in 2014.

TomArmistead
TomArmistead

I believe the current intolerance in politics derives from the deliberate and successful efforts of conservative Christians to mobilize their fellow-believers into a political bloc to enact their conservative religious doctrines into civil law through political action. Theologically conservative themselves, they gravitated to the more conservative political party and reinforced the secular conservatives who were attempting to revive conservatism as a movement.

As these efforts bore fruit at the ballot box, the conservative movement was overwhelmed by the far-more-numerous (or merely more passionate) religious conservatives, and the entire movement/bloc has become characterized by a religious self-righteousness. It has become a crusade to save America from unrighteousness.

But salvation is a zero-sum game: For God to win, Satan has to lose, and not just lose, but be completely vanquished, eliminated. In that battle, compromise is not an option. That’s why the tea party-supported members of Congress are intransigent, and that’s why Congress is tied in knots. Although the talking heads noted that the 2012 election has produced no substantive change in the composition of the Congress and the Presidency, I think the Republican Party, as it licks its wounds and ponders the results of the campaigns in states where the tea party was in the ascendant, may come to realize that extremism in the defense of liberty may indeed be a vice (apologies to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign slogan), and may begin to cleanse itself of the corrupting influence of the purveyors of religion-fueled hatred and intolerance.

As a Bahá’í, I believe partisan politics is incapable of fundamentally transforming society (that’s the job of religion, and it only works by changing hearts), but if this election can prompt the partisans to search their souls and act on their best impulses, I can hope for a return to a more civil, honest and intelligent political discourse.

fitty_three
fitty_three

More seriously to those who doubt:

Conservatism is conservatism.  It should have nothing to do with race, gender, or religion.

So maybe once the conservatives realize that half the baggage they've been carrying is inherited from the white backlash to civil rights loss in the '60s, maybe we can get back to being a country again:

State's rights (after all, they are Republicans!), smaller government, less taxes etc etc have nothing to do with all the other excreta they've been trying to sell this past 40 years. The "angry white male" is going geriatric.  Let's put it in a nursing home.

DavidStrayer
DavidStrayer

It will be interesting to see how effectively the Republicans can manage their fiscal (and social) lunatic fringes.  If they can, so much the better.  

However, don't expect the rationality of a small number of senators and congressmen to carry the party back towards the center.  The GOP is still hostage to the Faustian bargain they made in the 70s to pursue a strategy of pandering to the far right, and they are still hostage to the billionaires who bankroll the party and for whom higher capital tax (or other) tax rates are anathema.

It is, nonetheless, encouraging to see that some Republican lawmakers are actually taking their oaths of office and loyalty to the republic more seriously than their pledges to Grover Norquist.  Maybe there'll be progress on other fronts as well?

NathanielGatewood
NathanielGatewood

I'm happy to see this, honestly.  I lean to the left..always have, and probably always will.  But, there are legitimate ideas on the right.  The problem (especially the last few years) is the far right has controlled the rhetoric.

And I don't buy the "they're just trying to get us to abandon our principles and become more like democrats.  Look, if your party platform wants to be pro-choice..that's fine..but don't make it a litmus test to be in the party.  You want to be for "traditional" marriage?  Fine, but don't tell gays or people for gay marriage they can't be a part of the club.  That's been their problem.  They used wedge issues and made it "you're with us, or against us" kind of mentality..you can't do that and win a national election.

roncaldwell32
roncaldwell32

The Republicans electoral strength comes from the South and Border States, the bible belt and its social conservative platform reflects the John Birch Society agenda.  The Republican Party if it were in fact to change would require dumping its basic electoral base which I doubt will happen, while the national so called Republican leaders talk the talk the reality is that little real movement can happen unless the Bible Belt suddenly has a political awaking and moves left.

jenny.hootyhoo
jenny.hootyhoo

Vickie - one of these days you may be in a position to need financial help.  Listen to DonQuixotic - millions of these illegals work from sun up to sun down for minimum wage and they  live in shacks.   Do we need to STOP illegal immigration - YES - but the majority of  Hispanics are good, hard working people and they don't need to be hated.  I am 100% for stopping any new illegals, but many who are here help our country. 

I do fear the Hispanic population becoming the number one voting block in the future - so that needs to be controlled - but that needs to be done in a better way than it has been done in the past hundred years. People who are allowed to become citizens should be divided between the citizens coming from all the countries, so that we will not have a Hispanic top voting block. 

biggus_brother
biggus_brother

Republicans are finally waking up to the realization that it is the un-elected, fringe policy groups who try to control them like puppets that are the real problem.  These extreme-right idealogues also have their hands pulling the strings of the press and use it to personally bludgeon those who disagree with them.  

The GOP has put its tail between its legs when faced with these idealogues and wrapped itself in so much of their random dogma that the entire party is paralyzed and no longer capable of taking any real action, except to repeat the slogans of their political masters.  

It's about time the republicans showed some balls and stood up to these handful of 'kooks.  

VickieArnold
VickieArnold

I'm on the side that wants millions of welfare parasitic hispanics removed from the country.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

We get a taste of how crazy the GOP has become here in Swampland everyday.  It doesn't get nuttier than threatening to secede because your guy lost in an election.  Nothing overtly racist about that at all.  Nope, no sir!

fitty_three
fitty_three

A civil war in the Republican Party?  They could not possibly suffer a more appropriate fate.  

Good G*d D*m riddance to the old GOP...

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

So you have this guy Grover.  He's clever and knows how Washington works.  He comes up with this pledge of no new taxes or tax increases but there is no pledge for no new spending or spending increases.  What this amounts to is putting a match to the fuse of a bomb you've just placed under our country.  This guy is no patriot and its about time some members of the GOP wake up....better late then never.

FrankRommey
FrankRommey

There was that moment in time when the politics got portrayed in a phrase: "It's the Economy, Stupid". The majority of the people in this country, in spite of the continuing efforts from the "evangelical economists", already learned the lesson of what's behind the "trickle down pledge" and know that's poison for our country. Nothing in the "social conservatism" matters when we have an economy in trouble. What the Republican field is doing it's to keep themselves mired in a framework of useless slogans, long discredited and rejected, damn reality. What Grover Norquist, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell are promoting it's to immolate themselves in the fires of corporate capitalism and religious bigotry. I'll say, let them do it... We and the Country will be better off with the passing of the Republican Party, not Republican anymore... 

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

It's a tough decision.  Do GOTP politicians pledge allegiance to lobbyist Grover Norquist or honor their oath to uphold the Constitution?

What's a bagger to do?

TheScribe56
TheScribe56

The reasonable republicans simply have to take their party back from the Neo-Cons and Tea-Party.  The latter two correctly realized that forming their own breakaway party would never be successful, so they used tactics like the Norquist pledge to force their will on the reasonable..  People forget that failure to live up to that pledge means that Norquist's wealthy supporters are going to sink their money into defeating that candidate during the primaries.  They don;'t support the pledge out of commitment, but out of fear. The fear of their own party turning against them.  

ravenrdr
ravenrdr

Let us hope the ideologues win!

akpat
akpat

What amazes me is that these people signed this pledge almost 20 years ago. We seem to have a breakdown in communication here. This is the 21 century and times change. Whats more to sign a pledge like this and then hold it over the constitution, their own oath and the good of this country clearly demostrate we need to worry more about congress than some Afghan tribesman.

DavidHall
DavidHall

>> The climatic moment of the New Democrat ascendancy came in 1996

Climactic, not "climatic."

antonmarq
antonmarq

It still fascinates me that politicians can make such outrageous and arrogant promises as if, they know they will still be holding offices 20 years from the date the promise was made. Unless, they have somehow purchased that office, free and clear, it sounds to me that the people in those state have absolutely no say in what their represented politicians can and cannot do for the future of the state and country. Moreover, they are rubbing their noses on daring anyone to get rid of them; take it may way or take the highway, people. You folks voted for these overtly and snobbish mass of controllers, now deal with it. I also believe that this is a serious federal issues that requires some investigation. Again, how can anyone predict that they will remain  in office for life, unless...