Cleveland 2016: The GOP’s Waterloo

The Republican National Committee has chosen to host its 2016 GOP convention in the all-important battleground state of Ohio. The GOP has been waging an all-out battle with itself since the 2012 presidential election that saw Mitt Romney’s campaign go down in flames.  

Since then, the party has rolled out “autopsy” strategies and seen the rise and fall of some of its most promising 2016 candidates, most notably, scandal-plagued New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. By choosing the city of Cleveland to host its nomination event the party sends the message that Ohio will be its last stand. What’s further interesting is it chose a Democratic and unabashedly blue city. It did not choose undeniably and reliably red Cincinnati, home to the leader of the GOP, Speaker John Boehner.

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The GOP has been smarting since upstart Barack Obama upended maverick Sen. John McCain (r-Ariz.) who was seen by many as the most seasoned and experienced of the two. Like Romney, McCain has never been able to live with his and Obama’s places in history.

All of this gave rise to the tea party movement, and ever since, the GOP establishment and tea party wings of the Republican Party have engaged in an all-out GOP Civil War. This summer’s GOP primary season has been especially bruising as Eric Cantor (R-Va.) became the first House majority leader in history to lose a primary contest. Moreover, Mississippi state senator and tea party darling Chris McDaniel is considering a legal fight after black voters came to the rescue of incumbent Republican Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) in their June run-off.

While the GOP is only getting stronger at the state level, with a majority of governorships and state legislatures under their control, nationally, the party is slowly regressing. It has been unable to develop a viable policy agenda and is constantly beset by infighting on direction and strategy. The tit-for-tat fighting is eating away at what was the “Party of Lincoln.” By deciding on Cleveland, the GOP is making a last stand as a viable national party. Ohio is a perennial battleground state and its 18 electoral votes will play an important role in deciding the next president. The GOP has decided to take on itself and the Democratic Party in a fight for Ohio’s crucial electoral votes. The GOP is courting a two-front battle for the soul of the party and for the nation and Cleveland is its Waterloo.

Waterloo was the decisive battle with much at stake. The battle ended a series of wars that waged throughout Europe. It also was the end of the first French Empire and more importantly, ended the political and military career of Napoleon Bonaparte, undoubtedly one of the greatest commanders and statesmen in history. However, the battle at Waterloo did usher in nearly a half century of peace in Europe. Might Cleveland too? Will it be decisive in finally bringing an end to a brutal and bruising GOP Civil War that has raged throughout the Republican landscape since the end of the 2012 presidential election? More importantly, will Cleveland bring an end to political careers of some of the more divisive voices in the Republican Party a la Mr. Bonaparte?

Cleveland is a fascinating choice for sure. Coming out of the nomination process the GOP will either be a stronger united party or fractured and weak. Either way, a potential showdown with a possible challenger such as Hillary Clinton will be too much for the latter and still formidable against the former.

Post-2012, the GOP has seen some of its biggest supporters turn against one another. The Club for Growth vs. Chamber of Commerce; former RNC Chairman Michael Steele vs. RNC Chairman Reince Preibus; establishment vs. tea party; Bush wing vs. Romney wing; hawks vs. isolationists; the one constant being the fights get nastier and more detrimental both to the party and the nation.

The Republicans have a very real shot at taking control of the Senate in 2014 but will tea party factions get behind vulnerable incumbents such as current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)? Will Laura Ingraham, Sara Palin and spurned tea party candidate Chris McDaniel support “establishment” candidates in 2014? Will the growing rift over foreign policy percolating between Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and former Vice President Dick Cheney be resolved by 2016 or will the growing uncertainty across the globe only lead to greater chaos at home within the GOP?

All critical questions to be sure and if they’re not answered now, they will most certainly be answered in Cleveland in 2016. And much like Waterloo, the answers will be decisive and final.

Ham, a national-security and political analyst is author of the bestselling book, THE GOP CIVIL WAR: Inside the Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party.