Before the ink dried on the agreement brokered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), battle lines were already being drawn. Business groups, including the reliably conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are reportedly preparing to take sides in Republican primaries in Michigan, Idaho and Alabama against tea party candidates. Additionally, the tea party has begun arming itself for battle as well. Former GOP vice-presidential nominee and tea party heavyweight Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) is taking aim at the 2014 congressional mid-terms with GOP senators in the crosshairs. In a recent posting on her Facebook page she stated:
“Rest well tonight, for soon we must focus on important House and Senate races. Let’s start with Kentucky — which happens to be awfully close to South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi — from sea to shining sea we will not give up. We’ve only just begun to fight.”
Unfortunately for the American public, this GOP Civil War will incur its share of collateral damage. The recent government shutdown is just the first casualty—with more likely to come as we approach the next budget deadline of January 15 and debt ceiling expiration in March. Caught in the crossfire will be the country’s most vulnerable, including disabled citizens, veterans, seniors, students and needy children.
Internal battles are not new and both political parties have seen their share of infighting over the years. The Democrats suffered self-inflicted wounds in 1980, when Senator Ted Kennedy challenged incumbent President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination. For Republicans, you have to go back to the 1960’s when Nelson Rockefeller Republicans faced off against Barry Goldwater conservatives. This time around, with the twitterverse and social online media, the impact will be far greater—and it will be aired in real time across several platforms.
Many conservatives, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others, realize the damage the shutdown inflicted on the GOP brand. They do not want to be saddled with the sinking poll numbers, anemic fundraising, and shrinking base as a result. But the Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wing of the party is prepared to use the threat of another government shutdown to try to get its way on defunding Obamacare. With polls showing most Americans blame Republicans for the mess in Washington, a Cruz missile over Obamacare in the upcoming budget battles could put the GOP’s hold on the House and any chance of regaining the Senate in jeopardy.
The GOP effort to thwart President Obama and his signature legislation has led the GOP down a dark road. It’s a road where Republican leaders are unable to galvanize the party faithful or agree on a unified strategy for moving the nation forward.
For the foreseeable future the party will operate as separate splinter groups warring from within while the nation limps along. The question is: when the dust settles who will be left standing, the GOP or the tea party?
Ham is a former Congressional Fellow and author of THE GOP CIVIL WAR: Inside the Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party.