Three GOPs

The results from Iowa show one thing very clearly: There are now three distinct Republican parties.


The mainstream GOP captured about a quarter of the vote in the caucus polls. The social conservatives got about half. The libertarians got about a fifth.

Iowa is a bit skewed toward social conservatives. New Hampshire will show that the mainstream Republicans make up about a third of the party, and the social conservatives about a third, while libertarians make up the remaining third.

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Mainstream Republicans are business-minded. They are the establishment folks. They are both small-business owners and corporate employees. They are the Chamber of Commerce Republicans. They want the government to help business. Some mainstream Republicans are neo-conservative and care about defense issues, but mostly they view the world through the prism of business.

The mainstream Republicans are comfortable with Mitt Romney. They like his business experience. They don’t care if he is a Mormon or not. They may be religious, but their religion doesn’t interfere with their politics.

The mainstream Republicans used to dominate. They don’t hate Wall Street because they like the pro-business attitude that is prevalent there. They probably supported TARP because they had a lot of money invested in the market and they didn’t want to see the whole banking system collapse. Mainstream Republicans are probably pro-life, but they won’t vote only on that one issue. The stem-cell issue didn’t quite resonate with them.

The mainstream Republicans have the money, so they think they can pick the candidate. This year, they are picking Romney.

Social conservatives care first about the moral decline of the nation. Social conservatives are made up of two factions: evangelical voters and conservative Catholics. Evangelicals came to the fold during the 1980 election. They are the moral majority. They brought with them the Bible Belt, which slowly but surely turned Republican in the two decades after Ronald Reagan’s first election.

Conservative Catholics made a similar migration to the GOP, but for different reasons. Southern evangelicals were initially Democratic because of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Catholics were Democrats because of the Know-Nothings in the late 1800s, and they stayed Democrat because of FDR. Evangelicals and conservative Catholics left the Democrats behind because the Democrats were hijacked by liberals and by special-interest groups that didn’t include them. Perhaps the biggest reason conservative Catholics migrated to the GOP was because of Roe v. Wade. Just hang out in D.C. during a right-to-life march to see how Republican these folks have become.

Both evangelicals and conservative Catholics distrust Wall Street. Both are very tempted by political populism, if for different reasons.

Ron Paul and George Bush combined to make the libertarians strong again. Bush’s Iraq war and his expansion of the police state alienated paleoconservatives and inspired the ascent of Ron Paul. There has always been a libertarian strain in the party. Before, it was willing to join with the social conservatives and the defense hawks in forming a three-pronged stool upon which the party stood. That is not the case anymore.

Libertarians used to only be concerned about economic matters. They used to just want government off their backs when it came to environmental regulations and other government interference. These days, though, they want the government to stay out of foreign wars and out of their private lives. They want drugs to be legalized, Internet poker to be regulated and they want us to stay out of any more wars. They also want to get rid of the Federal Reserve, something that the business Republicans can’t really imagine.

The business conservatives have never really felt that comfortable around the social conservatives. Social conservatives don’t really feel that comfortable around the libertarians. And the libertarians don’t trust the business conservatives and don’t respect the social conservatives.

Mitt Romney, should he be the nominee, as a proud member of the Republican mainstream, is going to have his hands full in pulling together this coalition. The one thing all three parties agree with is that they don’t like Barack Obama. That will be good enough as an organizing principle for the campaign. It will fall apart, though, after the election.