Brent Budowsky: GOP sectarian civil wars

The Republican Party has entered a new era of sectarian civil wars on multiple issues that bitterly divide and dangerously threaten the GOP through the 2016 elections and beyond.

These intensely emotional and ideological issues create deep fissures in the tectonic plate of Republican politics, pitting warring GOP factions against each other and creating powerful strategic advantages for Democrats. They guarantee escalating clashes between competing visions of Republican and conservative philosophy, financial interests and cultural values that will reach a crescendo in a bitter struggle for control of the GOP in 2016.

{mosads}Tea Party patriots are beginning to realize the degree to which insider, establishment, corporate Republicans are waging an all-out war against them to decide who “owns” the GOP. This battle of party ownership pits an establishment wing that is premised on the fundraising and legislative agenda of crony capitalism against a grassroots-based wing that champions a conservative neo-populism and a new breed of reformism from the right.

Note that after the latest crash the widely reviled Wall Street bailouts were not originated by liberal Democrats but by the GOP establishment, a GOP president, and their allies on Wall Street.

The next battleground over crony-capitalism will be the future of the Export-Import Bank. Going forward there will be countless repetitions of this intra-GOP sectarian war that is based on fundamental and irreconcilable conflicts of financial interest and ideology.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed months ago to virtually destroy the Tea Party. The power wielded by the GOP establishment wing against the Tea Party is so enormous that even Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), courting the GOP establishment, aggressively backed McConnell against a Tea Party challenge.

The determination of establishment Republicans to destroy Tea Party Republicans is so aggressive that in the recent Mississippi Senate primary, old-guard Republicans turned out black Democrats to win a Republican primary in order to save an old-guard GOP incumbent senator and defeat a Tea Party challenger.

On immigration the GOP sectarian wars pit business and faith-based voters, who support immigration reform, against anti-immigration factions, which detest immigration reform. In a mirror image of Paul helping McConnell defeat the Tea Party, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who helped lead the battle for immigration reform in the Senate, desperately flip-flops to appease anti-immigrant factions.

Immigration creates intense divisions between Senate and House Republicans, between corporate and Tea Party Republicans, and between the GOP and the huge wave of Hispanic voters. This will probably cause a once-in-a-generation demographic disaster for Republicans.

On national security the reemergence of former Vice President Cheney and neocons who championed the Iraq War dramatizes the GOP sectarian conflict between military interventionists and Republicans they attack as isolationists, including Paul. This bitter intraparty clash involves irreconcilable and deeply held views on core national security issues. When high-profile Republican combatants accuse one another of being warmongers or isolationists, Republicans lose.

Regarding National Security Agency surveillance, destruction of privacy and the surveillance state, there are similar irreconcilable and intensely felt conflicts between libertarian conservatives who abhor invasions of privacy, national security conservatives who support them to protect the homeland and corporate players torn between collaborating with invasions of privacy and trying to soothe unhappy customers.

The danger to Republicans of these internecine clashes has been partially masked by the playing field advantage of Senate Republicans in the 2014 elections, which will be reversed in 2016, and the relative unpopularity of President Obama, which will almost certainly be reversed by the relative popularity of Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Democrats could achieve what I call a reverse realignment in 2016. A traditional realignment, as FDR achieved in 1932, is achieved by addition, with constituencies added to create a long-term majority. A reverse realignment, which is possible for Democrats in 2016, would be achieved by subtraction if a smaller-tent GOP implodes from within while driving swing voters and demographic wave voters to Democrats.

Liberal Republicans have disappeared. Moderate Republicans are ostracized within the GOP. The GOP brand is widely unpopular. Defeating immigration reform would poison the GOP with Hispanics. The Hobby Lobby decision attacking contraceptive use will re-invigorate the “war on women” issue. Add two more years of escalating sectarian wars between bitterly divided GOP factions and there will be big trouble for the party of Lincoln.


Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at

Tags Hillary Clinton Marco Rubio Mitch McConnell Rand Paul Republican Party Tea party

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