Look, we have all seen the sabre rattling between the Republican factions—especially between the Tea Party and establishment wings of the Party. In December, House Speaker Boehner seemed to reach a breaking point when he called conservative groups like The Heritage Foundation and FreedomWorks “ridiculous” and exclaimed that they had “lost all credibility.” And certainly conservative groups have been seething over the recent budget deal and the passage of the farm bill because it didn’t include the wholesale cuts they sought.
But it wasn’t until this past week that we saw leaders of certain GOP groups in essence lay out a specific battle plan. First, former Representative Steve LaTourette announced last Friday the formation of a new Republican PAC whose goal is “beat the snot out of” Tea Party Congressional candidates. LaTourette, a moderate, boasted that he hoped to beat Tea Party candidates in eight to ten races in the 2014 midterm election.
Then on Monday, president of The Tea Party aligned FreedomWorks, Matt Kibbe, ratcheted up the war talk by pledging to unseat the 28 Republicans who recently voted to raise the debt ceiling. Their “hit list” includes House Majority leader Eric Cantor and Speaker Boehner, whom Kibbe bluntly stated had, "failed in his duty to represent the people and as a result, it is time for him to go.”
And on Wednesday, while appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Rep. Peter King suggested that Rand Paul has no place in the GOP because the Kentucky Senator had filed a class action lawsuit stemming from his opposition to the NSA surveillance program. While King has long been critical of Paul for his opposition to the NSA program, this is first time he appeared to be calling for Paul’s expulsion from the GOP.
It truly appears that we are on the verge of a reckoning within the GOP beyond simply the targeting of a few seats. Who will win is anyone’s guess, in part, because there are so many Republican factions fighting each other. Indeed, the three day Battle of Gettysburg was easier to follow because there were only two sides, the North led by General George Meade and the Confederates headed up by General Robert E. Lee.
The Republican Party conflict, in contrast, pits three or even four groups of combatants against each other and features numerous battle lines. We have establishment Republicans led by people like Peter King. There are the Tea Party Republicans featuring Ted Cruz and his cohorts. Then there’s the libertarian wing headed by Rand Paul.
And arguably, there’s a fourth group seeking control of the GOP: the religious social conservatives such as Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. Although this GOP faction seems less focused on fighting with fellow Republicans and more concerned about “women’s libidos.”
While from the outside it seems like a massive battle is brewing, not all Republican leaders agree. Grover Norquist, president of the influential Americans for Tax Reform, told me via email that there’s actually a, “high level of agreement within the Republican Party and conservative movement on central questions.” He also touted the success of the GOP in controlling governorships and State legislatures, commenting, “if this is what division looks like. I will take it.” Norquist did, though, candidly note that, “there are outliers always willing to give a self-destructive quotation.”
However, Norquist did have some sharp remarks for Rep. Peter King, whom he described as, “not a wing of the party. Barely a feather. He speaks for himself.” And in response to King’s remarks earlier this week Rand Paul shouldn’t be part of the GOP, Norquist responded that New York Congressman is, “not the king or pope able to excommunicate those he is losing to in this present debate.” Norquist added that Paul is known nationally while, “Peter King is not known outside of those circles where IRA is not understood to refer to a retirement system.” (It’s a reference to King’s support of the Irish Republican Army.)
Could Norquist be right? Is the media overblowing the division within the GOP? Tough to say but even in Norquist’s comments denying that a Gettysburg type GOP battle was on the horizon did reveal there was at the very least growing tension within his Party.
The outcome of the GOP civil war is impossible to predict with any certainty.
In time we will know if this was nothing more than sabre rattling or an all out war for control of the GOP. But keep in mind that even after the Battle of Gettysburg which was seen as the turning point of the Civil War, the hostilities continued for two more years.
One thing is certain: every resource that the Republican Party expends fighting each other is one less they have to do battle with Democrats in the general elections. Bottom line is that the real winner in this civil war may not be any faction of the GOP—but actually the Democrats.