Factions

A lot of the reaction to my conservapedia piece falls along the lines that you would expect – essentially that I’m painting with too broad a brush.  I probably was in that post.  Obviously a lot of conservatives are thoughtful, independent-thinking, and honest people.  It’s primarily, therefore, a reaction to the conservative leadership that leads me to write posts like that one.  To the movers and shakers on the quasi-populist right.

What I think we’re seeing and have been seeing now for some time is the heating up of an internal war within the GOP and the broader conservative movement, which includes the Tea Parties and other grassroots efforts that may or may not be directly affiliated with the Republican Party.  This was bound to happen after the McCain loss.  It gave the real right-wingers in the party (and outside of it) a chance to blame the moderates for the loss, and it gave the GOP insiders a chance to settle old scores.  I’m not at all sure that the factions here are really “moderates vs conservatives” so much as a certain brand of right-winger vs. another.

I’m not really entirely sure of Sean Scallion’s break down of the sides involved as Conservative Inc. vs. the establishment.  I think that they overlap far too much, and I think that it is a certain faction within the establishment that is also at the heart of the Tea Parties, warring against other factions within the establishment.  In other words, the grassroots base is not its own entity but rather part of a larger faction.

Nor is it simply social conservatives vs. fiscal conservatives, or neoconservatives vs. realists, or neoconservatives vs. social conservatives.  The factions at play here are not the old divisions, and the old rules don’t apply.  People like David Frum are pushed to the margins for entirely different reasons than people like Daniel Larison.

So what do we know?

  • We know that the Republican Party just came up with an idea to make its potential candidates pass a “purity test” in order to gain GOP funding.  This would indicate that the party has become less interested in simply being the party of limited government and more in being the party that believes in X,Y, and Z.  Indeed, many of the commandments in that purity test are oppositional in nature.  Perhaps the division then is between those who stand against and those who want the party and the movement to be for something.
  • We know that the excommunication of moderates occurs not because they are not socially conservative enough – plenty of atheists are movement conservatives.  They’re just also generally hawks.  But on certain points being too socially liberal becomes a liability, hawk or no.  Gay marriage, abortion, and immigration are the Big Three.  I think it’s possible to stray on one of these points, but more than one and you’re out, regardless of how hawkish or fiscally conservative you may be.
  • We know that fiscal conservatism is important when it represents opposition to Democrats.  Eight years of big spending didn’t rile up a Tea Party movement, but a few months of Democrat big-spending did.  Fiscal conservatism and limited government, then, are only important as oppositional stances.  Therefore if you do not oppose the stimulus now you’re a heretic.  Similarly, healthcare reform under a Republican administration would not see the same resistance it does today not because of policy differences but because small government is reserved for oppositional positions.

(Remember – these points are merely to describe the present prevailing faction in the conservative movement.  There are many principled conservatives who may honestly take limited government stances but they do so consistently rather than as fairweather fiscal hawks.)

  • We know that criticism of the pundits on the right or of the very popular politicians (like Sarah Palin) is an act of heresy.  In other words, opposition to the leaders of the oppositional faction is verboten.  This isn’t so much a rule as it is a result of the various factions bumping up against one another.  David Frum critiques Rush Limbaugh and is ostracized by the Limbaugh faction, but nobody is similarly ostracized for critiquing David Frum.  This is because Frum’s faction is much weaker than the Limbaugh faction (at the moment).
  • And lastly, support for the wars is pretty much necessary, though that could change if the new anti-war right really takes off.  Again this anti-war position would be entirely oppositional in nature, not grounded in any meaningful policy or philosophy.  Even now you see the supporters of the wars attempt to posture themselves both as backers and critics of the Obama surge in Afghanistan.  Either way, a staunch commitment to an interventionist foreign policy is necessary, though it is not enough (see: David Frum).

So to sum up a little, the faction now leading the GOP (and the Tea Party movement) is an oppositional faction.  There is a litmus test that they’ve fairly clearly laid out – you have to be against enough of the Democratic agenda, just socially conservative enough, and for now a supporter of the two wars the last administration started.  You need to pretty much withhold criticism of enough of the major players in the party or its punditry with some exceptions and for only the right reasons – it’s ok for someone at Commentary magazine to critique Glenn Beck’s use of the word “imperial” to describe America, for instance.  Perhaps due to its oppositional nature, this faction comes across as angry and has a populist fervor despite it being very much an extension of one branch of the Republican beltway.

Enough independents and moderates are turned off by all of this or don’t fit the narrow mold presented here to belong to this faction, and so to some degree the dividing line becomes hard-right vs. moderate.  Others simply dislike the tone and approach of this faction, regardless of how much they may share politically.

In the 2010 and 2012 elections we’ll see these factions warring against one another.  The oppositional faction is the most organized, which is why it is most discussed here.  The others are fractured.  There is no way the paleocons or Paulites will ever join ranks with the Frumians or the socially liberal but hawkish moderate Republicans.  So this major faction will need to suffer serious defeats before any new faction can rise up to take its place.  This very well might not happen until 2016 or later.  We shall see.

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33 thoughts on “Factions

  1. Good analysis E.D. It will be interesting to see how things turn out in the near and long term and in the near especially a lot of it hinges on the Dems oddly enough.

    Obama and the leadership right now look like they’re fumbling their big enchilada (health care). There’s no way in hell that Obama is going to be able to get any serious global warming bill through congress the way things are now so 2010 and of course his fierce advocacy on social issue has had all the ferocity of a geriatric toothless corgi. At this moment 2010 is looking pretty bleak for the Democrats with angry activists, a disappointed base, a dragging economy and alienated independents. Now of course if Obama and his people scale down their ambition on health care and pass something substantive the fundamentals can shift and it’s anyone’s guess what the economy will do. The money seems to be on a chugging but slow recovery which would be in my mind a wash. Not dramatic enough to earn Obama kudos but good enough that he can point to it to prevent much voter wrath.

    What does this have to do with the intra GOP factions? In my mind if Obama and his party screw up and get flattened in 2010 the faction on top in the GOP struggle may get what amounts to a false positive signal that will then lead to them doubling down on unpopular themes and getting utterly devastated in 2012. On the other hand if the economy spruces up more or Obama accomplishes something domestically he could rally the Dems and deliver a disappointment to the GOP in 2010 that ironically enough might be healthy for the party in the long term as it precipitates a genuine reappraisal of their themes among the party rank and file.

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    • Norther: “What does this have to do with the intra GOP factions? In my mind if Obama and his party screw up and get flattened in 2010 …”

      This is my bet; healthcare reform will *at the very best* be a minor improvement, whose benefits won’t be felt until looooong
      after 2010, and probably after 2012. Right now, I give 50-50 odds (when I’m optimistic) that healthcare reform will pass at all, and 50-50 that it will be a net benefit (as opposed to Medicare Part D, the Sequel).

      The result of this is that Obama has pissed away the better part of a year on something between not much and failure, and has lost a lot of reputation.
      This means that liberals are demoralized, right-wingers are still up in arms about – well, a Democratic president is the root, but any excuse will do. Meanwhile, the economic elites (who are the real and only elites in this country) have had a very good year, know that Obama is highly punkable, and would in any case desire that a Democratic president be castrated, lest he try some actual reform. So they’ll be putting their money into the GOP, and those Dem congressmen who are ‘understanding’.

      The only reason that Obama will probably be re-elected in 2012 is the shortage of GOP candidates worth something.

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      • Perhaps Barry, but even the healthcare reforms not having an actual effect until later could quite possibly be a plus for the Dems. They got is passed and the sky didn’t fall. Especially now that it looks like the reform that gets passed will not have any of the public options or public option lite versions. The Dems would be able to show their base and the moderates that they can get something done (or at least appear to) and will have dealt a defeat to Republicans who are dead set against anything being passed. So it could go either way. The 800 lb gorilla is a what happens with the economy. The 80 lb gorilla is what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 8 lb gorilla is healthcare. In my mind at least.

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  2. The D’s are fumbling with a new fangled idiotic requirement for a super majority to do anything. This will be a significant issue for them to struggle with for the rest of O’s term. whenever R’s get some power….well we’ll have to see if we can have a functioning gov ever again.

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  3. As I’ve stated before – I think the root of the so-called ‘litmus tests’ were to try and flesh out a platform that anyone calling themselves a Republican can adhere to. The reason for this is a need for unity going forward. Yes, Obama was swept into office with a big, diverse tent…and where has it gotten him? Conservative Democrats are the biggest obstacle to healthcare reform. Other Democrats will pose problems elsewhere. The point is that the GOP wants to avoid those kinds of struggles. For better or for worse, we need to all be on the same page before we get back into power. The litmus test was one idea to try and bring this about.

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      • Well ultimately it sounds good on paper to say, “look how diverse we are! We have moderates, conservatives and Far Righties and everyone in-between,” but how do these people actually work together? I think the Democrats are sort of finding that out now. I think that was one thing Reagan was good at was creating a basic framework which everyone in his Big Tent could latch onto. There’s none of that on the Left right now. They all have their own self-interests and the only common thread is that Obama promised all of them he would take care of their needs.

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          • IF (huge IF) they manage to get healthcare through, it’s certainly not going to be anything worth bragging about. It’s more than likely just going to tick off all their voters in one way or another. Then what? 2010 Obama is going to probably work on jobs but good luck with that. It would be easier to try and locate Noah’s Ark than unlock the mysteries of serious job creation.

            Watch the midterms next year to see how unhappy the Big Tent is. American voters, especially those on the Left, are a selfish bunch. When they don’t get what they were promised they will be quick to abandon ship.

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            • Mike: “Mike at The Big Stick
              “IF (huge IF) they manage to get healthcare through, it’s certainly not going to be anything worth bragging about. It’s more than likely just going to tick off all their voters in one way or another. ”

              Agreed.

              “Then what? 2010 Obama is going to probably work on jobs but good luck with that. It would be easier to try and locate Noah’s Ark than unlock the mysteries of serious job creation. ”

              It’s not that, it’s that the GOP does not *want* a stimulus; they’d much rather go into 2010 with a piss-poor economy. And there seems to be 6 alleged Dem Senators who agree with them.

              “Watch the midterms next year to see how unhappy the Big Tent is. American voters, especially those on the Left, are a selfish bunch. When they don’t get what they were promised they will be quick to abandon ship.”

              Go to various centrist blogs (balloon-juice, Brad DeLong, Matthew Yglesias, Washington Monthly) to watch a bunch of puffed-up *ssholes castigate liberals for actually expecting things, while pedantically lecturing them on how the Senate is just an immovable obstacle (after 8 years of a Senate which worked pretty hard for Bush). Then see the cherry of insult added, which is that 60 Dem Senators isn’t enough, so why don’t you liberals work harder.

              I call this ‘the politics of despair’; the final step is for centrists to castigate liberals for not turning out in 2010, and working and donating money to re-elect the same guys who couldn’t get things done.

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              • Barry the cancerous growth of the filibuster along with complete Repub intransience has led to the ugly truth that 60 D senators is the bare minimum needed for anything. And the 60 th senator therefore has great power, which is why Lieberman is having so much say.

                For the six years the R’s had the majority in the senate they did not often need to get 60 votes to do anything. The D’s didn’t force the R’s to pass cloture on every damn thing. That is not exactly working hard, more like some sort of majority rule kind of thing.

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            • I agree Mike — this myopic obsession with winning and passing grand legislation is meaningless if the legislation is going to destroy the country. If legislation like the currently proposed healthcare reform bill is the standard, then, if I wouldn’t want my fingerprints anywhere on the bill. I’d rather be seen as a member of loyal opposition with dignity intact and a chance for long term gains based on integrity.

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  4. E.D. –

    I appreciate (and in large part agree) the points you make in this post. However, regarding your initial apology for painting strokes too broad, I have to say PLEASE don’t apologize.

    If there is to be a viable conservative voice in American politics, (and by viable I mean being able to govern, not just win elections), the Movement Conservatives need held accountable their actions. I certainly see folks like Red State willing to pile on Frum, but I don’t any of the movement conservatives condemning or even distancing themselves from Conservapedia. I mean, shit, we’re talking about a highly visible project that is looking to change scripture so that it’s more in line with GOP talking points. And the conservative intellectuals, that are attempting to suck up to conservative Christians, can’t see how this is contemptible, laughable, and will most likely blow up in their face? Or, worse, know all of that but are so cynical and short-sighted that they are willing to embrace it anyway? I mean, are you really going to simultaneously argue that America should derive our laws from the Bible, because it is the inerrant Word of God, and, by the way, it’s also totally fucked up and needs to be totally rewritten?

    I don’t agree with a lot of what the Frums of the world argue, but I have faith that they are grownups. As long as the Movement Conservatives control the debate for the Right, please, please, please continue to paint with your broad, broad brush.

    -RTod

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  5. There were a lot of non-Hawkish conservatives burned in the aftermath of 9/11.

    Hey, we *HAVE* to suspend habeus corpus for just this one guy. He was planning on building a dirty bomb, after all. Imagine what would have happened to habeus corpus if that bomb he was planning actually went off in Chicago!

    The Patriot Act is required for the safety of ourselves and our The Children and you’ll excuse me if I care a little bit more about whether or not my child is dead than I care about whether the government knows that you keep renewing Dean Koontz books (as if you can’t read them in the two weeks the library lets you borrow them).

    Look, I understand that you fiscal types aren’t crazy about the bailouts but there are people who are being hurt by being out of work and millions more who will be prevented from being hurt by being out of work by this money being pumped into the economy. Do you really want to hand Bush’s opponents a victory at this point?

    And so on and so forth.

    And that’s just the stuff that stuck in my craw on the fiscon side. I imagine that a sufficiently socially conservative voter would have equal complaints about how the Hawks kept explaining that social conservative victories needed to be deferred just a little bit longer.

    If the Republicans win any victories in the next few years, it will be because of one of two things:

    1) Another Ronald Reagan
    2) The Democrats screw things up to the point where independents say “throw the bums out, the other guys couldn’t possibly be worse!”

    Neither is sustainable.

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    • “If the Republicans win any victories in the next few years, it will be because of one of two things:”

      Dem screw-ups. The frustrating thing is, it won’t be screwing up by being leftist, it’ll be because the elites have bought so much of the Dem leadership that they can have the leadership screw over everybody else (more than usual).

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  6. The GOP will gain seats in 2010, but not enough to control either chamber. I think that is actually a bad thing, as control of one chamber would force Republicans to be adults. In doing so they’d likely lose the support of the teabaggers. To me, that is a good outcome.

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  7. E.D., this post was a bit confusing to me. You mention a number of different factions, none of which are legitimately “small government” yet blanket conservatism with the notion. At the end you briefly mention the Paul contingency then say this faction must suffer defeat. I’m not sure which faction you’re speaking of. What do you make of the Paul faction? Are they part of the Tea Bag Brigade, or something else on the fringe like Larison?

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    • Not at all, Cascadian. There are small government factions. But the one I was speaking of is the largest and it is the “oppositional faction” which I think controls the tea parties and the main thrust of the conservative movement. Ron Paul may have some supporters in the tea parties but I think that this reflects the fact that the tea parties themselves are not a homogeneous faction but have their own fractured elements as well.

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  8. Let’s pretend we have a black box machine that takes the wilderness party as input and then spits out a presidential candidate. For the left a few years ago the input would be: a vocal but fringe pacifist/netroots movement (end both wars, divest from Israel, a Daily Kos purity test for senators like Lieberman); Al Gore’s heightened environmentalism; a flaccid do-nothing congressional minority, and maybe youth GOTV (fill me in if I’m missing any pillars of the movement). And out of all this primordial soup … we get Obama.

    Now imagine the candidate if we were to feed the modern-day conservative movement into the machine. Would it be bad? How do we ensure that the machine acts the same way?

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  9. ROOTS
    I love roots. Seeing the beginning of something that becomes a conflict helps me understand the whole tree, so to speak. For example, Obama said the interests of the community are more important than are individual interests. That is a root! That tells us individual interests conflict with community interests in some way. Now, we know community has no brain or heart, so someone must decide what is in the interest of community. In our case, that would be elite like Obama, Pelosi and Reid, and their immediate helpers. Then, the opposite is individual freedom to make decisions, which worked well in America resulting in a free market. But, that means too many uninformed, unintelligent individuals. Those in the ranks of the elite few who expect to rule look on the many in community as stupid, unable to foresee future events and solve problems at hand. They feel their calling is to make sure individuals do not decide what it right or wrong for them, their families and communities closest to them. Whenever you see one of those elite being interviewed and worshipped by interviewers, you hear them make statements that sound arrogant and demeaning to the average man and woman. In addition, you see the same arrogance in media and academia, which is where the elite in government come from. The private sector is made up more of non-elite and small business folks, who are seen as having no intelligence. Hear what they say, then measure it against this root. Claysamerica.com

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  10. Instead of trying to eat each other the Republicans need to get their heads round the fact that it was a form of Communism that recently rescued private capitalism to the tune world-wide of $14,000 billion. The fact that they are pretending it was all the fault of too much regulation reveals their disconnect with reality and worse their ideological bankruptcy.

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  11. Or maybe not. As Ronald Reagan used to say the one set of words you don’t want to hear are “I’m from the government (tax payer) and I’m here to help.”

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