The Coming Republican Civil War

Posted August 14th, 2013 at 5:28 pm (UTC+0)

Many Republicans looking for a different kind of candidate in the next U.S. presidential election in 2016 are looking to Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky. Photo: AP

2016 Battle Looms for Heart and Soul of Party

The last two Republican Party presidential candidates—John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney last year—have something in common.  Neither one could ever qualify as a true life-long conservative.  And a lot of self-described “real conservatives” want Republicans to keep that in mind as they begin to mull the field of White House contenders for 2016.


Conservative activists no doubt see the 2016 battle for the Republican presidential nomination as their best chance, perhaps since Ronald Reagan won in 1980, to put forward a real conservative candidate.  The conservative school of thought on the two recent elections is that Republicans lost because neither McCain nor Romney was conservative enough to rally the base, both times resulting in victories for Barack Obama.  They promise things will be different in 2016.


But a power struggle within the party looms as the 2016 presidential race draws closer.  Libertarians, Tea Party activists, social conservatives and mainstream Republicans are all looking for a winner in three years.  The challenge will be finding common ground on which Republican that should be.


Crowded Field for 2016


Some Republicans are gravitating toward Texas Senator Ted Cruz for the kind of conservative leadership they want in their 2016 candidate. Photo: AP

The race for the Republican nomination three years from now looks to be wide open and a number of lesser-known contenders are trying to raise their national profiles.  Start with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.


Paul hopes to build on the base of followers loyal to his father, former Representative Ron Paul of Texas, drawn by his libertarian bent.  If anything, Rand Paul seems to have more potential to draw voters from a wider swath than his father did, maybe even from some liberals who like his views on drones and foreign wars.  He could build on the organizing done in several states by his father’s campaign that could give him a leg up in the early campaign organizing.  Paul has great appeal to a subset of Republicans and moderate voters who have a libertarian bent.


Ted Cruz on the other hand comes across like the proverbial young man in a hurry.  This is Cruz’s first year in the Senate, but he has wasted no time in acting like a candidate itching to try for national office at the earliest possible opportunity, which in this case is 2016.  Cruz has already made the rounds in the early caucus state of Iowa, which has become a key testing ground for conservative Republicans seeking the White House since the 1980’s.  Cruz is very popular with the Tea Party crowd and is trying to rally Republicans around the idea of defunding Obamacare as part of a threat to shut down the government.  Cruz is a good debater and could be a force in the numerous primary debates that will probably begin late in 2015.


What About Christie, Bush and Rubio?


While Paul and Cruz have proven appeal to the libertarian and Tea Party wings of the party, there are some other heavy-hitters waiting in the wings with big vote potential as well.  In this group are New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Christie appears headed for an easy gubernatorial re-election victory in November and polls show he will do well among New Jersey Democrats.  That could be a powerful calling card for establishment Republicans looking for someone who has proven appeal to moderates and conservative Democrats in a presidential election.


There are questions about Christie though.  Does his temperament run too hot for prime time?  Would he turn off women voters with his occasional angry rants?  And how would he make it through the Republican primaries defending centrist positions on the budget, abortion and immigration?  If he goes into the race as the establishment pick to win the nomination, he might rile up all those conservatives who fear a repeat of the McCain-Romney path to defeat.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is considered a potentially strong presidential candidate, but would have to get by more conservative Republicans in the primaries. Photo: AP


But if Christie were able to win the nomination, right now he looks like the most formidable Republican contender in the field in the general election.  That’s why many in the Republican establishment want to build a campaign around him.


As for Jeb Bush, does he really want to run in the age of the Tea Party wielding so much influence in the Republican Party?  And does he feel up to the challenge of fighting for the nomination like his dad and brother did? And speaking of them there is also the name question.


Is the country ready for another Bush so soon?  Bush strikes me as an ideal candidate back in the old days when they didn’t hold meaningful primaries and party bosses picked the candidates.  He could be a general election candidate with strong appeal to moderates, something he did well in Florida.  But I see his problem as convincing conservatives and winning the nomination.


Then there is Marco Rubio.  Senator Rubio got on the wrong side of some conservatives on immigration reform when he helped get a bipartisan bill through the Senate.  Now he appears to be trying to win back conservative and Tea Party support by throwing in with the crowd that is demanding to defund Obamacare or shut down the government.  Looks like a lot of bobbing and weaving there and even some Republicans are wondering if he is ready for prime time.


Rubio’s potential appeal to Hispanic voters is his trump card.  But it plays much better in the general election campaign than in a divisive primary season where conservatives play an out-sized role.


We’ll know more in the months ahead as the government shutdown game hits yet another climax.  Several veteran Republicans are warning the young Turks in the House not to force the issue on a shutdown.  They remember well the debacle that befell Republicans in the mid-1990’s when Newt Gingrich and others called Bill Clinton’s bluff and tried to force budget cuts through using similar tactics.  Those Republicans who remember didn’t like the result.  But they seem to be having a hard time convincing a younger more confrontational generation of the dangers of over-reaching.


In the meantime, Republicans are already girding for what promises to be a knock-down, drag-out fight for the heart and soul of the party among its many factions, all of whom are desperate to put a Republican back in the White House in November of 2016.

9 responses to “The Coming Republican Civil War”

  1. Liz says:

    ‘The heart and soul’ of the republican party? what a laugh! they have neither hearts nor souls, nor brains, for that matter. if they did, they’d be Democrats! i hope they fracture into a bunch of small, powerless fringe parties. couldn’t be a better outcome for the country they’ve damaged so badly over the past couple of decades.

  2. […] him for what is known in GOP shorthand as …Debate advice for the GOPWashington PostThe Coming Republican Civil WarVoice of America (blog)KUHNER: Looking for a future in New JerseyWashington TimesNational Review […]

  3. […] In 2010, after the Tea Party slid onto the political stage, Republicans embraced the snake. Then the violent gerrymandering that accompanied the rise of the Tea Party, promoted the radicalization of the GOP. How, in many areas of the country, the Republican who wins the primary is the overwhelming favorite to win the general election. The GOP voters who turn out for the primary are usually the most conservative, often Tea-Party members. To win their support candidates ratchet up the stakes by taking increasingly radical positions and the Tea-Party has disproportionate influence. As a consequence, Republicans are engaged in a political civil war. […]

  4. Craig D says:

    This author better learn his history. He says, “in the old days when they didn’t hold meaningful primaries and party bosses picked the candidates.” When was that? Let’s see — Reagan was an outsider, Goldwater was an outsider, and even Nixon was an outsider. Bush 1, and Bush 2 both had to win primaries to get nominated. When was this era when politicians selected Republican candidates in the back room? Eisenhower?
    Please, learn your history, before making ignorant statements.

  5. willie says:

    The battery operated respirator, that is hooked up to the republican dying and outdated machinery is running out of charge quickly; the solution, so they think, is to pick a guy out of four or five little leaguers, moderates and wannabes, against “top gun” (Hillary) and to distance the republican party from the only guy that could maybe resurrect it. they certainly do not want to [anger] chris christie …again; if they do! he’ ll probably ask all his supporters with himself to vote for hillary…

  6. USA Lawyer says:

    Ron Paul is the only hope for “change” Merikuh has…

  7. mike says:

    Both parties are de-generates that run over the citizenry with their only us officials know what is best for you governed!

    We the voters and the electorate get exactly what we deserve for sitting back listening to their garbage then cry about things not going in our favor. It is time to get rid of both parties send minor party leader to the big houses.

  8. Don says:

    Priciples must guide our path. Predictions serve no purpose. Double talk is of no value. Look where all the nonsence to fix this group or that has placed us, in debt and still no solutions. Slow down and believe in what you can do. They will run out of money before long.

Jim Malone

Jim Malone

After a stint in the Peace Corps in Swaziland, Jim joined VOA in 1983 as a reporter and anchor on English broadcasts to Africa.  He served as East Africa correspondent, then covered Congress in the early 1990’s.   Since 1995, Jim has served as VOA national correspondent responsible for coverage of U.S. politics, elections, the Supreme Court and Justice Department.  Jim has been involved in VOA’s election coverage since the 1984 presidential campaign and has co-anchored live VOA broadcasts of numerous national political conventions, candidate debates and election night coverage.


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