The GOP is locked in an unhappy union between Wackos and RINOs, libertarians and moderates. The might have split up years ago but stay together for sake of political power–the power of NO. The two groups have little in common.
Wackos believe the less the Federal Government does, the better. They would cut spending wherever possible, balance the budget at all costs (except by raising taxes), and advocate “flat taxes,” which are in effect welfare for the rich. They oppose environmental legislation, deny climate change, and favor harsh treatment of undocumented workers. They favor a stricter interpretation of the Constitution, particularly the Second and Tenth Amendments, than that of the Supreme Court. However, on separation of church and state, the First Amendment, they favor a very liberal interpretation that would allow government to become involved with religious groups and activities.
RINOs also favor low taxes, especially for businesses and wealthy individuals, and low government spending on the social safety net. They object less to spending on corporate subsidies and defense. They are conservative, but have a stake in the efficient operation of government. They would complain about the national debt, but raise the debt ceiling when necessary. They are open to working with Democrats as on the 2014 budget compromise, the farm bill, and, at least in the Senate, on immigration reform.
Differences between RINOs and Wackos appeared sharply during the recent government funding crisis. RINOs, supported by the Chamber of Commerce, would compromise to keep the Federal government in operation. Wackos, supported by right-leaning PACS and tea party groups would have preferred shutdown, even default to compromise.
Is Rep. Tom Reed a Wacko or a RINO? It is hard to tell. Tom, who is often considered a moderate, a RINO, usually votes with the Republican leadership. However, his vote against raising the debt ceiling was, in effect, a vote for default marking him as a Wacko. Tom often digs a hole for himself that might prove embarrassing should he ever rise above being a relatively impotent member of a minority party–when he tells people that they are born owing an individual share of the national debt, when he suggests that a flat tax would provide reduced taxes for everyone, or when he promises a balanced budget during a recession, he creates expectations that would be hard to meet should he ever find himself effectively in a position of responsibility.
The chances that Wackos and RINOs will reconcile is slight–their differences are fundamental. Francis Wilkinson, writing for Bloomberg, suggests that even if the GOP controls Congress in 2015, there is little that they might hope to accomplish. Wilkinson writes:
In its current incarnation, the (Republican) party is more or less an anti-tax lobby grafted to a Sons of the Confederacy chapter. Genuine areas of policy consensus among Republicans are few — spending cuts for the poor, tax cuts for the rich and promotion of incumbent dirty energy industries at the expense of Obama’s green agenda. None of these is popular. (Although in coal and oil states the energy reversal would be welcome. Keystone, too, if its construction is not already under way in 2015.) All would face probable Obama vetoes.
The party’s capacity to please its right-wing cultural base, its anti-tax, anti-regulatory donor base and a slim majority of American voters is almost nonexistent. Democratic control of the Senate has shielded Republicans both from their own divisions and from the unpopularity of their causes.
How then will this conflict be resolved? John Boehner has struggled to hold the party together, to prevent a split, but perhaps this is misguided. If the GOP would shed its right-wing zealots, free at last, it might hope to compete to become the majority party of the center.
© William Hungerford – March 2014