This way of carving up the GOP is too simplistic

Chris Cillizza and/or Aaron Blake of The Fix (the piece is double-bylined, but keeps saying “I”) tell about a “prominent Republican consultant” who says that Ted Cruz is the most underrated potential presidential candidate in the GOP field, and has as good a chance as Jeb Bush.

Of course, he’s challenged on this, and he explains:

Think of the Republican primary field as a series of lanes. In this race, there are four of them: Establishment, Tea Party, Social Conservative and Libertarian. The four lanes are not of equal size:  Establishment is the biggest followed by Tea Party, Social Conservative and then Libertarian. (I could be convinced that Libertarian is slightly larger than Social Conservative, but it’s close.)

Obviously the fight for the top spot in the Establishment lane is very crowded, with Bush and possibly Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker leading at the moment. Ditto the Social Conservative lane with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson and Rick Santorum all pushing hard there. The Libertarian lane is all Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s but, as I noted above, it’s still not that big.

Which leaves the Tea Party lane, which is both relatively large and entirely Cruz’s. While Paul looked as though he might try to fight Cruz for supremacy in that lane at one time, it’s clear from his recent moves that the Kentucky senator is trying to become a player in a bunch of lanes, including Social Conservative and Establishment.

So, Cruz is, without question, the dominant figure in the Tea Party lane….

You’ll note that these four “lanes” closely tracks the four “camps” our own Bud set out a couple of days ago, minus the disapproving value judgments. Except that Bud didn’t give libertarians their own camp, and instead threw in his own favorite punching bag, the “warmongers.”

The thing is, all such models oversimplify.

The unnamed consultant gives libertarians their own category, but describes it as the smallest. I think that’s totally wrong — I definitely think the category’s bigger than the Social Conservatives (which was huge in the early ’90s, and still pretty big into the ’00s, not as much now).

What he ignores is that a huge number of the Establishment group is also libertarian, and most Tea Partiers are VERY libertarian — it might be their chief characteristic, the myth of the hardy self-sufficient individual who doesn’t need Big Government or Big Business or anything larger than himself. Don’t Tread On Me.

In fact, to a great extent, the Tea Party is a subset of the libertarian group, which currently dominates in the GOP.

As for the groups overlapping — remember what I said the other day: Mark Sanford is (sort of) an Establishment type of libertarian the Club for Growth type, while Nikki Haley is a Tea Party, Sarah Palin type of libertarian.

So I think that guy got it wrong…

43 thoughts on “This way of carving up the GOP is too simplistic

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Not at all. I identify with some of these camps — the social conservatives to a certain extent (although Pew looks at the same data and puts me in the “faith and family left,” which essentially consists of a bunch of black preachers and me), the Establishment in some ways (the respect for established institutions, in contrast to the nihilism of the libertarians), and of course Bud’s “warmonger” category.

      The only ones who are alien to me are the libertarians. And I’ve had enough exposure to them — I’ve been surrounded by them for so many years — that I’m pretty familiar with them…

  1. M.Prince

    Largely agree. Libertarianism, I’d argue, is actually the largest element in the contemporary GOP, since libertarian ideology is practically the only intellectual force driving the party right now – albeit only economic libertarianism, with civil libertarianism pretty much dormant (save for the occasional rather kooky nod from Rand Paul). “Tea Party” is basically just a colloquialism for economic libertarianism. And save for a very few issues (mainly abortion), “social conservatism” has been largely subsumed under economic libertarianism, too, as “values” have been redefined in mostly economic terms (dividing the world into “people who work hard” and “people who don’t wanna work”). Meanwhile “establishment” generally translates into “whoever we think can win” and has little to no actual policy substance. So if someone now considered in one of the other “lanes” were to start winning primaries, then that candidate would de facto become the “establishment,” or, conversely, the “old establishment” would simply fade away. Actually, one could argue that that happened long ago, with the departure of the “Rockefeller” wing and other party liberals/moderates.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      What about all the Christian Right values, like repealing Roe v Wade, and other limitations on women’s rights and the rights of sexual minorities? I mean, they’ve basically lost the fight on same-sex marriage, but they’re still slugging.

      1. M.Prince

        Oh, they’re still around. I wasn’t saying they’ve disappeared, just that they’re not as prominent as they once were, eclipsed nearly to the point of obscurity by all-invasive libertarianism. Even the “conservative values” that they were once practically synonymous with have been redefined in largely economic terms. And now that the same-sex issue may be taken out of their hands by the high court, all that’s left are abortion and, as you point out, sexual behaviors and a few social norms, like marijuana legalization.

  2. bud

    Brad is right, any categorization of a huge party like the GOP is an over simplification. But it serves a purpose to do this little exercise in order to come up with some sort of quantification of the candidates. Perhaps a more important point to this exercise is to demonstrate that for the most part the GOP is not generally the party of limited government. That is simply a dog whistle bromide that is useful in attracting the blue collar vote. Most members of the Republican party strongly favor “big government” solutions to their pet priorities. Those priorities vary among the party’s members but in general fall into a limited number of groupings.

    As for the article Brad sites I’m not sure I see the distinction between tea partiers and libertarians. A more important faction that Brad notes is absent is the imperialists. Perhaps even in the GOP this way of thinking is becoming less and less pronounced. If so that bodes well for the future.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Bud! The “limited government” crowd predominates. Although they’re more radical than that. They detest government, period.

    “Limited government” is a phrase I, and most people, can respect. Which is why they use the phrase. But that’s not the way it plays out. It often seems that they run for office so they can run the government into the ground, thereby making it ineffective, thereby making more people hate it, and so forth…

    1. Norm Ivey

      If we’re going to simplify the GOP, let’s really simplify. There are those who see a need to govern and will act accordingly, and those who would eliminate government altogether. Lindsey Graham falls into the former category, and Rand Paul falls into the latter. Give me a pragmatist over an ideologue, and I’ll usually vote for him/her regardless of party affiliation.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        There are those who see a need to govern and will act accordingly, and those who would eliminate government altogether. Lindsey Graham falls into the former category, and Rand Paul falls into the latter.

        Oh, good grief, Charlie Brown. No one in the GOP (not even the Pauls) want to “eliminate government altogether”. That’s absurd. Advocating for a smaller federal government than the current leviathan we have now is not the same as being an anarchist.

        You’re better than that.

        1. Norm Ivey


          There is a faction of the GOP which is obstructionist. They don’t know how to compromise or propose bills that can get enough support to pass. They refuse to support many of their own party’s bills. They may not want to eliminate government, but neither do they want to govern responsibly, and so it amounts to the same thing.

      2. Doug Ross

        Exactly, Bryan. There are those who consider slowing the rate of growth of spending to be a cut. The most libertarian politician might suggest cutting government spending by 10-20%. That could be done easily today if there weren’t so many lobbyists and people who have turned in their self reliance for a government check.

        1. bud

          Doug you harp about how inefficient government is and insult government workers constantly so in effect you ARE lobbying for anarchy. And of course Rand Paul, or should I say “plagiarist” Paul once said he was ok allowing businesses to discriminate against people for any reason they choose, even the color of their skin. So yes there is a faction of in the GOP that is essentially pursuing a policy of zero government, anarchy. Deny it if you want but that’s the rhetoric that comes through loud and clear.

          1. Doug Ross

            Yawn. I’m not for anarchy. I’m for effective, efficient government that only does what it needs to do. Our government at the local, state, and federal level is a joke in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. Mediocrity is the high bar that most government agencies can’t even attain.

            1. Bob Amundson

              From Federalist No. 1: “It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.”

              The debate about the role of government is as old as our nation. It has been mostly a peaceful debate. God Bless the USA!

    2. Bryan Caskey

      It often seems that they run for office so they can run the government into the ground, thereby making it ineffective, thereby making more people hate it, and so forth

      Brad, please take off your tinfoil hat.

      Who, specifically, has run for office so they could intentionally make the government ineffective? What specifically did they do to sabotage the government?

      Not for nothing, but it’s sufficiently ineffective without being sabotaged by imaginary GOP kulaks.

      1. bud

        Bryan the GOP is doing it’s best to sabotage the effectiveness of the federal government. All congress does any more is pass bills that will NEVER become law and force a shutdown of the government. Brad has a point on this one.

        1. Doug Ross

          No synchronize that opinion with the current state of the economy. Sequestration worked. Gridlock works. The less the government does, the better off we all are.

  4. M.Prince

    From a recent piece on the GOP by Elizabeth Drew:

    “A sign of what’s happened to the Republican Party is that while [Jeb] Bush is considered a mainstream candidate, according to Republican pragmatists who favor him—he is not only more conservative than either his father or his brother, but more conservative within the spectrum of the current Republican Party than Ronald Reagan was within the party of his time.”

  5. bud

    Elizabeth Drew’s article (cited by M. Prince) makes my point pretty concisely that most of the GOP is really NOT about limited government. They want people to believe that, hence the avalanche of sloganeering, but when it comes down to actual votes they show their true colors. In particular this paragraph underscores this big lie:

    “One might wonder why the first significant bill the Republican leaders put up for a vote was to force the approval by the president of the completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline, to carry Canadian tar-sand oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast for export. The pipeline is backed by powerful interests, not just in Canada but also the US oil industry, including Exxon and Mobil, as well as labor unions that might receive jobs. ”

    Keystone XL is hardly an issue that supports the GOP rhetoric that they are about small, limited government. On the contrary Keystone is about government intervention on a huge scale. It’s about granting eminent domain powers to oil companies to transport CANADIAN oil to southern refineries for export. Eminent domain is about as intrusive as any government activity imaginable. Sure they argue(falsely) that it will create numerous jobs and free us from foreign energy sources (very false). But the alleged “limited” government argument is only germane if one accepts the premise that big oil companies and foreign governments are “regulated” by preventing them from declaring Indian and private land necessary for the public good. Seriously this is rich.

    If they want to build the damn pipeline let them do so by making the oil companies purchase the land entirely on the basis of free-market tactics. If a landowner refuses, for any price, then so be it. Obviously this cannot work since there are hundreds of landowners who do not want to sell their land to these private entities. The Indian tribes in particular are balking. It is therefore necessary for the government to step in on the side of the oil companies. It’s big government interference pure and simple. If Republicans want to argue for the pipeline let them defend it as a big government land grab. If they don’t do that then they’re just a bunch of phonies. But we know that already.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Bud, are you against using eminent domain in general? If not, what is an appropriate basis for eminent domain?

      Also, for whatever it’s worth, I’m not sure the pending federal bill relates to eminent domain at all. I think it has to do with the presidential permit.

      But I’d be happy to discuss eminent roman and the Kelo case if you want. It’s certainly a controversial ruling. What do you think about Kelo?

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I think eminent domain is appropriate in the service of community streets/rail lines and utility access, where it cannot be reasonably avoided by re-routing or free market negotiations. Eminent domain to benefit private (non-utility) business–problematic. Over here in University Hill, we still harbor anger at USC for using eminent domain and the threats thereof to raze beautiful old houses, and then using the space for gravel parking lots….ad USC is at least a public university.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          “In no other country in the world is the love of property keener or more alert
          than in the United States . . . .” -Alexis de Tocqueville

          Lots of backlash against eminent domain since Kelo and understandably so. The good news is that SC courts are much stricter in their interpretation of what constitutes a “public use” than Kelo.

      2. bud

        Bryan I’m not the one who argues constantly against the use of the government for the betterment of the country. That’s the “rhetoric” of the GOP. I’m just pointing out the ridiculous nature of this constant harping. Of course I support eminent domain when it’s appropriate. In the case of the vile Keystone pipeline I would most definitely not grant such power to a bunch of polluters.

  6. Brad Warthen Post author

    FYI, a later version of that story just has one byline — Cillizza’s. Blake is relegated to a “contributed” line at the end.

    Y’all probably don’t care, but a double-bylined piece that uses the first-person singular pronoun is the sort of thing that drives an editor nuts.

    Of course, your more conservative-type editors — copyeditors especially (since copy desk people are neither writers nor people who work directly with writers, they are generally unwilling to grant the scribes such liberties) — go nuts over the first-person singular (or plural, for that matter — anything that asserts the writer’s existence) anyway. But it doesn’t bother me, after all my years of opinion writing.

    Actually, it didn’t bother me much before that. But I’m a rebel…

  7. M.Prince

    The great irony about the present-day GOP is this: Had the party venerated private property and the ”private sector“ as much in the 1850s as it does now, it never could have countenanced the uncompensated dissolution of the South’s largest private asset: the property it held in the form of slaves.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Not sure what the Civil War has to do with the modern GOP, much less it being a “great irony”, but most of the comments from everyone today are hitting discordant notes to me, so maybe it’s just me.

      For whatever it’s worth, Lincoln actually proposed compensated emancipation in 1862. Foote discusses it at length in his book that I’m currently listening to. (Currently, I’m up to Chickamauga)

      In advocating for compensated emancipation, Lincoln made the point that it would be cheaper to purchase all the slaves than it would be to continue to prosecute the war in money, and certainly in blood. He was right.

      His proposal was rejected, which was unfortunate. The battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg all lay down the road.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        That would have required SUCH a huge transfer of wealth from the North to the South that it’s hard to imagine a Congress devoid of Southern members ever going for it…

        1. Mark Stewart

          Depends on how you value the assets. And since we are talking about people not mere things, compensating them, too, under such a regime would have likewise been in order, as instantaneous citizens.

          My point is that their are always at least two values assigned to any asset. Sometimes they meet and create a third called the transaction value. The South’s “seller” opinion of the slaves value existed within a closed system – a hothouse environment. It was in all of the planters’ interests to rapidly appreciate the value of the slaves through the decades, in the same way real estate benefits from inflation. But that isn’t what an outside buyer would pay, absent the institution of slavery.

          The problem, however, is that there was no real way to have a compensated emancipation. The Soviet Union had one of those, as a recent example, and look how that turned out.

          The way things worked out, the Civil War had a stimulating (though horrific) effect on the North. The South as we know was crushed. Since there was no way to raise up the slaves (as individuals), the next best outcome was to lower the slaveholding class as well. The war did that. Unfortunately what was then needed was a Marshall Plan to benefit all Southerners, black and white alike. However, we can only apply the lessons of the past, the future we have to muddle into. The South remains a mess, to a degree, in a way we all feel. That’s how rotten slavery was. 150 years ago this Spring and it still echoes its impacts.

      2. M.Prince

        ”Not sure what the Civil War has to do with the modern GOP….”

        Oh, just that l’l ol’ thing called hist’ry:
        Y’know: the birth of the Republican Party as the party of emancipation and all that.

        “Lincoln actually proposed compensated emancipation in 1862.”

        True. But he viewed the issue in moral, not economic terms, as when he wrote to one abolitionist of his national plan for compensation, saying that slavery “was the disease of the entire nation, all must share the suffering of its removal.”

        Moreover, his plan was aimed primarily at border states at the time – to keep them in the Union — and was spurred on by his feeling that emancipation should come before victory lest it be foregone in the aftermath. So there was a tactical and political element involved as well – though all in service to a larger moral principle.

          1. M.Prince

            Yeah, I used to think that too. But now…not so much. Probably would’ve been better if he’d just let the South go. It’s not really been worth all the trouble it’s caused — and continues to cause.

            1. M.Prince

              Oh yeah. And I think Lincoln felt the same way, too: that just getting the South back wasn’t really worth all the bother and bloodshed. Which is what prompted him to add emancipation to the mix.

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              I’d be curious what caused you to conclude that. Because everything I’ve ever read or heard says that for Lincoln, preserving the union was Priority One…

              And I thank God I wasn’t born in the Confederate States of America…

            3. M.Prince

              Yeah, that was his thinking at the outset. But as it dragged on and at such cost, I think he had doubts whether it was truly worth it. Only by adding a higher moral purpose was he able to continue to rationalize the bloodshed. I may be projecting my own views about the history of the South into this, but I also recall something Lincoln wrote during some of the darkest moments of the war, in which he said that the suffering was only redeemed by the cause of emancipation — not, notably, by restoration of the Union.

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