Crisis Grips Republican Party

Sean Para

The Republican Party faces a grave impasse in its role in American politics. Torn between radical ideology and pragmatism, the party is splitting into two wings.

On one side lies the radically conservative section of the party, which emerged from the neoconservative movement and has been invigorated in recent years by the Tea Party movement. On the other side lie the more moderate Republicans, still tied to conservative values but seeking a more practical compromise in the current political deadlock.

The extreme conservatism that has become the mainstay of the party and is espoused by its leading members is a truly novel development in American politics.

Never before has a party been so defined by ideology, to the point where it will disrupt politics as usual and lose supporters based upon its political program. American parties have largely been based upon wide coalitions of political views, as the Democrats still are. The Federalists, Democratic-Republicans (historical antecedents to the modern Democrats), Whigs and Republicans in the past all functioned on a broad and varied basis; their primary goal was not to further a political agenda but to achieve power. The Democratic Party of the 1950s and 1960s, for example, included Southern segregationists with Northeastern liberals and was able to function successfully despite its seemingly contradictory constituencies.

The Republican Party’s problems, therefore, stem from its extreme commitment to neoconservatism that contradicts established precedents that are based upon wide-ranging political interests coalescing into opposing parties.

The question all this raises is, of course, why have the Republicans become so committed to ideology over a coalition-based system? It is primarily because the Republican Party’s primary constituency has become the super rich, who favor government deregulation, lower taxes and a weak welfare state, as these policies best serve their interests.

These are the policies that have allowed the super rich to gain wealth over the last three decades while the rest of the country has experienced little change in income. The super rich are largely responsible for funding the campaigns of the Republicans in office, and therefore Republicans must continue to work for these policies.

Thus, this extreme ideology is the result of practical considerations, but those of a narrow constituency. The people that vote for the Republicans are largely won over by considerations secondary to this main agenda: issues such as gun control, abortion and religion. Ironically those who suffer most from Republicans’ policies are the same people who vote the Republicans into office. The rarified and super-rich Republican base thus supports the party and is able to gain an undue influence on the political system.

The current political situation is untenable in the long term. The recent budget and debt standoff showed the inability of radical Republicans to force their political program on the rest of the country. They do not have enough support within their own party or in the country as a whole.

The American political system is not built for such an ideological party. The future of the Republican Party lies either in return to moderation (the Democrats are a much more centrist party than conservatives would have you think) or a split into two parties, one extremely conservative and the other encompassing the moderate elements of the party.

For American politics, radicalism is a no-go in terms of appeal to the public or success in policymaking.