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Will there be a Civil War in the GOP?

Posted by Austin Petersen • 07 Nov 2012

In an appearance on a popular talk radio program Wednesday, Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain added fuel to the fire of “civil war” talk going on in the GOP. Although it’s clear that if there is a war, he’s claiming to be on the side of the rebels.

Cain states, “I never thought that I would say this, and this is the first time publicly that I’ve said it: We need a third party to save this country. Not Ron Paul and the Ron Paulites. No. We need a legitimate third party to challenge the current system that we have, because I don’t believe that the Republican Party … has the ability to rebrand itself,”.

Cain’s remarks are interesting in light of comments made by former campaign manager for the John McCain presidential run in 2008 Steve Schmidt who said, “People calling for revolution… you know? When I talk about a civil war in the Republican Party, what I mean is, it’s time for Republican elected leaders to stand up and to repudiate this nonsense [of the extreme right wing], and to repudiate it directly,”. 

Schmidt is evidently referring to statements by candidates such as Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Todd Akin in Missouri. Both candidates made enormously unpopular statements concerning rape and abortion that appeared to be critical reasons for their failure to win seats to the US Senate. Social conservative radicalism took an enormous blow following the reelection of President Barack Obama. Democrats successfully baited candidates over the abortion issue and handed the media headline after headline of horrifying quotes that made every rational female in the electorate recoil in disgust after talk of “legitimate rape”. Former talk radio host Neal Boortz said that ‎”Religious conservatives are killing this country…they handed Obama four more years.” And former Republican representative and MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough stated that“in many ways the country is becoming more libertarian. They’re saying stay out of my bedroom… stay out of my wallet… There are fiscally conservative gay men and women just waiting for an excuse to vote Republican.” With the fact that nearly every GOP candidate that made gaffes on the abortion issue failed to win their elections, it seems as if Boortz and Scarborough may be correct.

Conservatives such as Cain right be correct that a third party is needed, but they make a great error dismissing the intellectual/skeptical wing of the Republican Party. Even conservatives such as Sarah Palin, Senator Jim DeMint,  and Senator Mike Lee have publicly stated that the Republican Party needs to reach out to young people, Ron Paul types and libertarians. One has to wonder if Cain is actually interested in building any sort of winning third party coalition with his continued belligerence. However, if the former Godfathers Pizza CEO, who resigned as a result of personal scandals were in charge of a third party, what would it look like? Would it be a social conservative party? Likely so. Would it be a party of unlimited intervention in foreign affairs and total commitment to military spending without audit or second guess? Absolutely. So, why not just stick with the GOP?

Some in the GOP might disagree with Steve Schmidt’s comments on repudiating “those calling for revolution” when he is a member of a party that proudly touts the “Reagan Revolution”. Also would he have hesitated to have claimed a title in a “Romney Revolution” had there been one? No, it appears that Schmidt is rebuking the terminology of the conservative/libertarian coalitions who are demanding real reform and adherence to real fiscal conservatism. Those people in the GOP who want a real revolution of ideas seem to be gaining ground, demanding stronger adherence to limited government principles.

 Even Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan was held in contempt by some budget hawks wary of his willingness to cave over issues like the auto bailout and his support of the highly unpopular Keynesian TARP programs. This alone seems to validate the idea that a purer, Austrian form of economics is becoming more fashionable amongst the right. Even Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann who barely squeaked by in her reelection campaign paid deference to Austrian economist Ludwig Von Mises stating that she brought his epic 1,128 page tome to the beach to read. Mises is the philosopher that President Ronald Reagan credited as an intellectual inspiration among others and was the most unyielding of the economists of the Austrian school alongside Friedrich Von Hayek, Milton Friedman and others.

Failures in Florida

Republicans suffered a huge loss when they missed the possibility of a Senator Connie Mack from Florida. Mack, a staunch fiscal conservative was a representative who consistently scored high on respectable rankings basing candidates on their stances of limited government issues. Mack had credentials with the libertarian community after receiving the endorsement of Ron Paul and was a staunch advocate against privacy encroaching legislation such as the PATRIOT Act which he voted against. Although Mack had broad appeal amongst his base, he stumbled by not running an aggressive campaign and facing a state of rapidly elderly citizens more wedded to a candidate such as Bill Nelson who will keep their redistribution of wealth flowing securely. Mack did not appear to be the victim of an enthusiasm gap on the part of the grassroots supporters, but instead one of non enthusiasm generated by the top of the ticket. That’s an establishment failure, not a grassroots one.

Representative Allen West, another conservative favorite also faces likely defeat (although he’s filing for a recount) in Florida. The war veteran and controversial congressman is currently down 3,000 votes and accusing his Democrat opponents of dirty tricks. The tea party favorite was not a favorite of libertarians however due to his aggressive foreign policy, lack of regard for civil liberties and willingness to raise the debt ceiling. The last part seemed to be the cracking point for the new conservative/libertarian coalitions. As the party has become more focused on libertarian ideas, compromises in the economic sphere are a way to get immediately targeted for possible challenges in the future. At the very least it can withdraw support or condemn a candidate who does not conform to actual limited government principles. Allen West’s demise may not be the last straw, but it would be interesting to know how strong his ground game was in 2012 compared to 2010. Conservatives and libertarians who door knocked in 2010 may have not been as enthusiastic after West’s compromise over the debt ceiling issue.

 Echoes of the 1860′s

The American Civil War was unique from others in that it was not a war, nor was it civil. It was not a war technically in that it was declared legal under the 14th Constitutional Amendment by naming it an act of “rebellion.” America today may seem sharply divided amongst red state/blue state lines, but amongst the members of the Republican party, the divides seem even deeper than those.

The real question is, who are the real rebels and who is the clear establishment? That line is hazier than it has ever been. A Herman Cain may claim to be a rebel to the current order, but his policies and ideas seem more in line with the average republican than of a radical reformer. So the question remains: “Who are the real reformers? Are they the burgeoning libertarian wing? If they are, it must also be asked:

Can libertarians win? 

In 2011 in a Fox News green room Senator Mike Lee stated, “When my campaign was hurting, Congressman Ron Paul endorsed me. All of a sudden all of these young people came out of the woodwork and showed up to door knock for my campaign. They made a critical difference.” Senator Lee seemed to be articulating the difference that was made when young libertarian activists performed the crucial basic civic activism functions of door to door campaigning that can make a big difference in the final days before an election. Barack Obama’s ground game was legendary in their persistance in this trait, likely because of his legions of young followers.

 But it seems that libertarian activists can not only swing elections, they can win them as well.

Added to the small cabal of legislators in the libertarian wing of congress are Representatives Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Kerry Bentivolio who shares the same state as Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a favorite amongst the liberty movement. In both cases, liberty republicans faced down establishment challengers and beat them handily with the support of grassroots activism and the help of political action committees designed at furthering libertarian causes. If a liberty candidate were to take the nomination in 2016, would these be some of the people who would help usher in a new era of liberty? Or would they be defeated by the establishment again?

Republicans would do well to be wary of continually marginalizing the young libertarian movement that is increasingly coming to dominate activism on college campuses across the US. Conservative youth organizations in comparison are stumbling to catch up with the social media activism in spaces such as Facebook and Twitter. Young libertarians are dominating their conservative competitors online. Even the powerful conservative org the American Enterprise Institute has enormously less engagement on social media than a competing libertarian one such as The Cato Institute. A quick search of these organizations facebook pages shows a large gap in both the number of followers and the amount of people engaged with them at any one time. Conservative organizations just are not competitive online. If this is a civil war, the establishment is outmaneuvered and outgunned online.

The 2012 election with its last minute emphasis on social issues shows a distinct lack of outreach or understanding of issues favored by the youth. As young people trend libertarian it would be wise for those in the GOP to choose more social moderates and hard line fiscal conservatives for public office if they wish to avoid tea party style primary challenges. But candidates now may even need to begin favoring positions pushed by the most successful Libertarian Party candidate ever, Governor Gary Johnson. Namely, the legalization of marijuana.

While marijuana ballot issues passed in states like Colorado and Washington legalizing marijuana, it seems more than ever that the ideas of libertarians are ascendent. These are also issues that young people can get on board with. And although it may not be an election winning issue, it can’t hurt a candidate to express sympathy for medical marijuana users suffering from debilitating diseases so as not to appear callous. Women and youth were likely affected deeply by a Governor Mitt Romney who told a dying patient in a wheelchair that he would keep the drug illegal, despite the persons obvious condition and the fact that some states do indeed make it legal for suffering people. Even police officers from the famous DARE program have announced they will no longer instruct students on the dangers of marijuana specifically. If a civil war occurs in the GOP, it won’t be over issues like this.

A Time of Chaos – A Time For Choosing

It’s unclear what factions in the GOP will form in the coming chaos of the leaderless years between now and 2016. Conservatives generally talk a good game of rebellion and whisper of third parties when they are angry, but as the when the time comes the old saying about how Republicans “fall in line” may hold true. Already attempts by big government Republicans to anoint Marco Rubio as the next leader of the party are happening while conservatives and tea partiers whisper about the possibilities of a Rand Paul run in 2016. These two factions appear to be the most starkly contrasted in terms of mainstream establishment republican types vs. the grassroots coalitions of libertarians and conservatives. Could these two sitting Senators be the the rods that the party polarizes around in four years?

Fox News conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer once taunted libertarianism as inferior to conservatism, claiming that libertarianism is “not a governing philosophy”. In a sense he was correct. However he was ultimately wrong in that libertarianism is not inherently a governing philosophy. It is a self governing philosophy. If a civil war is to come in the GOP it will be between three parties: those for whom their interpretation of their religion gives them a mandate to rule, those whose views on foreign policy give them a mandate to rule us and our neighbors, and those who just want the government to leave us and everyone else alone.

It is now again a time for choosing.

So what do you think? Will there be a civil war in the GOP? If so who will be the key players and major ideas in play? Leave your thoughts below. 

 

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