Saturday, January 23, 2016

Josh Marshall on Trump, Cruz and GOP Civil War

Josh Marshall offers a thoughtful take on what Trump v. Cruz tells us about GOP inner turmoil on Talking Points Memo.

The 'GOP Civil War!' line is perhaps the most well-worn cliche of progressive journalism, just as the parallel 'Democratic Civil War!' is on the other side of the equation. Yet here, for a moment at least, we seem to have a real one, whether or not it speaks to some deeper cleavage that will transcend the individual personalities in question.

Right now in the GOP primary you have two frontrunners - with the edge going to Donald Trump - who both seem to terrify established party leaders, for a mix of reasons ranging from ideology to electability to behavior and tone. But the crux of it is not who supports who so much as which of these two is worst or which - going a bit further - is not just worst but positively unacceptable as a presidential nominee. A GOP pal of mine says we should call it "The War between the Hates."

Looking at the schism a bit more deeply we can see some basic differences in the two factions. The most notable of which is ideological orthodoxy versus electoral impact. Though there are now many other outlets and contenders for the label, National Review is the historical organ of the conservative movement. (And unlike some similar outlets it's managed over the last couple decades to build a digital platform that is a power in its own right.) And Trump as really not a conservative in much of any sense threatens to upset the whole Movement Conservative apple cart. Even if you take Trump's current positions at face value, they are not conservative in the sense that Movement Conservatives like to understand them. Beyond that, it's really not at all clear that this campaign trail Trump really believes anything he's saying as opposed to the various things he said or endorsed or candidates he contributed to over the years.

For committed conservatives, there is a real and I believe justified fear that Trump could come into office, be hardcore for a year or two and then pull what Arnold Schwarzenegger did in his latter years as governor of California. In other words, shape-shift into a sort of moderate, Bloombergesque sort of Republican. Republicans can tolerate than in New York where nothing better is on offer and perhaps in California too. But not in the White House.

For the Senators and party professionals who are going nuts about Cruz the concern seems quite different. On the one hand, they hate him. And for the best of reasons, they know him, which is usually all it takes. More specifically, his Senate colleagues quickly tired of his show-boating, dishonest tactics, and various efforts that aimed at gaining glory for him with base Republicans while leaving them to clean up his mess.

But politicians are grown ups (in some ways at least). Personal antipathy only gets you so far. The deeper issue is that they believe Cruz is so right-wing and so personally caustic that he would not only lose his own bid for the presidency but lose seats for other Republicans who are either in marginal seats or in generally Democratic parts of the country. This is what makes you a professional Republican: the core desire to win and hold seats. In other words, they are more afraid of running with Cruz than Trump. He could throw away many of the majorities at the state and federal level they've been building up over the last five years.

There, I think, you have the basic split: on the one hand, ideological purity (or even ideological reality) versus who would damage the party most beyond (presumably) losing his own presidential bid.

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