How do you have a civil war if you’re almost all on the same side?

There’s an interesting opinion piece by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times about the Republican Party’s current tribulations that’s been making the rounds over the past couple of days. It covers quite a few different issues, but it’s clearest points seem to be that the marketing subcontractors affiliated with the party are paid independently of their results and that the party’s base is divided between a mob of social conservatives resistant to any social change and a significant but smaller group of free market powerhouses. Sadly for Edsall, neither of these are particularly radical or new ideas. One trend of 2012 was the steadily growing obviousness of racketeering within the conservative movement and its chronic inability to hire the right people to send out its messages. Likewise, many others have been talking about a Republican “civil war” between a base that demands a loyalty to social policies that are politically toxic in general elections (particularly when the policies restrict women’s rights) and the smaller faction of moneyed interests within the party.

The idea that Republicans have potential allies who align with one of those blocs but not the other and they just have to figure out some new way of reaching out to them correctly seems pretty suspect when you actually look at how many conservatives analyze their own politics. They don’t view there as being a choice between support for economic policies that produce systemic class inequalities and support for a likely religiously-informed social conservatism. To them, those are the left and right hands of their politics – why bother lopping off one or the other? There are, of course, those who go even further and seem to view them as not only overlapping belief systems, but mutually supporting ones. For many modern conservatives, breaking with any part of that perceived socio-economic policy package is a breaking of a whole. It likely doesn’t matter to those people that they’ll still agree with the party when it comes to tax policy if they’re ignoring the social system surrounding the hope to install around that and other economic policies.

Beyond that sticky issue, there’s an implicit assumption that even if those present Republican voters stand by an exclusively fiscal-focused revamp of the party, there’s a significant number of other voters out there who will be enticed by the Republican message of tax cuts and ignoring growing economic disparities. That’s not even shown by the data Edsall uses in his own article:


(From Edsall’s New York Times opinion piece.)

The largest gaps between public perception of the Republican and Democratic parties are indeed over issues that are seen as primarily social in nature – the rights of women, queer, and genderqueer people. But the other major gaps all concern issues obviously concerning economic policy: assistance to the poor and tax policy. The issues on which Democrats have little lead or still trail Republicans in public perception are a mixed bag of social policies (firearms regulation), economic policies (handling the financial and energy industries), and ones that are a bit of both (immigration). The Democrats might have more strength on social issues, but the perception of them as ideologically more mainstream has both economic and social dimensions.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems easier to find myriad faults with this specific prediction of a coming Republican ‘civil war’ than to see its development.

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