Sunday, May 24, 2009

Is there really a split in the GOP?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

"Split threatens to rupture Republican ranks: Conservative vs. moderate divide plays out across the airwaves on Sunday."

Such was the oh-so-dramatic headline of an AP article at MSNBC earlier today. And, fine, Sunday was indeed a big day for the so-called moderates of the Republican Party, with both Colin Powell (on CBS) and Tom Ridge (on CNN) taking to the cable news circuit to criticize Dear Leader Rush and the extremist right-wing faction that currently dominates the party.

"I am still a Republican," declared Powell -- and I made this point in a recent post: Democrats may like Powell, but he's not one of us -- who, Obama endorsement aside, has voted "solidly" Republican for decades.

Meanwhile, noted Ridge, Limbaugh is "shrill" and, at times, offensive.

All this makes for good copy, I suppose, but here's my question: What split?

If there is a divide in the Republican Party -- which is to say, if there are two sides competing for control -- it is a soundly lop-sided affair. There are a few notable moderates (or, more accurately, renegade conservatives) in the party, but, in the general, the Republican Party is overwhelmingly a conservative party. Powell may declare that he is still a Republican, but so what? Ridge may take a shot at Limbaugh, but so what? The Republican Party, as it now stands (or slumps), is not the party of Colin Powell, and those like him, and Limbaugh is far more popular than both Powell and Ridge. And while it's not like I don't prefer Powell to Cheney -- and, as the NYT reported, Powell effectively offered "a public rebuttal" to Cheney (over national security) on Sunday -- Cheney's views are far more widely held among Republicans than Powell's are.

The media love this sort of thing -- personality is so much easier to cover than policy, and dramatizing conflict, or, rather, overdramatizing it, is what the media do so well. An intra-party split/divide -- in other words, civil war -- makes for a manufactured narrative the media can chatter to death.

But the truth is quite another thing altogether. Powell and Ridge, along with McCain and other such renegades, will continue to garner the headlines, but, again, the Republican Party is Limbaugh's party, the party of the right-wing base and its leadership both in Congress and elsewhere. There are moderate Republicans, to be sure, but they are now a decided minority in a party that has been shifting ever further rightward in recent years, notably in defeat after the '06 and '08 elections.

Perhaps there is indeed a future in the Republican Party for the likes of Colin Powell, but the present is anything but theirs.

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  • Yeah, it would be better for the GOP if this actually were a civil war, because it would mean the moderates had at least a chance of snatching their party's reins from Rush's chubby fingers.

    But for now, it looks like most Republican politicians aren't just shooting themselves in the foot, they're having a contest to see who can blow off the most toes in one shot.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:55 AM  

  • who would do better in a generic presidential election for the repubs? limbaugh or powell? powell would probably trounce just about any dem, maybe even obama. limbaugh would get clobbered by your garden-variety dem nationwide. but the repubs would probably rather lose with rush than win with powell!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:55 AM  

  • Here's a link to the complete interview on CBS News' Face the Nation page. We would appreciate a link: Thanks!

    By Anonymous Ben French, at 8:41 AM  

  • I comment Powell for speaking his mind but he stopped being a Republican a long time ago.

    By Anonymous Magnetic Cash Gifting, at 11:26 AM  

  • Limbaugh is far more popular than both Powell and Ridge.This seems to be false:
    "Among Republicans, it's a different story. The poll suggests that 66 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of Cheney, 64 percent give Powell a thumbs up, and 62 view Limbaugh in a favorable way."

    By Blogger Steve J., at 11:44 PM  

  • Ben: link has been added.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 12:29 AM  

  • Steve J.: Yes, I saw that poll, and I'll have a post on it Tuesday morning. The question isn't so much their relative popularity among Republicans generally but among the Republican base -- with the grassroots, with primary voters, with the leadership. But you obviously make a good point. Powell is still extremely popular among Republicans generally.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 12:32 AM  

  • Of course the moderate Republicans are disappearing. Being a moderate Republican is now the job of Democrats.

    The real story is that liberals are the one's losing the struggle.

    By Blogger Stupid Git, at 11:55 AM  

  • What would possess you to put an apostrophe in "ones?"

    But yes, by the standards of Rampagin' Rush and his legion of losers, Eisenhower was a "far left Liberal" and Mussolini would have made a great American president if he'd only change his name to something less foreign -- like Limbaugh, maybe.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 9:11 AM  

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