The GOP, like the Democrats, have always had three distinct camps within it, creating what is really a six-party system. Many conservative and liberal elites hold memberships in all three distinct subcultures of their national parties, but most voters have their principle political identity in one of them.
For Democrats the three divisions are among those who care mostly about sexual and cultural mores –abortion, same-sex marriage, access to drugs– and I call this the party of license. The party of government is made of the unions, public and private sector, and the environmentalists who rely on the coercive power of government to achieve their goals, and the party of race are those voters for whom racial identity and racial politics are the most important feature of their politics.
On the GOP side, the smallest though still quite numerous group is the party of national defense and national security, which the left has taken to calling the neocons but which actually predate that terms by a long, long time. There is also the party of free enterprise or what I used to call the party of wealth, and the most numerous group –the party of faith, those people whose politics flow out of their faith lives.
These major divisions have held steady for many years, and the people who captured the nominations of the parties had to appeal to all three of their key intra-party camps.
For the first time in a long time attention is being paid to a new division that has opened up within one of the parties: the libertarian wedge inside the GOP. It was Ron Paul who began the drive to make this small group of ideologues a mainstream force, but it is his son Senator Rand Paul who holds the promise of fully integrating the libertarian strain into the GOP.
Except that it doesn’t really fit into the GOP because it doesn’t really believe in the national security agenda of the party of Reagan (and of both Bushes and of Ford, Nixon and Ike before them.) The libertarians have always been anti-defense, though they explain that hostility as being pro-American defense first, or in terms of not antagonizing the world into hating us. The libertarians are, at core, isolationists with better marketing than their ancestors.
The first of what will be many collisions between the neo-isolationist libertarians and the mainstream of the GOP occurred via long distance between Governor Christie and Senator Paul this weekend, but expect more such clashes and with increasing frequency as the MSM sees and seizes the opportunity to open a split within the GOP.
What will be less frequently covered is the similar crack in the Democratic Party between the Greens and the unions over issues such as Keystone and the war on coal. Both parties have their small-in-number-but-large-in-volume cadres, and for every Rand Paul supporter there is an Al Gore booster. The latter’s conflicts with DNC central just don’t get covered as much as the Paulites clashes with RNC HQ, but the conflict is no less real. Indeed, the Greens are much, much more powerful within the DNC than are the neo-isolationists within the GOP.
Here’s the key: Despite the attention paid to Senator Paul because of his genuine intelligence, good humor and his willingness to engage smartly on a series of interesting issues such as drone attacks and the extent of NSA surveillance, the GOP remains 90%+ on the side of a strong national defense, and Chris Christie’s embrace of that historic mission of the Party of Reagan is savvy and timely and should be quickly matched by anyone else even thinking about leading the party in 2016. The debates of the primary season will almost certainly feature Senator Paul, but he will either have to renounce the neo-isolationists in near-absolute terms or give up on winning the nomination ever. The GOP may have swallowed the sequester rather than capitulate to the president’s economy-wrecking demand for even higher tax hikes, but it won’t go full or even half-Stanley Baldwin, no matter how much the libertarians wish that it would.