In the Holy Bible and in the New Testament, Jesus Christ made the following statement to his critics who leveled a charge against both His leadership and authority: “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Matthew 12.22-28). Furthermore, President Abraham Lincoln quoted this same passage of Sacred Scripture during the height of the Civil War when he averred that “A house divided against itself cannot stand…”
There is no family, organization, nor any business or non-profit entity that can long exist if it is fractured from within.
As one observes the current affairs of the Republican Party, one could easily come to the conclusion that the Republican Party – the Grand Old Party (GOP) for short – is in a hopeless state of disarray. Political pundits and scholars ask themselves the question: Who speaks for the GOP? Is it the business community? Is it the mainstream GOP leadership which is located in both the Senate and in the House of Representatives? Could it be that the “Tea Party” and their proponents are the authentic voice of the Republican Party?
This writer heard Nicole Wallace – former Communications Chief for President George W. Bush – proclaim that whenever the GOP needs to rejuvenate itself, that it has historically looked to the ranks of their standing Republican Party Governors for future direction and growth (Bobby Jindal? Chris Christie? Scott Walker?). Perhaps in time Ms. Wallace’s observation will prove to be correct. Nevertheless, the question still remains: Is there anyone who can give an accurate pulse on the current state and political future of the GOP?
While this writer does not claim to possess any clairvoyant powers, he does believe that perhaps a historical look at the Republican Party may shine some light on its current dilemma.
Let us go back in time roughly 100 years and then move forward.
First and foremost, the Republican Party – unlike its progressive party counterpart – has always existed in a state of continual “flux” and “disunity.” Most Conservatives of both the fiscal and libertarian garden variety types have generally identified with the GOP as opposed to the egalitarian / progressive vision of the Democratic Party.
Back in 1912, the Republican Party was fresh off having won 5 of the previous 6 Presidential elections since 1888. The incumbent President in 1912 was Howard Taft (R) and he was immediately preceded by former President Theodore Roosevelt (R). Unfortunately for President. Taft, Theodore Roosevelt missed the center stage of the Presidency and sought to wrestle the White House away from him. Mr. Roosevelt’s coup attempt was rebuffed and with his failure to secure the Republican Party’s nomination in 1912 he sought desperate political measures. He ran for President as a political independent of the newly formed “Bull Moose Party.”
Mr. Roosevelt won more votes than Mr. Taft, but the candidacies of both men enabled an obscure Democratic Governor from New Jersey named Woodrow Wilson to barely squeak by with enough electoral votes to win the Presidency in 1912. (The Republican Party recovered and recaptured the Presidency in the ensuing elections of 1920 (Warren G. Harding); 1924 (Calvin Coolidge) and 1928 (Herbert Hoover).
Turn the page and fast forward to 1964.
The Republican Party found themselves embroiled in another state of disunity. This time the two GOP factions at war were the Southwestern conservatives led by Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater and the eastern establishment wing led by Governors Nelson Rockefeller of New York and William “Bill” Scranton of Pennsylvania. The eastern establishment saw Senator Goldwater and his conservative insurgency as being political extremists (sound familiar?) and illegitimate; when Senator Goldwater won the party’s nomination, the “eastern establishment wing” refused to support him in the general election.
In retrospect, Senator Goldwater would most likely have lost anyway even if the GOP was totally united (it is a dubious proposition to believe that the American people would have elected three Presidents in less than 4 years). The refusal of the mainstream wing of the Republican Party to endorse Senator Goldwater and his conservative mates set off a series of events from bad blood, unforgiveness and hard feelings between the two factions which exist to this very day.
Interesting enough, two years later in 1966, the conservatives saw one of their own heroes become Governor of California (Ronald Reagan) and the mainstream establishment arm of the Republican Party witnessed a young upcoming congressman win a house seat in Texas (George H. W. Bush). These two men would battle it out for the Republican Party’s nomination 14 years later in 1980.
Today, there is much discussion regarding the “Tea Party Movement” and its rise and influence within the Republican Party. Some have said that the “Tea Party Movement” is an extremist bloc and unyielding. Others call the Tea Party exponents unreasonable and fear what their influence in the broader body politic might mean for those who do not share their vision of limited government.
However, if history is any indication, the Republican Party will survive the insurgent “Tea Party” as the movement itself will most likely morph into either a Libertarian or Socially Conservative block within the GOP.
The Tea Party appears to be infusing the GOP with new life – in a similar vein that both the Bull Moose party and the Southwestern Goldwater insurgencies strengthened the Republican party in years past.
Republicans have always fought one another and there is no reason to see the “Tea Party Movement” as some strange or new phenomenon to this long-standing practice.
Update: DTG: Highlighted Biblical quote in Red because they were the direct words of Christ.