For as long as I can remember there has always been some division in the Republican Party. Yes, there were some fundamental tenets that held us together under the big tent: small government, fiscal conservatism, and a strong defense. For many of my politically-active years there has been a tension between social conservatives and the more moderate Republicans. Radicals versus RINOs, Hicks versus Country Club, if you will.
At the risk of over-simplifying I suggest for a couple of decades the conservatives, mostly defined by social conservatives, have been the grass roots of the Party. If the Republican nominee was going to succeed they needed this "base." Without this support we had losses with Dole, McCain and Romney. Supposedly, millions of the base stayed home in 2012 because they were not confident in Romney's conservative bona fides.
To add more confusion, recall the rumor that the Bush campaign had a way to the nomination without the base? Well, he definitely got his wish of running without the base. However, he found it hard to find support from any sizable segment. His establishment support and successful fundraising were clearly insufficient in this weird primary season. His campaign was working from a playbook out of sync with the times.
The attraction of anti-establishment candidates like Trump, Cruz, and Carson has caused a lot of discussion about the so-called Republican base. Commentators resort to calling Trump an anti-establishment candidate or a populist. Then Cruz is said to be the social conservative candidate or the choice of evangelicals. With the field shrinking Rubio is characterized as the moderate or establishment candidate. Kasich has some small piece of the moderate vote.
Of course there are problems with the above generalizations. Trump is attracting a pretty broad coalition of angry voters, including some evangelicals and social conservatives (huh?). This is the case even though before his campaign he was buddies with the establishment. Cruz has been such a strong second that his appeal, while certainly great among social conservatives, has touched other blocs. And remember, Rubio won his last election as a Tea Party candidate; hardly a moderate Republican.
The rise of the Tea Party during the Obama Administration and a great dissatisfaction with business as usual in the national capital has fractured the old paradigm of social conservatives versus moderates. The anger from many factions in the big tent can be seen in fragmented votes in this primary season so far. Trump has been the consistent leader, but he has not been able to develop a band wagon and his support may top out at 35 percent. The truth has been that most of the Republican party has not been for Trump. Can he win the nomination with that?
The times clearly require a candidate that is seen as an outsider. The old Republican Party paradigm will not work. As a matter of fact, I think trying to decipher this strange primary season with the old paradigm will only lead to more confusion. The old Republican Party and its co-existing segments is now history. I would even say there is no longer a "base." Forget about a base. The new paradigm is factions. I would suggest the new paradigm might include 3 factions of approximately equal size. The three factions are The Pitchforkers, The True Believers, and The RINOs.
Our Republican Pitchforkers have significant numbers of people who have been involved in the Tea Party. Fed up with Obama and his "transforming" of government they rose up demanding a halt to growing government and unconstitutional laws and executive orders. They believed the Republican Party was going to have their back and they were let down. They now feel like the tough talking, outsider Trump will make things right.
Cruz is finding support with True Believers. They relate to his efforts to call out Republican leaders for not taking on Obama, his consistent conservative record, and his faith. Sure, True Believers want a winner, but elect-ability is less of a concern than is principle with True Believers. This being the case, if Trump wins the nomination expect the True Believers to sit out the general election.
In this outsider primary season most of their potential candidates didn't make the cut. After Bush they seemed to have settled for Rubio. As mentioned above, Rubio got elected to the Senate as a Tea Party favorite. However, he early showed his willingness - okay, with good intentions - to make deals. He now appears to have taken the RINOs' orders to attack Trump and attempt to derail the crazy train. If push comes to shove they can live with Trump. Trump is a deal maker and they can see making deals to maintain some power. What the RINOs cannot tolerate is the totally inflexible (principled) Cruz. He'll just ruin...their party.
The real question for me is the future with this new paradigm. Can the Republican Party survive these factions? Especially if this results in President Hillary Clinton? Or are we witnessing not disarray, but disintegration of the Republican Party? Perhaps the Republican Party has outlived its usefulness. Political parties are not sacred. When it comes down to it, I am more concerned about America than I am about the Republican Party.