Are Republicans Already Two Parties?

Initial thoughts on Super Tuesday: Republicans.  Major American parties are alliances of disparate interests. They work effectively when their coalition partners can find enough common ground to put aside their differences, and they fail when differences stand in the way of compromise.  With the radicalization of a significant element of the Republican Party during the Obama years, it’s reasonable to ask whether Republicans have become two incompatible groups sharing one label: a traditional party that seeks to govern by conservative principles and a reactionary party determined to shut everything down. Evidence of this split has been apparent for several years in the inability of the Republican party-in-government to come to terms with itself. It is why Marco Rubio’s compromise immigration plan was blocked by House Republicans and why former Speaker John Boehner had to rely on a grand coalition of Democrats and non-reactionary Republicans whenever he was faced with must-pass legislation opposed by his reactionary caucus.

No place was this division more apparent on Tuesday than in Virginia, where Marco Rubio’s surprisingly strong showing was built in establishment-friendly areas of suburban Washington, while Trump dominated outside the Beltway. Now that Super Tuesday has reaffirmed Donald Trump’s dominant position in the Republican presidential contest, the reactionary/conservative division has finally been given full expression by the party in the electorate, with the reactionaries demonstrating the most fervor and unity. Conservative voters remained divided as Cruz showed strength in his home state of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma, Rubio won Minnesota and Kasich performed impressively in Vermont.  But Trump was competitive everywhere. The ramifications for this type of split are profound, and we are seeing them in the emerging division between Republican elites who are rallying around the frontrunner and those who want to run as far away as possible. As Trump marches closer to the nomination, the pressure on establishment Republicans to choose sides will become intense, forcing elites to side with either the conservatives or the reactionaries. It’s hard to see how this happens under one tent.  Much more on this in the days and weeks ahead.