Perhaps not since Teddy Roosevelt split from the Republican Party to create the Progressive Party in 1912, has the Republican Party faced the kind of fight in which it is now engaged for its very soul. Although the Tea Party has not actually created a separate political party and run outside the Republican party to challenge Republicans, the fact that it has frequently run candidates against established Republican moderate incumbents demonstrates its intent to take over the Republican Party.
But the real question for the Republican Party is not whether candidates who affiliate themselves with the Tea Party end up controlling the party. The much more important issue is whether the ALEC driven agenda becomes the driving force of the party, regardless of the status of the Tea Party.
At the federal level, we have recently seen Bob Dole’s televised regrets that the Republican Party,
“can’t get together on a budget or legislation”
and that his party should hang a
“closed for repairs”
sign on its doors until it comes up with a few new ideas.
At the state level, it may not be a lack of ideas that is exacerbating the battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Rather, it is ALEC sponsored ideas such as private school voucher expansion that has pushed this battle to the forefront.
Wisconsin is demonstrating this perfect storm in the battle over its budget, where Gov. Walker chose to insert ALEC inspired private school voucher expansion into the budget. While one would normally expect this to easily pass due to Republican control of both the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate, it is not playing out that way. Although voucher expansion would easily pass the Wisconsin Assembly, a revolt by moderate non-Tea Party Republican Senators is blocking the massive expansion sought by Gov. Walker.
This story is playing out all over the country and while many may make predictions about its outcome, just as Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party likely resulted in electing Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat, as President, the question on the other side of the aisle today is whether Democrats can seize the opportunity which the internal Republican battle presents. President Obama likes to claim that he has already done so, but given that he still faces a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and Republicans hold 30 of the states’ governorships, the Democrats have clearly failed to set forth a sufficiently clear and attractive vision to take advantage of the opportunity which the Republicans have presented to them.
The Chinese curse may say it best:
May you live in interesting times.