The GOP Dividing Line

( – promoted by Patrick)

You hear a lot about the various conservative divisions within the Republican Party-“social conservatives,” “War on Terror conservatives,” “libertarian conservatives,” etc. I’ve always thought these differences were a bit overstated; I’d argue that there are only two conservative branches in the GOP–“secular conservatives” and “religious conservatives.”

Secular conservatives generally desire limited government and lower taxes. When it comes to issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, secular conservatives can be either traditionalist or libertarian. However, they strongly support efforts to destroy militant Islam, reduce crime, break down the welfare state, and limit illegal immigration.

Religious conservatives also support much of the secular conservative agenda, but they also believe that more should be done to combat birth-control-based abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage and pop-cultural efforts to poke fun at religion, middle-class values, etc. (Note that most of the criticism of the themes in the 1999 film American Beauty came from religious conservatives, not secular conservatives.) Religious conservatives have led the charge against public acceptance of pornography, the inclusion of questionable material on television shows and in popular music, and left-wing efforts to promote what they view as an “anything goes” moral vision. Religious conservatives support the GOP because they feel that, for the most part, the Republican Party is the only one that stands for (as Rush Limbaugh puts it) “the traditions and values that have made this country great.”

Secular and religious conservatives do tend to get along: Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush would not have won if both groups didn’t join together in supporting each candidate. However, one does have to worry about a possible secular-religious divide in the GOP next year.

While potential nominee Fred Thompson has already generated tremendous support from both factions of the GOP, it’s not a foregone conclusion that he’ll actually win the nomination if he does decide to run. If the nomination is won by either Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney or John McCain, there could be a scenario in which a significant number of religious conservatives, disgusted by what they see as “Rudy McRomney’s” hostility to their values, decide to sit out the election, guaranteeing a Democrat victory.

This could cause a rift within the GOP: secular conservatives, who have their own issues with McCain, Romney and Giuliani but who would likely show up on Election Day to support a nominated member of this trio, might hold a grudge against religious conservatives for essentially forfeiting the election to the Democrats. This grudge might not be permanent–if a candidate who appeals to both factions of the party emerges in 2012, the party will come together again to support that contender–but in the aftermath of a 2008 loss, we could see a particularly nasty GOP family feud, as religious and secular conservatives blame each other for the Republicans’ ruin.

The left believes that the GOP is a warmongering entity. Can you imagine how happy the left will be if the party’s two main factions end up going to war–with each other?

About D. R. Tucker