The Republican Coalition Is Falling Apart

February 23, 2010 2:55 pm ET — Chris Harris

One of President Ronald Reagan's greatest political accomplishments was forging the coalition that makes up today's Republican Party. Under Reagan's tent, fiscal, social, and foreign policy conservatives were able to coexist peacefully and fight together in the trenches for the GOP.

His three pillars of conservatism twice elected him to the presidency, swept a Republican Congress into office in 1994, and helped President George W. Bush win two terms as well.  Times are changing though, and the GOP may soon have to learn to run campaigns with a splintered base.

First, the newly-blossomed Tea Party movement may prove to be more of a hassle than a benefit for Washington Republicans.  Rather than joining the Republican Party as passionate activists, Tea Partiers have begun to actively target the GOP.  Elected Republicans across the country are now facing primary campaigns against members of the Tea Party movement.  And in Florida, activists have formed an actual "Tea Party" as an official third party to compete against Republicans in elections. 

Second, social conservatives are feeling ignored by the conservative and Republican establishments.  With a lagging economy and large federal deficits, Washington conservatives are focused on hammering Democrats on taxes, spending, and job creation -- not fighting abortion, gay marriage, and gun control.  Additionally, the growing influence of Cato Institute-ish & Rep. Ron Paul-esque Libertarianism within the GOP has social conservatives fuming.

For instance, lambasting the organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) for allowing the gay Republican group GOPROUD to cosponsor the event, the socially conservative American Family Association wrote:

Not only was GOPROUD welcomed at CPAC, an event which is supposed to be the annual showcase for conservative values, the organization was allowed to sponsor the event, giving visibility and recognition to its effort to legitimize sexual deviancy.

In other words, for David Keene and the others who run CPAC, natural marriage is not, in their judgment, a fundamental conservative value. This conference, for the sake of truth in advertising, should be relabeled "The Libertarian Political Action Conference." It has forfeited any legitimate claim to the "Conservative" moniker.

And AFA didn't stop there.  They went so far as to pit their own Voters Values Summit against CPAC:

The bottom line here is if conservatives are looking for an annual convocation of genuine conservatives - those who are fiscal, national security and social conservatives - the place to be is the Values Voter Summit.

VVS, sponsored each fall by the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, will never waver on the truth that protecting one man - one woman marriage is the most fundamental conservative value of all.

The fact that the organizers of CPAC and the Voters Values Summit, arguably the two most important conservative events in Washington, are openly battling over the soul of the GOP, should be a major cause for concern in Republican circles.

While the elections this November will likely bring good news for the GOP, the party's widening divisions could spell long-term catastrophe.