Monday, February 6, 2012

Is the GOP identity crisis good for gridlock?

There are very clear divisions within the Republican Party over what type of candidate could best beat Barack Obama. The Gingrich-Romney showdown has become almost entirely personal, with both candidates attacking each other’s character and personal history. Romney recently called Gingrich erratic, dangerous, and unreliable, while Gingrich has continued to call Romney a liar

The exchanges have deeply angered the Tea Party base, which supports both Gingrich and Rick Santorum over Romney in Florida. Sarah Palin, a Gingrich supporter, called the tactics by Romney “Stalin-esque” and “unprecedented” in a GOP primary. With Romney winning in many polls but isolating the conservative base and the Tea Party, he might not have the backing to succeed.

But while the lack of GOP unity might be hurting the future presidential nominee’s chances of beating Obama, what does it mean for congressional gridlock?

We’ve seen that party polarization has been increasing over the years—democrats and republicans in Congress have little to no overlap anymore in terms of political ideology. This polarization has made compromise more difficult than ever and has created greater policy gridlock. What’s necessary for change is a wider range of ideologies along the political spectrum, not just two clusters on each end.

Embracing the variation of ideologies within the Republican Party could help to bring more pragmatism and compromise to Washington. While the lack of unity is bad news for the GOP’s immediate chances of winning the presidential election, it could be great news for tackling the huge policy challenges that lie ahead for Congress. Having more moderate republicans in Congress would encourage compromise from both sides of the aisle. 

While I don’t see republicans embracing this strategy any time soon, it just might be inevitable if the divisions within the party become large enough. Our political system needs a bit of a shock, and the GOP is perfectly poised to deliver.


  1. Intersting post. I wonder if Romney's success so far is driven by voter's genuine support for more moderate policies or the view that he is the best person to take on Obama. If you listen to the debates, there is a lot of talk about reversing what Obama has done, but not much on how to achieve deficit reduction, how to fix the immigration system (I think self deportation was the latest) or how to bring down health care costs. David Brooks recently claimed that the Republicans were more unified than ever on policy - but I think a President Romney would have just the same problems as Speaker Boehner trying to gain consensus among the factions in the Republican caucus, not to mention going far enough to the center to break Democratic filibusters in the Senate.

    1. I contend that Romney's success so far has been driven by voters’ genuine support for more moderate polices, rather than the view that he is the best person to take on Obama. While Santorum spoke out against Romney, calling him "deplorable" and "not conservative," Gingrich similarly released ads calling Romney a "Massachusetts moderate."

      Republican presidential hopefuls have evidently bashed Romney for trending toward the middle, but as Stefani pointed out, the presence of more moderate Republicans in Washington could encourage more bipartisan legislation. Romney's work as governor of Massachusetts proves the potential success of a moderate Republican in terms of working through the keystone issues Prof Schanzer hits on (health care, immigration, deficit reduction).

      He had success with the individual mandate, as the uninsured population dropped to an impressive 1.9% in Massachusetts in 2010. Further, Romney's decision to cut state income taxes from 5.6% to 5.3%, while raising state fees to combat a budget shortfall, exemplifies a more moderate Republican approach than those of his opponents. This is the opponent Americans can see challenging Obama based on his understanding of and appreciation for both sides of the issue. Like Stefani hypothesizes, a resurgence of more moderate policies within the Republican Party could lead to more "pragmatism and compromise in Washington."

    2. This primary has become even more interesting since I first wrote this post!

      Considering Santorum's recent success, Chris, I'm not sure if voters genuinely want more moderate policies. I think it's definitely possible though considering primaries are often a small (possibly unrepresentative) portion of the electorate. Santorum's success though, especially considering how much less funding he has, shows an acute interest in a very socially conservative candidate. Votes for Santorum and votes for Romney show two very different ideologies (at least in what they outwardly portray), which emphasizes the idea that the GOP might not yet be decided as to what type of a candidate they're looking for.

      Professor Schanzer, I agree with the sentiment that republicans might be searching for who can best beat Obama, rather than their personal convictions. Most of the republican rhetoric in the debates is just about changing Obama's policies rather than having actual proposed policies themselves. I also think that while there might not be very many policy differences between candidates on the economy and other fiscal issues, the ways in which they speak about social issues seems very different. There seems to be a very clear difference between a religious conservative like Santorum and a less-outwardly religious and a seemingly more moderate Romney. The fact that Santorum is still winning states this late shows that not only are people unsure of Romney, but they are SO unsure that they would pick a very different type of candidate.

      I don't think Santorum will end up winning the primary (and I definitely don't think he'll beat Obama if he does), but I think his resurgence in the polls shows that there is still hesitation on the part of republican voters and the possibility for more factions within Congress.