The Two Conservative Divides

The press and liberals have made a cottage industry of talking about Republican Civil War.

Most of it, frankly, not worth the time spent reading.

Not that I don’t think there’s a war going on, but that it’s being mischaracterized by outsiders hoping to take everybody’s mind off Obamacare failures.

For a while now I’ve had two posts developing about the two conservative divides I see developing.

Everyone’s talking about the first one—and it is important—but there’s an equally important second one that’s not being talked about. At least not specifically.

The first divide: Insurgency vs. Establishment

Matt Lewis croppedErick Erickson Facebook

The first divide is the easier, and more obvious, one. And you can see it in these two reactions to Speaker Boehner’s recent temper tantrum:

Boehner bites back by Matt K. Lewis, which appeared in The Daily Caller on Friday.

On John Boehner’s Temper Tantrum by Erick Erickson, posted in RedState on Thursday.

Both of these gentlemen are firebrand conservative voices with no patience for progressivism or other forms of statism.

Both, you would think, would be prime candidates to be shapers and apologists for the Tea Party movement.

But as I discovered shortly after the 2008 election, Mr. Lewis has never liked Sarah Palin, the godmother of the Tea Party movement. (Many of his criticisms I argued against then I agree with now, though I’m still somewhat obsessed with the idea that these criticisms had more than a few self-fulfilling elements to them.)

Matt Lewis, no matter how determined he is to achieve conservative goals in Washington, normally will not cross whatever line the GOP brass draws.

For whatever reason, he is an establishmentarian.

He thinks he is on the side of the angels.

And Edmund Burke.

Forgetting, of course, that Edmund Burke was on the side of the American Revolution.

And, not coincidentally, the original Tea Party.

Interestingly, he modulated this stance a bit in his Friday piece:

But there’s another irony: Boehner went along with their absurd defund strategy — and now he’s going to stand up to conservatives who merely want to maintain status quo sequester-level spending levels?

Look, I get that this was a shrewd political strategy for him. But it’s also true that he went along with the conservative outside groups when they were wrong, and now he’s standing up to them when they’re right.

In terms of substance, he’s 0-for-2.

My take’s a little different: Boehner was right politically before and he’s wrong now. And will pay dearly for it.

Read the rest here.

Erick Erickson represents the other side of this divide.

He’s an insurgent. I suspect he wants to be part of the Rebel Alliance taking it to the Evil Empire.

Only the senior officers on his side keep dilly dallying.

Sometimes his criticism of the establishment is couched in the language of purity, but that’s not where he’s coming from.

He believes you can’t win if you don’t have a coherent governing philosophy and a war plan that is both congruent with that philosophy and keeps moving it forward on the field.

To him, Party leadership consistently takes the path of least resistance and, sadly, must be replaced.

So we come to Boehner’s temper tantrum.

Which serves as a pretty useful litmus test of the precise place where this particular divide lies.

Boehner, unfortunately for his side, has set off a dynamic that will likely cost him and the current leadership their jobs.

I tweeted on this divide yesterday:

Matt Lewis retweeted it.

So we shall see.

The Second Divide: National Security Hawks vs. (alleged) Isolationists

John PodhoretzRand Paul fillibuster croppedThe second divide is less fully developed (in my head) and, by its nature, murkier.

I simply don’t have the chops to tackle it, but my intuition tells me it is critical to the future of the Tea Party, the GOP, and conservatism itself.

What I noticed first came from discussions—online arguments really—with Ron Paul acolytes early in the formation of the Tea Party.

These people, to a man, thought that the Ron Paul brand of libertarianism WAS the Tea Party.

Certainly they’re a part of it. How much is hard to say. At least for me.

However, of the nationally known Tea Party-backed politicians (Cruz, Lee, Palin, Rubio—and Rand Paul), only Rand Paul shows any signs of isolationism.

However, they all seem to be cautious about foreign intervention.

And, they are all hyper-vigilant about government abridging civil liberties.

And thus we come to my friend John Podhoretz.

John opposed two filibusters.

The most telling though less vehement objection was to the first one, Rand Paul’s.

I really think that filibuster brought out for John a passion to oppose the Tea Party because he ascribes to it an isolationism I don’t think it deserves.

I had a brief argument with him on Twitter that, in a short-hand way, encapsulates the conflict:

(I think you can see why I love this guy.)

I myself am a Johnny-come-lately neoconservative, though I’ve long been a national security hawk.

On foreign policy I am an acolyte of John Podhoretz. So I have more than a little sympathy with his national security concerns.

However, neoconservatism is not in its ascendancy.

Not because of isolationism, but because of the reality of being stretched thin militarily, added to the (false, I believe) impression that the U.S. overstepped and failed, especially in Iraq.

When you bring in the conservative view that Mr. Obama’s foreign policy knowledge and approach are actually dangerous, it’s not a good time to be pushing the neoconservative view of anything.

I think John is reacting out of frustration and fear that Rand Paul represents something dangerous on the conservative side:

Right Wing Anti-Warism.

I’m not sure he does (although I’m not assured of the opposite either—he was raised by Ron Paul).

But I have no reason to believe any of the other major players on the electoral politics side of the Tea Party movement are antiwar in any practical sense.

Bottom line: Neocons like Podhoretz and Max Boot along with many of their hawkish allies, are extremely distrustful of libertarian-oriented conservatism and it colors their reaction to everything the Tea Party does, whether talking about domestic drones or on fighting to keep sequesters in place.

The danger, as I point out in this exchange, is that you lose the audience you need in order to keep your convictions moving forward:

Somewhere during all this, I came across a thought-provoking post by Jen Rubin (Time for hawks to wake up). Jen is a certified neoconservative. I think she describes my concerns better than I did. And certainly with more credibility:

The reaction of some hawks on the right to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster suggests a refusal to recognize why Paul was so successful in garnering praise. They are seemingly unable to recognize the deeply held perception of many, if not most, of the American people that Iraq and Afghanistan were unsuccessful and that enthusiasm for the Arab Spring is misplaced. They have lost credibility with the American people and they need to both acknowledge that and strive to get it back.

Internationalists like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his policy mavens have not gone back to make the case that Iraq and Afghanistan were “worth it,” nor have they devised any course correction or refinement based on our recent experiences. Doing neither of these is a political mistake (as is any policy or movement that averts its eyes from widespread public opinion) and has left a vacuum for Paul to step into with gusto.

Conservative hawks sought to divide Paul from the larger GOP on his broader national security vision rather than find some commonality with his insistence on a straight answer from this administration. It is not loony or delusional or irrelevant to require a president, who has been so cavalier with the truth and so willing to aggrandize executive power, to acknowledge some limit on his authority; it is disturbing that the administration had to be humiliated into providing an answer about domestic drone use against non-combatant Americans.

Paul’s ideological opponents on the right only made him appear bigger and more attractive by their cluelessness as to the war weariness and privacy and civil libertarian concerns to which some have rallied.

That snippet only captures part of her thinking back then.

And I think she’s exactly right.

Here’s a question I’m pondering lately:

How many on the Establishment side of the First Divide are actually national security hawks scared spitless about weakening American defense in the name of libertarianism?

That’s where I’m watching next, because I’m not confident we’re correctly identifying why different actors in this drama are coming down on different sides—and why some of them seem to change.

I also recommend:

John Hayward, How not to handle internal party divisions.

Update 1/15/14:

I’ve added a Third Divide: (Still) Another Conservative Divide.

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