The GOP’s factional warfare

THE GOP’S FACTIONAL WARFARE…. Time will tell the extent to which Republicans have a rough election cycle, but rival intra-party factions are already gearing up for a post-election fight for the future of the party. The message from the base seems rather straightforward: “Screw moderation.”

The social conservatives and moderates who together boosted the Republican Party to dominance have begun a tense battle over the future of the GOP, with social conservatives already moving to seize control of the party’s machinery and some vowing to limit John McCain’s influence, even if he wins the presidency.

In skirmishes around the country in recent months, evangelicals and others who believe Republicans have been too timid in fighting abortion, gay marriage and illegal immigration have won election to the party’s national committee, in preparation for a fight over the direction and leadership of the party.

The growing power of religious conservatives is alarming some moderate Republicans who believe that the party’s main problem is that it has narrowed its appeal and alienated too many voters.

The first battle in the larger war will apparently be fought over the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. Far-right conservatives, including Rush Limbaugh and some state party chairs, are already arguing that they will choose the next party leader, even if McCain wins the presidency.

South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson insisted this is necessary, arguing that “moderating our party is what caused us to lose power” in 2006.

This is not an uncommon sentiment among leaders of the Republican base — they seriously believe voters would be far more likely to support the GOP if party leaders were more right-wing. What’s more, if things don’t go well for the party seven days from now, these activists will push this line very aggressively as the party starts to put the pieces back together, whether it makes sense or not.

Kevin recently predicted that the Republican Party is “going to be riven by factional warfare for years, with moderates unable to get a purchase on the party apparatus because of the McCain albatross hanging around their necks. Eventually, like Britain’s Labor Party in the 80s, they’ll find their Tony Blair, but in the meantime they’re likely to double down on the most strident possible social conservatism, convinced that the heartland will respond if only they regain the true faith.”

We’ll see how this works out for them.