I was reading a column at Bloomberg today by Kathleen Hunter discussing Mitch McConnell’s impotence in dealing with Ted Cruz, and a pretty obvious point finally hit me: party discipline without a president to define and enforce the Party Line is pretty difficult. That’s important to absorb because there is a tendency to vastly over-estimate intra-Republican differences as representing a “civil war” or “struggle for the soul” when it’s often just a matter of strategy and tactics (e.g., do we pursue draconian cuts in domestic spending via debt defaults and government shutdowns, or by winning the next election?).

Hunter is correct that the kinds of disciplinary tools a parliamentary party leader possesses (committee assignments, access to campaign funds, media attention) don’t cut a lot of ice these days, particularly for a guy like Cruz who is wildly more popular with “the base” than McConnell will ever be. But the bigger problem is that no Senate or House leader is in a position to establish the default-drive agenda, or the strategy and tactics needed to achieve it. So “dissidents” with instant access to national media and a big national following feel as entitlement to define the party line as anyone else. A “revolt” against a sitting president of one’s party, while they certainly happen, is a more perilous endeavor, and a lot harder to pull off. So add to the GOP’s list of reasons they badly need to win in 2016 the fact that otherwise they’ll never achieve the kind of day-to-day unity–even when battling a hated leader of the Other Party–they need.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.