One does not need to look to deeply into last Tuesday’s election results to see a tale of two GOP’s. The conservative or establishment wing of the party obviously had the better night. Governor Chris Christie racked up a big margin in New Jersey and in an Alabama Congressional district run-off the business friendly and establishment candidate won. Meanwhile, in Virginia, Republican Ken Cuccinelli, easily aligned with the more populist wing of the party lost though not by a big margin. While both Christie and Cuccinelli belong to the same party they encapsulate the divide that exists within the modern GOP on ideology, strategy and vision.
On ideology, Cuccinelli and his wing of the party are largely uncompromising. Just think of Ted Cruz and his actions during the shutdown or the House GOP’s. Cuccinelli’s actions as Attorney General of Virginia were largely ideological despite the AG slot being fairly non-partisan. Cuccinelli pushed for strong anti-abortion legislation, denied climate change existed and sued the federal government over Obamacare. Christie in New Jersey is fiscally and socially conservative but he has no problem bending to solve a problem. For example, Christie has been open to some forms of gun control and when he inked his pension reform deal with unions he did not push for anything extra. In other words, ideology is not all in Christie’s GOP.
On strategy Christie has shown his wing of the GOP believes that getting the best deal you can get is the way to go. Christie is well known for quoting Reagan’s 70% comment. In other words, compromise is the way to go. Cuccinelli’s wing of the GOP believes the best strategy, if it can be called one, is to push for everything all at once and not back down unless you get it. Standing on principle is better than winning. Budget shutdown redux anybody?
Lastly, on vision, both wings of the GOP want the same thing; a more inclusive and diverse GOP (no liberals, the Tea Party is not racist, just ask Tim Scott). But the vision they both proclaim is quite different in many other ways. The populist wing of the party wants a ideologically pure party where only conservative voters seem welcome. The Christie/establishment wing of the party wants a conservative party but one that welcomes moderates and liberals into its ranks.
One can look at the exit polls from New Jersey and Virginia and see this on full display. In New Jersey, Christie won 63% of men, 57% of women, 70% of whites, 21% of blacks and 51% of Hispanics. He garnered the support of 32% of Democrats and 66% of Independents and even more importantly won 31% of liberals and 61% of moderates while holding 86% of conservatives. Contrast this with the results in Virginia.
In Virginia Cuccinelli only captured 48% of the male vote and a mere 42% of women. He won 56% of whites but a mere 8% of blacks and less than 30% of Hispanics and Asians. Cuccinelli won a mere 2% of Democrats and a slim 47% plurality of Independents. Lastly, Cuccinelli won only 4% of liberals and 34% of Moderates while getting 83% of conservatives. This is a far cry from the diverse support Christie cultivated.
Still, do not extrapolate to much from the numbers above. Each race had unique factors involved in it. Rather, use the exit poll numbers above to see an illustration of what both wings of the party envision the party being heading into the future.
Looking beyond just Virginia and New Jersey to tell the tale of the two GOP’s are a number of 2014 Senate primaries. In Alaska, Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell is the favorite of the establishment but 2010 Tea Party favorite Joe Miller is back for another run (a third candidate Dan Sullivan is somewhere in the middle). In Louisiana where GOP Congressman Bill Cassidy is staunchly conservative but not enough for populist GOP aligned groups who support Rob Maness. Kentucky is perhaps the most vivid example with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell squaring off against Tea Party backed Matt Bevin. Odds are good the establishment backed candidates wins but perhaps not without damage heading into the general. Hey, if in the name of principle.
Which GOP emerges after 2014 and heading into 2016 will likely be in the drivers seat of the party for years to come. Of course this does not mean the Tea Party or populist wing of the GOP is going to disappear anytime soon. But their interests within the party might begin to be less represented in an effort for party elites to broaden the party’s appeal. Of course, if the establishment wing of the party fails to continue to lead the party the GOP could become even more ideological and whiter (not a bad thing electorally I might add). Chris Christie’s big win in New Jersey will likely be used to showcase the establishment has a better plan on its side but 2010 continues to be a popular talking point for the Ted Cruz’s of the GOP. Furthermore the Tea Party did get get the GOP the sequester. Perhaps the wings would better be served by simply working together for the time being and letting the 2016 Presidential primary decide the course of the party. Hey, I can dream, right?