The Right Opinion

How Fractured Is the GOP?

By Charles Krauthammer · Aug. 2, 2013

WASHINGTON – A combination of early presidential maneuvering and internal policy debate is feeding yet another iteration of that media perennial: the great Republican crackup. This time it’s tea party insurgents versus get-along establishment fogies fighting principally over two things: (a) national security and (b) Obamacare.

(a) National security

Gov. Chris Christie recently challenged Sen. Rand Paul over his opposition to the National Security Agency metadata program. Paul has also tangled with Sen. John McCain and other internationalists over drone warfare, democracy promotion and, more generally, intervention abroad.

So what else is new? The return of the most venerable strain of conservative foreign policy – isolationism – was utterly predictable. GOP isolationists dominated until Pearl Harbor and then acquiesced to an activist internationalism during the Cold War because of a fierce detestation of communism.

With communism gone, the conservative coalition should have fractured long ago. This was delayed by 9/11 and the rise of radical Islam. But now, 12 years into that era – after Afghanistan and Iraq, after drone wars and the NSA revelations – the natural tension between isolationist and internationalist tendencies has resurfaced.

In fact, both parties are internally split on domestic surveillance, as reflected in the very close recent House vote on curbing the NSA. This is not civil war. It’s a healthy debate that helps recalibrate the delicate line between safety and security as conditions (threat level and surveillance technology, for example) change.

The more fundamental GOP divide is over foreign aid and other manifestations of our role as the world’s leading power. The Paulites, pining for the splendid isolation of the 19th century, want to leave the world alone on the assumption that it will then leave us alone.

Which rests on the further assumption that international stability – open sea lanes, free commerce, relative tranquility – comes naturally, like the air we breathe. If only that were true. Unfortunately, stability is not a matter of grace. It comes about only by Great Power exertion.

In the 19th century, that meant the British navy, behind whose protection America thrived. Today, alas, Britannia rules no waves. World order is maintained by American power and American will. Take that away and you don’t get tranquility. You get chaos.

That’s the Christie/McCain position. They figure that America doesn’t need two parties of retreat. Paul’s views, more measured and moderate than his fringy father’s, are still in the minority among conservatives, but gathering strength. Which is why Christie’s stroke – defending and thus seizing the party’s more traditional internationalist consensus – was a signal moment in the run-up to the 2016 campaign. The battle lines are drawn.

(b) Obamacare

The other battle is about defunding Obamacare. Led by Sens. Mike Lee and Ted Cruz, the GOP insurgents are threatening to shut down the government on Oct. 1 if the stopgap funding bill contains money for Obamacare.

This is nuts. The president will never sign a bill defunding the singular achievement of his presidency. Especially when he has control of the Senate. Especially when, though a narrow majority (51 percent) of Americans disapprove of Obamacare, only 36 percent favor repeal. President Obama so knows he’ll win any shutdown showdown that he’s practically goading the Republicans into trying.

Never make a threat on which you are not prepared to deliver. Every fiscal showdown has redounded against the Republicans. The first, in 1995, effectively marked the end of the Gingrich revolution. The latest, last December, led to a last-minute Republican cave that humiliated the GOP and did nothing to stop the tax hike it so strongly opposed.

Those who fancy themselves tea party patriots fighting a sold-out cocktail-swilling establishment are demanding yet another cliff dive as a show of principle and manliness.

But there’s no principle at stake here. This is about tactics. If I thought this would work, I would support it. But I don’t fancy suicide. It has a tendency to be fatal.

As for manliness, the real question here is sanity. Nothing could better revive the fortunes of a failing, flailing, fading Democratic administration than a government shutdown where the president is portrayed as standing up to the GOP on honoring our debts and paying our soldiers in the field.

How many times must we learn the lesson? You can’t govern from one house of Congress. You need to win back the Senate and then the presidency. Shutting down the government is the worst possible way to get there. Indeed, it’s Obama’s fondest hope for a Democratic recovery.

© 2013, The Washington Post Writers Group


Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

That fierce opposition to Communism---where is that fire today? Blind sheeple vote a communist community organizer, into our highest office, not once, but twice--- "Half a league, half a league, half a league onward, All in the Valley of DEATH rode the six hundred. Foward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!" Perhaps demoKrats got their slogan from the Tennyson Poem, of 1854 Crimean War?

Friday, August 2, 2013 at 6:52 AM

Wellstone in NYC replied:

Krauthammer is at a loss, finally, in dispensing step-by-step advice to the GOP?? Never thought I'd see the day.

Monday, August 5, 2013 at 1:37 PM

Pete in Tulsa, OK said:

Principle is great. Pragmatism with regards to execution is required to be successful.

Friday, August 2, 2013 at 8:33 AM

Dave in SoCal said:

Charles -

I think the question for you then is what is your strategy for eliminating Obamacare? It's got to go or at a minimum the U.S. health care system will be ruined, and at worst it will further drive the country towards the brink of insolvency. Given the history that NO federal entitlement program has EVER been rolled back once it had established a toe hold, how do you propose to avoid the train wreck?


Friday, August 2, 2013 at 9:49 AM

Abu Nudnik in Toronto replied:

He says so in the body of the essay, Dave: to win back the Senate and then the White House. "You can't govern from one house of Congress. You need to win back the Senate and then the presidency."

Friday, August 2, 2013 at 1:08 PM

BlueShadowII in Texas replied:

Taking control of the Senate can't possibly happen until November, 2014; the White House not until November, 2016. By then, Obamacare, taking effect in January, 2014, has a firm toe hold.

Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 7:53 PM

Aaron in Providence replied:

Right. You DID have opportunities to do this. The PPACA was signed into law in March of 2010. Two events happened after that which were your opportunities to act to stop Obamacare:

- The Election in November 2010
- The Election in 2010

What happened at these junctions? The GOP took control of the House of Representatives BUT did not re-gain the Senate in 2010.

President Obama was re-elected in 2012 by a safe margin, the Democrats kept the Senate, and the GOP lost seats (but not their majority) in the House.


I'm sorry if this sounds crude, but the thing is..... the conservatives lost in that very American way in which we settle policy debates: elections.

Now, two elections have passed since the Affordable Care Act became law. Whatever your personal feelings on it, this is what happened and needs to be acknowledged and respected. The law will go into effect, and that is all. It is on the books, it was upheld by the Supreme Court, and it will be put into full effect.

You guys had two elections. =P

Monday, August 5, 2013 at 11:18 AM

Tex Horn in Texas said:

Once again, we Tea Party supporters are told by a Washington insider that we are crazy and that we will accomplish nothing. Well, in this reader's view, nothing is exactly what the Republican establishment is dishing up. Shame on you, good doctor, for these tepid views. The Tea Party lives, regardless of what you think of it. According to a report on, the Tea Party factions are out-fundraising Karl Rove and his clowns significantly. When we're told (Tea Party supporters) that we cannot do something, the harder we will try.

Friday, August 2, 2013 at 11:37 AM

Howard Last in Wyoming replied:

The first government shutdown in the 90's failed because of the Republican Big Shots (you can't call them leaders). When kommandant klinton started shutting down parks and monuments, Gingrich could not jump fast enough and high enough to pass the budget. He castigated House members that would not go along. If the Republicans held fast we would not have the situation we have today.

Friday, August 2, 2013 at 11:52 AM

Doktor Riktor Von Zhades in Western KY said:

Perhaps we should just call the GOP the new RINO party. Senator Paul is my senator. I may not agree with all his views, but he is spot on by demanding the defunding of the train wreck that's coming as O-Care. Christie showed his true colors when he wooed El Prezbo for federal bucks after hurricane Sandy. McCain has been out of touch with conservatives for years.

As for the GOP being fierce opposition, are you joking? Really sir, the GOP has been the go along party for the last 30 years. All you are advocating is just more of the same thing. The conservative movement is on the rise. Just once, I'd love to see the established GOP go with a true conservative and give him or her, all the support it would to one of their good ol boys.

Friday, August 2, 2013 at 12:02 PM

Howard Last in Wyoming replied:

Doktor, you are too kind calling them the RINO party. God Owful Party fits them better. If you are on a train heading to a cliff at 100 mph and it slows to 50 mph (make that 95 mph) are you any better off? This analogy explains the Republican Big Shots thinking and actions.

Friday, August 2, 2013 at 2:32 PM

Jayve in ABQ, NM said:

"With communism gone, the conservative coalition should have fractured long ago."

Is that some sort of joke statement? Communism is thriving more throughout the world than it was during the Cold War. It has infiltrated the highest levels of U.S. government. Lay off the drugs Charles.

Friday, August 2, 2013 at 12:04 PM

HP in Kalispell, MT said:

We shouldn't try to defund 0care. We shouldn't try to stop the amnesty bill. We shouldn't try to stop NSA "data mining". And, slow roll the phoney scandals, no impeachment or even a special prosecutor. Is there ANYTHING we should stand for??? Charles, you and Rove are the reason 5 million conservatives stayed home last year. There is NOTHING for them to vote for. If the RINOs don't wake up and realize they need to get out of the country club and get to work, I may stay home next year.

Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 12:37 PM

BlueShadowII in Texas said:

To my way of thinking, the Senate refusing or Obama vetoing a CR without Obamacare is a case of Democrats shutting down the government. Krauthammer repeating the Democrats' blaming Republicans is supporting Obamacare and the Democrats just like the rest of the RINOs inside the beltway.

Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 8:00 PM