When Reagan invited Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority into the GOP tent in the 1980 campaign, I remember thinking that the “real” Republicans – the folks who resent every penny the government takes out of their pay but who gladly spend the equivalent of tuition to Harvard on country club dues – weren’t going to be happy sharing the tent with the Bible Thumpers for very long.
The Republicans were outnumbered in those days, and they needed this new blood to fill out their ranks. Although the relationship has been rocky over the years – the Country Clubbers weren’t happy with Pat Buchanan’s call for jihad in ’92, in particular; and many of them, especially the men, were put off by know-it-all Newt and the Clinton impeachment shenanigans – the two groups have managed to get along fairly well, especially under Bush.
The Country Clubbers like Bush because he was a businessman – never mind that all his business endeavors were abject failures. The Bible Thumbers like Bush’s story that he is a born-again Christian despite the fact that nothing in his behavior, not to mention his Adminstration’s Robin-Hood-in-reverse policies, aligns with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Now, however it seems a rift may be developing between the Republican Party’s two wings:
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will draw a chorus of amens today when thousands of evangelicals across the United States hear his call to put more conservative judges on the federal bench.
But even as the Tennessee Republican addresses “Justice Sunday” — a 90-minute simulcast to conservative churches that backs a Senate rule change to speed nominations — the leader faces apprehension from another key GOP constituency.
The country’s leading business lobbying associations, close GOP allies in recent legislative efforts and political campaigns, have told senior Republicans that they will not back the Frist initiative to force votes on judicial candidates.
Business leaders say they fear the move would halt Senate action on their long-awaited priorities — as Democrats have vowed to do if Frist moves ahead with a rule change they say would drastically alter the traditions of a body designed to respect the rights of the minority party.
“If we do that, then all else is going to stop,” said Thomas J. Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, during a meeting with reporters Friday.
He then reeled off a list of business priorities that could be delayed for months in the resulting partisan uproar. He expressed the same concerns directly to Frist’s office in recent days.
The dynamic here is very interesting. Each wing of the GOP has something the party needs. The Clubbers have the money; and the Thumpers have the votes. If something – or some outside group such as, let’s say, the Democrats – were to drive a wedge between these two wings, it would cripple the conservative movement.
The Republicans have used wedge issues such as gay marriage to cull so-called “Independents” from the Democrats. If dissension in the ranks of the GOP escalates, the Democrats may have an opportunity to use wedge issues – stem cell research and the government intervention into the Schiavo matter, come to mind – to separate the Republicans from themselves.