A growing split within the Republican Party was highlighted when Saturday’s vote on a $60 billion aid package for Hurricane Sandy was canceled by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). The decision to scuttle the Jan. 5 vote cast a harsh light on the issues plaguing a party riddled with resignations, defections and outright rebellions during the past year.
Many experts are pointing to Republicans representing the southern states as the source of the party's problems. The Los Angeles Times’ Paul West, writing in his Jan. 5 column, put the situation facing the GOP in the most succinct terms possible:
“…the South's preeminence could pose challenges to national GOP efforts to broaden the party's appeal on social and cultural issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.”
Many now regard GOP’s core base as the southern United States, along with rural sections of the Midwest and Plains. Southern members, however, appear to now be the main power players within the party. These particular members tend to lean hard to the right, well beyond traditional conservatives. Also they tend to favor politicians who are for the ultra-low tax, ultra-low spending policies of tea party groups. This has led to even supposedly “sure things” such as disaster relief becoming political hot potatoes within the GOP itself.
The Jan. 4 vote for aid for Sandy victims resulted in 67 no votes, all of them from Republicans, many of them from rural and Southern areas, including states affected by storm-related disasters of their own. New York’s Peter King slammed fellow Republicans who voted against Friday’s initial aid package, accusing them of turning their backs on their fellow Americans.
“It is a peculiarly Southern trait, as many of our ancestors can attest, to prefer principle – whether right or wrong – over what might be considered natural self-interest.”
Nowhere was this statement more evident than in the fiscal cliff debate. During the talks, Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss reneged on a no-tax pledge in order to reach a deal to avoid deep spending cuts which could have affected his state, leading many southern conservatives to claim he abandoned them. In addition to Chambliss, Florida’s Vern Buchanan and C.W. “Bill” Young, both House Republicans, voted yes, while Florida tea party darling Marco Rubio cast his vote against it in the Senate.
Despite the southern shift of the GOP’s base, fault lines have been developing several months. The latest crack came in December, when former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint resigned to take over leadership of the conservative Heritage Foundation. In Florida, former Governor Charlie Crist abandoned his GOP roots and officially became a Democrat in December, citing that the Republican Party had lost its way. Even international news outlets are dogpiling the GOP, with arabic-language broadcaster Al Jazeera running a piece questioning what's going on inside the party's House ranks, referencing a vote on the Violence Against Women Act.
"Then there was the Violence Against Women Act, which historically has had strong bipartisian support. Despite passing in the Senate with a strong majority, House Republicans did not even bring the bill to a vote after the law was changed to include Native American and illegal immigrant victims of domestic abuse."
As a result of these issues, the Republican Party now faces the prospect of a split unseen in American politics since so-called Southern Democrats broke away from the party in the 1950s as a result of the Civil Rights movement.
During that time, many diehard white Democrats switched sides, embracing a Republican Party they believed to be a vanguard of their own values and turned what used to be the “Solid South” of the Democratic Party into a “Red Zone” for the Republicans. Many of those politicians, and their political heirs, have also helped to turn the tea party movement into a national powerhouse. However, those same politicians brought with them the personal prejudices many believe to be responsible for the image the GOP now has of being a racially homogenous party which is out of touch with what experts see as a multicultural, racially diverse electorate.
What is shaping up to be a battle over the direction of the Republican Party may come down to a classic battle between North and South.