Chris Christie or any other "moderate" would-be nominee will have to espouse mainstream conservative views. Photographer: Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg
Chris Christie or any other "moderate" would-be nominee will have to espouse mainstream conservative views. Photographer: Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg

Andy Kroll asks today why the Republican civil war doesn’t appear to be hurting the party's chances in the midterm elections. He does a reasonable job of explaining why Democrats are in trouble in the Senate (and won’t win the House), but he doesn’t really explain how these difficulties are connected to internal Republican divisions.

There's a simple answer: There is no Republican civil war.

Kroll provides several examples of people talking about an internal Republican meltdown, but some of the examples don't prove the point (Harry Enten, for example, documents the lack of an early polling front-runner for 2016, but that isn't evidence of any kind of fierce battle between different factions). Other examples are overhyped.

A straightforward way to look at this is that Republicans consistently vote together in the House and the Senate. Another approach has to do with the 2016 contest: Other than Rand Paul (and in his case probably only when it comes to foreign-policy and national-security issues), would the nomination of any of the dozen or more would-be candidates signify that a particular faction had achieved a takeover that would result in a rewriting of the Republican platform? Of course not. “Moderate” candidates such as Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008 haven’t tried to moderate the party. Instead, they tried to convince the party that they were sufficiently in line with mainstream conservative positions. The same almost certainly will be true of Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, or whoever the so-called establishment pick might be. And most of the Pure Conservative candidates typically don't differ from the mainstream pack on policy; they distinguish themselves through attitude and rhetoric (and I agree with Digby that the Tea Party is mostly just a rebranding of conservatives).

That doesn't mean that there aren't policy disagreements within the Republican Party. But these disagreements are far less intense than, say, the battles between liberal and conservative wings of the party in the 1950s and 1960s. In part, that is because all the liberals, and almost all of the moderates, have either dropped out of the party or accepted mainstream conservative positions. Nor is the strife anything like the fight among liberals in the Democratic Party during and after the Vietnam War, another struggle that seriously threatened to break the party apart.
Part of this misconception arises because pundits forget that some internal party differences are perfectly normal in times of strong partisan polarization. In addition, radicals such as Ted Cruz or Michele Bachmann find the fiction of a party filled with RINOs is an asset when there no longer is any reason to fight against the old Eastern (Liberal) Establishment in the party, but plenty of conservatives still itching for that fight.

I don't mean to suggest the Republicans are in good shape to govern. They remain “post-policy,” and their radical wing, with its denunciations of compromise and deal-making, makes getting anything done extremely difficult. But that doesn’t have any obvious electoral effects, at least as long as Republicans are out of the White House.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Bernstein at Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net