America’s two-party political system provides voters with a relatively easy choice of the direction they think the country should take to move forward. Although, the conservatives in the Republican Party never believe in moving forward, but rather, actively seek ways to drive the country back to the mid-nineteenth century. If there is one lesson to take away from Tuesday’s Iowa caucus voting, it is that among conservatives, there are at least three factions jockeying for supremacy to define the party in time for the general election in November and the three top finishers represent a party that is out of touch with mainstream America.
The deep ideological divide between Republicans struggling to find one identity and candidate to garner support to defeat President Obama is centered around corporatism, religion, and no government. The fact that Willard “Mitt” Romney won the caucus by only 8 votes over Rick Santorum after spending millions of dollars reveals that Republicans are still searching for a post-Bush identity even though the combination of Romney, Santorum, and Paul is all George W. Bush. More than anything though, lacking an idealistic conservative standard bearer to tap into traditional anti-government conservative values means the GOP will remain divided; the beneficiaries are the American people who get to hear the extremism within the Republican Party throughout the primary season and they will realize how divisive and dangerous Republicans are.
Ron Paul has support from Republicans who are anti-government and anti-taxes, but other than that demographic, he loses the war-mongers in the party who are panting to start another war to kill Muslims. The truth is that on some level, although extremely dangerous, Paul represents the opposite of mainstream Republicans who love big government spending on the wealthy and corporations and traditionally increase the size of government despite their claims to the contrary. At best, Mr. Paul will serve as a foil to Romney and Santorum who advocate for more government control of Americans’ lives with the threat of a constitutional amendment to define marriage, as well as attempts to ban contraceptive use. Traditional Republicans will not tolerate a candidate who thinks government already plays too important a role in everyday Americans’ lives.
Rick Santorum’s strong showing is not surprising to political observers who understand the depth of conviction inherent in conservative thought that religious freedom means strong adherence to Christian tenets as found in the bible. Santorum easily wins the anti-choice and anti-gay vote, but his war on contraception will not win over the Republican women’s vote and connection to the Bush administration’s unrestrained spending damages his chances with the teabagger element of the party. Santorum’ passionate conservative label, although an oxymoron, will continue to divide the Republicans who may be conflicted and confused with Romney’s ever-changing position on abortion, gay rights, universal healthcare, and climate science.
Romney is well-funded and well-organized, but he cannot legitimately stake a claim as the great unifier the Republicans need to win in November. He represents the corporatist element of the Republican Party that supports the 1% over the rest of the country, but his ever-changing position on every other issue leaves him vulnerable as a charlatan who will say anything to get elected. Regardless of what one thinks about Republicans in general, they like principled candidates who unite the party and Romney is not that candidate. Sure, he will start a war with Iran, give trillions in tax cuts to the wealthy, and privatize Medicare and cut Social Security, but his intransigence on core conservative issues like denying climate science, opposing health care for all, and same-sex marriage will not attract the kind of universal support Republicans need to win in November.
As the candidates fight throughout the primary process, the eventual nominee will be left with a fractured party that may not support the winner because they do not fit into the idealized version of a conservative. There is little doubt the three top finishers in Iowa are conservatives, but what kind of conservative? The Iowa caucuses did not give Americans a centrist candidate that the country can lean towards, but instead represents the right, the hard right, and the far, far right. In essence, there is one business man, one preacher, and one anti-government candidate and together they create deeper divisions within Republican ranks. What that means for Americans is a carnival of errors and deceit where each candidate outdoes each other to appear more extreme, and a new set of lies about Obama and each other between now and the Republican convention.
The problem Republicans also face is that America now knows Barack Obama and there is nothing Romney, Paul, or Santorum can say that will ring true with mainstream American voters. As the contenders seek to demean the President with more baseless accusations and outright lies, they will appear as divisive as teabaggers who nearly caused a government shutdown and default on its credit. The divided Republicans who have promised to privatize Medicare, widen the income gap between rich and peasants, and dictate bible edicts disguised as congressional legislation give President Obama the centrist position most Americans identify with. The Republicans also have the unenviable position of living down their anti-payroll tax cut position and unrelenting tax cuts for the wealthy. The only unifying position Republicans can coalesce around is giving more wealth to the rich, and after thirty years of fallacious trickle-down economic theory, most Americans know it has not, does not, and will not work.
The Iowa caucuses did not really provide any surprises and except for eliminating perennial moron Michele Bachmann from the race, were a waste of time. Romney only won by 8 votes, but it may as well have been a draw because he did not distinguish himself any more than in 2008 when he garnered more votes than on Tuesday. Each of the three leading vote-getters is divisive on their own, but in concert, they represent a fractured party that will struggle to find an identity. Romney’s changing positions has engendered such distrust among conservatives that it will be surprising if some Republicans do not go all out to derail his candidacy to ensure conservative purity. The good news is that the longer the Republicans fight amongst themselves, the farther they will drift from the center and although that is acceptable for staunch conservatives, Americans who are in the center, the independent voters, will be repulsed. America may be a center right-leaning country, but there is only so much Republican crazy they will tolerate and if the past three months is any indication, Americans are in for a steady dose of extremism, deceit, and divisive rhetoric from Republicans that make radical Islam look reasonable.