The GOP’s impending implosion

An increasing number of rifts are playing out in today’s Republican Party, with NJ politicians figuring prominently in at least

An increasing number of rifts are playing out in today’s Republican Party, with NJ politicians figuring prominently in at least three of them.  

How delicious for me. 


First there’s national security. 

This fissure’s been brewing within the GOP for a while and it’s come to a head recently as the Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden affairs ratchet up the media’s attention on this topic generally.  

Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky both added fuel to the national security firestorm last month waging a very public cat-fight about the scope and necessity of America’s (overly?) robust domestic surveillance program. Christie launched this broadside at the Libertarian wing of his party (from tony Aspen, Colorado no less) calling those opposed to the Government spying on law-abiding Americans as “dangerous” and “esoteric.” Yikes.

Christie went on to shamelessly cite 9/11 widows to justify his big-government bias on security, “I remember what we felt like on September 12, 2001. I want (Sen. Paul and his ilk) to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation.”

Personally I’ve heard nothing so shameless since Rudy Giuliani made it a point to invoke 9/11 every time he opened his piehole. It turns out many folks who vote in GOP primaries agree. 

Said Gene Healey of the Cato Institute, “(Christie’s) essentially saying channel how you felt on Sept. 11, when the towers had just come down and everyone was terrorized and horrified … You should put yourself in that frame of mind when you think about issues like surveillance.”

Healy then concludes, “That in itself is a very dangerous thought.”

Not only is the nature of this debate a headache for Republicans who typically just wanna play nice and spend all their free time bitching about President Obama, it also portends things to come. For the next few years anyway. Screams one local headline: “Christie-Paul feud underscores what’s in store for 2016 GOP primary.”

This is about more than “keeping us safe. This debate represents an impossible-to-reconcile dilemma for the national GOP moving forward. Does the party really wanna shrink the Government to the size of a breadbox? Or would the Republicans prefer to spend trillions nation-building abroad (and billions domestically on unconstitutional spying programs) which give the illusion of security?

Sen. Paul and his tea-drinking, libertarian-minded cohorts represent the breadbox wing. Governor Christie’s neocon-esque remarks place him firmly among interventionists. Perhaps it’ll be up to Iowa primary voters to sort it out in 2016.

And by perhaps I mean definitely.

Until then, look for this debate continue within the GOP.  If it’s not raging publicly, it’ll be seething just beneath the surface.

“NO AMNETY!” (sic)

Let’s leave the meta debate to the side and focus on one example of why immigration is poised to tear the GOP apart. 

In the red corner we have NJ Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Somerset), a moderate Republican from a purplish-blue state who represents a diverse district.  In the really, really, really red (infra-red?) corner we have Congressman Steve King, the tea party firebrand from a very conservative district in (purplish-red) Iowa.  

The views of these two Republican Politicians diverge wildly on immigration, a juxtaposition which highlights the GOP’s incoherent strategy for coping with America’s fractured immigration system. 

King fired this provocative salvo last month while describing undocumented so-called “Dreamers,” youngsters who were brought to America (in many cases) as infants:

“For every (young undocumented immigrant) who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” 

It’s hard to imagine a nastier characterization of the nation’s 50 million-strong Hispanic population than that.   When he was later asked to clarify his provocative drug mule statements, Rep. King doubled down:

“This is real. We have people that that are drug mules, that are hauling drugs across the border and you can tell by their physical characteristics what they’ve been doing for months, going through the desert with 75 pounds of drugs on their back and if those who advocate for the DREAM Act, if they choose to characterize this about valedictorians, I gave them a different image that we need to be thinking about….”

Several of his GOP colleagues denounced Rep. King publicly, many in a somewhat mealy-mouthed prose.  But none went so far as NJ’s Jack Ciattarelli who was unequivocal:

“Congressman King’s pejorative remarks are astoundingly ignorant, intolerable, and have absolutely no place in American society, least of all the U.S. Congress.  What we need is rational and thoughtful debate on the illegal immigration issue. What we don’t need are the stereotypical and egregious remarks made by King. As an American, I find his remarks callous, insulting, and unbecoming an elected official. As a Republican, I am embarrassed that he is a member of our party.”

The chasm between King’s and Ciattarelli’s statements couldn’t be wider. And despite the moderate GOP voices like Ciattarelli’s out there (a nuanced view most Americans share), the vast majority of Republican primary voters line up much closer to King’s radical views. Don’t believe me?  Google “tea party+immigration” and have a look for yourself. Then try a Google image search if you’re feeling especially daring (or just wanna feel better about your own lousy spelling skills.)

What’s most problematic for the GOP when they talk about Latinos — unlike gays for example, a long-time GOP target, who represent a fixed and finite percentage of our population — Latinos and Hispanics are the largest minority in the US. And growing. (To which I say “bienvenidos, hermanos.”)

Currently, there’s not a single solitary Republican who could win a national election championing Congressman King’s views. Unfortunately for the GOP, those who advocate a more moderate approach (like Jack Ciattarelli) often find themselves out of a job at the hand of a nativist-minded primary challenger.  

So what’s a Republican politician to do?  For the most part, they remain silent, trapped between A) the inevitable tide of progress (and math) that increasingly favors a more moderate approach and B) the party’s well-earned reputation as a bunch of crusty old white dudes. It’s an untenable position given the demographics of this country, but it’s currently where the Grand Ol’ Party finds itself as they struggle internally with this issue.

[Note: Immigration is such a hot topic for them, even Marco Rubio of Florida — a voice of reason on immigration among conservatives –won’t touch Congressman King’s remarks with a ten foot poll.  Senator Rubio wants to be president one day.  And he fears his moderation on immigration could stymie his Presidential hopes at the very first hurdle (in Iowa, 2016.)] 

Fortunately for liberals like myself, the GOP won’t take back the White House until the party gets its collective head out of its arse on the thorny, complex immigration debate. And judging from the tone and tenor last time I checked (like five minutes ago), it won’t happen anytime soon.


After all this talk about national security and immigration, let’s end on a mellow note: marijuana.  

Turns out, most members of the GOP could use a bong hit (or two) before plunging into the marijuana debate. Case in point, Chris Christie, whose administration has haphazardly rolled out the most incompetent, expensive and poorly run Medical Marijuana program in America. Christie’s national aspirations force the Governor into a familiar GOP anti-cannabis crouch. He’s gonna be an old-school law-and-order hard-ass on marijuana: medical use, decriminalization and even hemp farming.  

That “just say no” mentality may suit Nancy Reagan-era conservatives, but such views are increasingly retrograde with each passing year. Much like Marriage Equality, support for amending America’s drug laws is something young Republicans don’t get hung up on like the old heads (still) do.  And that’s a good thing.  

Conservative NJ columnist Paul Mulshine recently points to Senator Rand Paul (who’s shaping up to be our Governor’s primary foil on the national stage) as a more sensible GOP alternative when debating marijuana. 

Says Mulshine:

Even though (ending America’s war on pot) resonates with younger voters, it outrages the Republican establishment. But that establishment has a lot to answer for when it comes to abuses of federal power. In the tea party era, the leaders of the Grand Old Party pretend to be opposed to that sort of thing. But the party establishment recoils at the thought of anyone taking such talk seriously. So does the media establishment.

I don’t agree with Mushine very often, but he seems like the kinda guy who’d be okay to debate politics over a beer. Or a joint. And when debating marijuana (and drug policy generally) Mushine’s and Paul’s views are in ascendance, nationally and within the GOP. Meanwhile, the policy of Chris Christie et al. seem fringier by the day.


Clearly the so-called “Reagan Rule” (“Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican”) is on the wane.  And the balkanization of the current GOP is so increasingly pronounced that plenty of Republicans (especially Chris Christie) have disregarded President Reagan’s much-vaunted 11th commandment altogether. But these are battles over style and substance with consequential implications for American domestic and foreign policy. And clearly it’s gotten personal for many of the combatants. 

Bottom line: from immigration to domestic spying/national security to ending the drug war, what’s hot among Americans generally ain’t so hot among conservatives. We’re talking massively different philosophies about how government should work. 

It makes for messy internecine warfare between for Republicans. Which makes for fabulous theater for partisan Democrats. 

Which is why I’ve only got three words for my GOPals out there: President Hillary Clinton. 

The GOP’s impending implosion