Julian E. Zelizer: GOP Needs a Reagan to Unite Its Factions





[Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Arsenal of Democracy," a book on former President Carter and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush's administration, to be published this fall by Princeton University Press.]

...[T]he debate over the Islamic center and mosque tells us as much about the tensions that are brewing within the Republican Party as it does about the challenges facing the White House. It is unclear whether any Republican has the capacity to unite the party and help repair the damage inflicted by the final year of President George W. Bush's presidency.

The same week that many conservatives were laser-focused on Muslims and the mosque, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed published in The Boston Globe criticizing the administration's economic policies. Romney argued that Obama's policies have been hampering, not helping, economic recovery and outlined as an alternative a package of tax cuts that he believes would generate growth.

But other Republicans want to focus on a different set of issues. These are the social conservatives who, since the 1970s, have been railing against the liberalization of American culture they say began in the 1960's"Age of Aquarius."...

Libertarians are the third faction. They have been a dying breed over the past few decades, as Republicans became comfortable with big government as they learned to use it for their own objectives. Libertarianism has made something of a comeback, first with Ron Paul and now with Rand Paul, both of whom have resurrected hard-line arguments against the value of federal intervention on almost any issue.

The final faction is made up of national security conservatives. This is the faction in the GOP that had been most dominant under George W. Bush. Early in Obama's presidency, this faction remained vocal as former Vice President Dick Cheney constantly attacked the administration's national security policies....

The question for Republicans is whether anyone can hold this unwieldy coalition together. This is an area where the Republicans are extremely vulnerable. Republicans still have not recovered from the political implosion of their party in 2008....

The new Reagan clearly has not emerged. The problems were obvious in the 2008 primaries when all the candidates faltered in trying to rebuild Reagan's magic. Democrats, in contrast, found two strong candidates, Obama and Hillary Clinton, who could bring their coalition together....



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