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Is the GOP on the Brink of Civil War?

A Commentary By Fran Coombs

Senator Ted Cruz voiced the unhappiness of many Republican conservatives when he took to the floor of the Senate last Friday and in a rare intraparty broadside accused GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell of lying. Veteran Republican senators quickly rallied to McConnell’s defense.

Was it the shot fired at Fort Sumter that signals the real start of a GOP civil war?

Cruz said McConnell had told Republican conservatives in the Senate that there was no behind-the-scenes deal to revive the controversial Export-Import Bank. Conservatives view the bank as corporate welfare, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and pro-business Republicans are big supporters of it. But rather than let the bank stand or fall on a separate vote, McConnell announced at the last minute that a measure allowing reauthorization of the bank would be attached to much more popular legislation for funding highways. This maneuver guaranteed the bank’s reauthorization.

Conservative senators hit the ceiling. “The American people elected a Republican majority believing that a Republican majority would be somehow different from a Democratic majority in the United States Senate,” Cruz said, comparing McConnell to his predecessor as Senate majority leader, Democrat Harry Reid. “Unfortunately, the way the current Senate operates, there is one party, the Washington party.”

Sixty-nine percent (69%) of Republican voters agreed with Cruz recently when he responded to Jeb Bush’s comment about the need for Americans to work harder by saying: “The problem is not that Americans aren't working hard enough. It is that the Washington cartel of career politicians, special interests and lobbyists have rigged the game against them.” [Just 38% of Republicans agreed with Bush.]

Most Republican voters have long felt this way, saying in surveys for years that their congressional representatives are out of touch with the party’s base. Only 24% of Likely GOP Voters now believe Republicans in Congress have done a good job representing their party’s values. Democrats, by contrast, are much happier with their representation in Washington, D.C. 

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Sixty percent (60%) of Republicans want to repeal the national health care law and start over. Just 13% think Congress should take no action to stop President Obama’s executive order protecting up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation. Eighty-two percent (82%) of Republicans think America is overtaxed. And yet seven months into a Congress totally controlled by Republicans, none of these issues has been the subject of serious legislation in the Senate.

The House of Representatives, elected every two years rather than every six years like senators, on the other hand, is more responsive to GOP voters. The House, at this point at least, is saying “no way” to the Export-Import Bank. Repeal of Obamacare has been a front-burner issue there. The House also, for example, recently voted to strip federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities” that don’t enforce immigration laws. Seventy-nine percent (79%) of Republican voters think that’s a good idea, although it remains unclear if the Senate will go along. 

But even in the House, voter unhappiness has prompted a formal move by a fellow Republican for the removal of House Speaker John Boehner.

As Ben Domenech wrote this week in The Federalist in an article provocatively entitled, “Why Does the Republican Party Exist?”: “Being a negative force is not nothing, and blocking bad policy is worthwhile. But when given the opportunity to put good policy into place, or to take steps to make such policy more feasible in the future, where is the Republican Party to be found?”

Witness, too, the surge of support for billionaire developer Donald Trump in early polling among Republican voters. Few people expect Trump to end up as the GOP presidential nominee next year, but his comments linking illegal immigration to an increase in serious crime resonated with many Republican voters even as most of the party’s other presidential hopefuls, worried about the elusive Hispanic vote, criticized Trump. Senator John McCain, the party’s presidential nominee in 2008, said Trump’s comments brought out “the crazies.”

But how many of the 76% of Likely Republican Voters who agree with Trump that illegal immigration increases the level of serious crime in America does McCain think are “crazies”? No wonder Trump is more popular than McCain with Republican voters these days.

McCain and fellow GOP Senator Lindsey Graham are frequent critics of Cruz, Senator Rand Paul and other conservative Republicans in the Senate. In fact, it’s hard to view Graham’s hopeless quest for the GOP presidential nomination as anything more than a move to sabotage the presidential bids of Cruz and Paul. 

Then there’s Jeb Bush, anathema to many conservatives because of his moderate views on illegal immigration and his support of the Common Core national education standards. He seems well on his way to being the GOP nominee next year as far as the party establishment and big money are concerned, but he has the problem of surviving primary season when rank-and-file Republicans cast their votes.

If Bush does win the nomination over some of the conservative favorites in the race, will right-leaning Republicans do what they’ve loyally done for years and vote the party line? Or is 2016 the year when enough is enough?

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Fran Coombs is the managing editor of Rasmussen Reports.

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author at fran.coombs@rasmussenreports.com

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