As the civil war within the Republican party has become absolutely obvious to everyone, mainstre Republican strategist Mike Murphy explains the split perfectly as one between mathematicians, who recognize demographic reality, and priests, who care only about doctrinal purity.
Mike Murphy: There seem to be two schools of thought in GOP. One group, the Mathematicians, look at the GOP’s losing streak and the changing demography of the country and say the party needs to make real changes to attract voters beyond the old Republican base of white guys. Not just mechanics, but also policy. They want to modernize conservatism and change some of the old dogma on big issues like same sex marriage. I’m one of them. The other group, the Priests, say the problem is we don’t have enough ideological purity. We must have faith, be pure and nominate “real conservatives” (whatever that means; the Priests are a bit slippery about their definitions) who will fight without compromise against liberalism. The Priests are mostly focused on the sins we are against; they say our problem is a lack of intensity; if we are passionate and loud enough, we will alert and win over the rest of the country. The Mathematicians hear all this and think the Priests are totally in a 55-year-old white guy echo chamber of their own creation and disconnected from the reality of today’s electorate. They are worry more about what the party should be for, and how we grow our numbers. They think the Priests fail to understand it is not 1980 anymore and votes are not there for the Old Pitch. The Priests hear the Mathematicians and think they are all sell-outs.
What I find fascinating about this is how that same battle has played out many times over in our history, most recently in the 1960s with the civil rights battles. Both parties faced similar internal battles. The Republicans had traditionally been the pro-equality party and the Democrats the party of segregation but both were undergoing internal conflicts over civil rights for blacks. The Republicans were beginning to move to the right and the Democrats were beginning to move to the left on the issue, but the real split was geographic.
The voting for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a perfect example. A filibuster of the bill was led by Democrats Strom Thurmond, Richard Russell and Robert Byrd (not far removed from having been a grand wizard of the KKK), but the bill was also assured through to passage by Democrats Mike Mansfield and Hubert Humphrey, who had caused great controversy in 1948 when he gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention calling on the party to embrace equality.
And of course, it was signed into law by LBJ, who famously told an aide when he signed it that the Democratic party would lose the south for a generation as a result. And indeed, that was the key factor at the time. Over 90% of the legislators from either party in both the House and the Senate from states that were part of the union in the Civil War voted for the Civil Rights Act; for legislators from the Confederate states, only 8% in the House and 5% in the Senate voted for it.
The battle in the Democratic party at the time was quite similar to the battle going on within the Republican party today. The strategists in the party knew that America was changing and that the party could either change with the times or be left behind; the priests demanded purity, arguing that the party would destroy itself if it did not stand up for segregation. We all know what happened. The party chose to support civil rights and the Dixiecrats, the conservative Southern Democrats who demanded adherence to the tradition of segregation, left and joined the Republican party en masse.
The Republican party now faces a similar problem today. Do they continue to appeal to their shrinking conservative base in the face of massive demographic shifts that make the electoral math more and more difficult? Or do they adapt to a rapidly changing society? Only time will tell.