There's trouble brewing in the Republican Party. For decades, wealthy fiscal conservatives have run the show, using the devoted masses of social conservatives for voting power. With the Tea Party uniting social conservatives, they have begun to see the non-Tea Party Republicans as just as bad, if not worse, than the hated liberals. In two places is this divide manifested blatantly.
The first is the debt limit crisis. The United States government has incurred some 14 trillion dollars of debt over many years, debt that it promised to pay back. Debt that the Constitution says "cannot be questioned." The congressional Republican leadership knows that defaulting on government debt and ruining the nation's rock solid credit would be enough to sway voters to the left in next year's elections.
The Tea Partiers, however, feel obliged to their misled constituencies to enact what they see as fiscal responsibility. Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, has announced a plan to give President Obama the authority to raise the debt ceiling without congressional approval. House Speaker John Boehner tentatively supported the plan as a last resort. The freshmen, of course, have roundly rejected this plan, as they would anything that gives a shred of power to the President. Meanwhile, Standard & Poor's rating agency has put the U.S. credit rating on "negative watch" due to the lack of progress in Congress.
The second divide will become more and more evident in the coming year. It will determine who controls the Republican Party. It's the GOP Presidential primaries, and whether Mitt Romney will hold on to win the nomination or be kicked to the sidelines by Tea Party band wagoner Michele Bachmann. He will undoubtedly raise more money than her, but she has much ammunition against him when it comes to social conservatives.
Romney was governor of the first state to legalize gay marriage. He passed landmark healthcare legislation that is now seen as the biggest drawback of any of the legitimate Republican candidates, among them a pizza mogul, the architect of a government shutdown, and a man whose name is synonymous with filth, thank you Dan Savage.
Romney's only possible route to victory is to convince Republicans to forget the social issues and focus on the economy. The only thing standing in his way is the question of whether social conservatives can sacrifice their extremism for the long-term viability of their party.