Predictions of a “conservative crack-up” tend to be a dime a dozen in American politics, and it rarely happens. But this month, I really do get the sense that we’re witnessing the opening rounds in a significant battle inside the conservative movement. The difference, it seems to me, is that you’re increasingly seeing actual politicians and people who are very close to the political arena getting into the fray. That’s difference from a question of a handful of disaffected conservative intellectuals or an intramural squabble between pundits. Here, for example, Utah Governor Jon Huntsman basically calls the congressional GOP a “very narrow party of angry people”:
Q: In December you talked about people 40 and under having a very different view on the environment. Is there a similar generational gap on gay rights?
A: You hit on the two issues that I think carry more of a generational component than anything else. And I would liken it a bit to the transformation of the Tory Party in the UK…They went two or three election cycles without recognizing the issues that the younger citizens in the UK really felt strongly about. They were a very narrow party of angry people. And they started branching out through, maybe, taking a second look at the issues of the day, much like we’re going to have to do for the Republican Party, to reconnect with the youth, to reconnect with people of color, to reconnect with different geographies that we have lost.
On Huntsman’s side, roughly speaking, I think you can also see Governor Charlie Crist of Florida and New York Times columnist David Brooks along with his merry band of reformist conservative pundits. Anchoring the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got Bobby Jindal of Louisiana leading a weird band of stimulus rejectionists. He’s being backed up by the House GOP’s quasi-official leaders Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich both of whom have taken the reality-defying view that Jindal’s speech yesterday was secretly brilliant. Guys like Eric Cantor and Mike Pence in the House and Jim DeMint and Mitch McConnell in the Senate have, likewise, really been digging in their heels on the idea that blanket oppositionism is the way to go. Thus far, though, you haven’t seen anyone on the Hill really take up the reformist banner. There’s the Senate’s troika of northeastern moderates, of course, but I think everyone agrees that they’re not the future of the American right. For the infighting to really become significant in a policy sense, you’d need some members of the House and Senate to try to put what Crist and Huntsman are talking about into practice.