After its Election Day glory, the Republican party must answer the same question that Disney heroine Mulan once posed through song—“When will my reflection show who I am inside?”
Now, I don’t want to be another Johnny Rain Cloud who rains on the GOP’s parade. That’s MSNBC’s job. Yet the party’s post-celebration hangover is a sudden identity crisis that will have tremendous implications for 2016.
In other words, the GOP might now be its own worst enemy.
Times of crisis have a knack for bringing people together, and you can say that Establishment Republicans and Tea Party-leaning conservatives formed the semblance of a common front to erase a vulnerable Democratic senate majority. But victory goes hand in hand with internal jockeying for power. After all, Ted Cruz is always going to need someone to fight with—sorry, Mitch McConnell, you’ve become Harry Reid’s scapegoat.
And it would be downright dishonest to deny that infighting within the party hasn’t been a problem for Republicans over the last couple of election cycles. Watching Mitt Romney be torn down by his own comrades during the 2012 primary season was on par with witnessing a partisan civil war unfold live on CNN. Even in the rosiest world of optimism, inner-party rivalry doesn’t just disappear. Rather, the next couple of years will now be a test of how well Republicans in Washington can get along.
Looking at my own political Mapquest (yep, I still use that—GPS is overrated), I foresee two routes that the Right can take, depending on which friend group in the club can scream loudest. If Camp Cruz wins out, expect the next two years to be an absolute “no” fest—these are the Republicans who’d say no to a new Corvette if they knew that the president drove it out of the show room.
Would this camp succeed in making the Obama Presidency look like a quintessential “lame duck” administration from time to time? Sure. The “no” approach can tie the president’s hands over nominations and threaten to pluck out the Affordable Care Act’s teeth, but it won’t pursue the comprehensive immigration reform that the GOP would need for a serious run in 2016. It could mark President Barack Obama as a political tyrant by forcing him to push his own agenda via executive orders, but how well would the party brand itself in the long run by doing so?
Then there’s 2016. More than the highlighted, starred, and underlined page in Hillary Clinton’s calendar, it is the GOP’s own Waterloo. Lose, and you’re locked out of the White House until the next decade unless you knock out the incumbent in 2020. Win, and we’ll be reading a different story.
But who will Republicans throw out to fight in the ring, anyway? At this stage, the political diversity of possible Republican candidates is emblematic of the party divide—the 2016 nominee can be as moderate as the Establishment’s Chris Christie and as libertarian as Camp Cruz’s Rand Paul.
Whoever finds his or her name on the ticket will be on the winning side of an inner-party soap opera.
Featured Image courtesy of David J. Phillip / AP Photo