For some reason that I should probably determine one day, I've always found internal disputes with the conservative movement/Republican party somewhat more interesting than internal disputes within the liberal movement/Democratic party. Perhaps it's because, as a liberal, I get a little Nelson Muntzian charge out of watching the folks on the other side tear themselves apart. Or perhaps it's because, immersed as I am in the liberal world, the disputes on the left make more sense to me and therefore plumbing their mysteries isn't so compelling.
Regardless, it has often been the case that one side is unified as the other is engaged in intramural battles; for many years, it was the Republicans who were together while the Dems were in disarray, while in the last few years the Democrats have been more united while the GOP has been riven by infighting. But could both sides now be at their own compatriots' throats? And if so, whose internal battle is more vicious? Charles Krauthammer insists that it's the Democrats who are on the verge of all-out civil war:
I grant that there's a lot of shouting today among Republicans. But it's a ritual skirmish over whether a government shutdown would force the president to withdraw a signature measure—last time, Obamacare; this time, executive amnesty…
It's a tempest in a teapot, and tactical at that. Meanwhile, on the other side, cannons are firing in every direction as the Democratic Party, dazed and disoriented, begins digging itself out of the shambles of six years of Barack Obama.
To summarize him, congressional Republicans may be repeating the battles that led to a government shutdown, but Chuck Schumer made a speech that some other Democrats disagreed with, so obviously it's the Democrats who are practically on the verge of dissolution.
Now let's take a look at what conservative journalist Byron York is reporting:
A headline by Breitbart News—"Boehner Crafts Surrender Plan on Obama Executive Amnesty"—echoes the idea that GOP leaders will back down even when they have full control of Congress. It's a view that is shared by many conservatives, from Twitter devotees to radio talk-show hosts.
Underneath it all is a toxic distrust among Hill Republicans. In conversations and email exchanges in the past few days—none of it for attribution and some of it completely off the record—GOP aides on both sides of the issue have expressed deep suspicion of the other side's motives.
"Conservative Republicans believe leadership will cave to Obama because conservative Republicans are not stupid," said one GOP aide. "Leadership is bound and determined to never have a funding fight on executive amnesty."
"Ask them what their backup plan is after the government shuts down," said another GOP aide, referring to the forces who want action now. "They don't have one. They know their plan is a dead-end strategy, but they don't care. All they care about is making themselves look good to the Heritage Action/purity-for-profit crowd."
In both cases, there's wide agreement on policy. There really isn't any significant policy that Ted Cruz supports but John Boehner doesn't, and you could say the same of almost any two major Democratic figures. Everybody's arguing about tactics. But the differences seem much more meaningful on the Republican side, where the question is whether they should engage in a kamikaze mission to shut down the government, not whether some new phrasing to describe longstanding ideological values might yield a few more votes. And the personal distrust and dislike York describes seem far more intense among Republicans. They really don't like one another.
The other major difference is that the GOP is actually divided into organized factions in a way that Democrats aren't. As Joel Gehrke reports, there could be as many as 50 to 60 House Republicans who will vote against John Boehner's plan to fund the government, which would mean Boehner would once again need to go on his knees to Nancy Pelosi asking for her help to avoid a shutdown. There's nothing remotely comparable on the Democratic side.
But if it makes people like Krauthammer feel better to say, "We're not the ones in disarray, they are!", then I guess they should go right ahead.