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Are Divisions Within the GOP Good for Their Chances in November?

Republicans might be marching lockstep in their opposition to President Obama in Congress, but the same cannot be said of GOP candidates on the campaign trail. In a Sunday article about the fractious nature of the Republican Party, The Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes:

It has long been said that any political coalition large enough to aspire to majority status is an organization of factions, conflict and contradictions. That description defines the Republican Party as it looks toward the November elections and beyond.

This was a week in which the party’s strengths and weaknesses competed for attention. Turnout in Tuesday’s primaries showed Republicans energized and enthusiastic, far more so than the Democrats. If anything, Democrats are more pessimistic about their prospects in November than they were two months ago.

But the elections last week in Florida and Alaska also pointed to ideological differences and personal enmities that have played out in Republican primary battles all year and that threaten to leave scars and fissures within the party that will have to be dealt with later. Republicans have seen more turmoil in their ranks this year than Democrats have, a sign of both robustness within the coalition and unresolved debates about the party’s direction.

Balz correctly notes a number of divisions within the Republican party, but to label them “ideological” seems a bit of a stretch. Businessman Rick Scott and Attorney General Bill McCollum spent most of the GOP governor’s race in Florida attacking each other’s experience and character, not policy prescriptions. And Joe Miller may have edged out Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s GOP Senate primary mainly by successfully characterizing Murkowski as a member of a political dynasty when the nation is looking for change.

The party is split between insiders and outsiders, even if those outsiders in turn represent a strange pantheon of grassroots Tea Party candidates and self-funded multi-millionaires. When it comes to policy, GOP candidates’ opposition to Democratic initiatives are a matter of degree, not kind. Tea Party candidates adopt the Republican mantle but often seek to go further in dismantling unwanted portions of government spending — like various regulatory agencies, departments, and entitlement programs. Often they simply cannot forgive Republican incumbents for betraying their principles through a vote for the Bush-era Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that bailed out Wall Street banks.

Balz also seems to imply that this fractiousness speaks well of Republicans’ electoral chances in November. While Republicans will doubtless gain many seats in both chambers, I’d argue that they’d be sitting a lot prettier if they had managed to avoid nominating Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, Ken Buck, Rick Scott, and now, perhaps, Joe Miller. By way of example, Democratic pollsters confide that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-Nev.) looked like toast running against nearly any Republican for reelection except… Sharron Angle. Now that the race has become in large part about her antics, many think Reid’s got more than a fighting chance of holding on.

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