Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Why the Republican Party Should Split

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Why the Republican Party Should Split

Article excerpt

In 1981 several senior figures in the British Labour Party decided that they could no longer stomach the policy positions being foisted on them by a radicalised membership. Because they could not control their party, they would, they decided, set up a new one--and so the Social Democratic Party was born. Labour is unlikely to split again despite the fissures of the past year, but could something similar happen in the United States?

Three times over the past 15 years senior, moderate Republicans have left the party: the Vermont senator Jim Jeffords in May 2001, the one-time Rhode Island senator Lincoln Chafee in 2007 and the Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter in April 2009. Yet these were isolated incidents and failed to produce an alternative party. Today, as the Grand Old Party veers ever further to the right, one can only hope that a broader group of moderates will, in a co-ordinated act, try to create something new.

Last month, the South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham was asked whether he would prefer Donald Trump or Ted Cruz as his party's presidential nominee. He replied, "It's a lot like being shot or poisoned. I think you get the same result." Graham, a heavyweight in the Senate, was expressing a fear that he shares with a growing number of senior Republican politicians. Trump, whose snarling, coarse and xenophobic persona plays so perfectly to his support base, comes closer to representing an American version of fascism than any major US political personality of recent decades. Cruz, whose Bible-thumping, take-no-prisoners hyper-conservatism has the potential to alienate anyone remotely moderate (the conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks described his attitudes as "pagan brutalism") has enthused the equally infuriated fundamentalists who make up a significant slice of the Republican vote.

Then there is Ben Carson, whose statements to date suggest a blend of low-key ignorance and unremitting extremism. In state after state, the three most ferocious of the GOP candidates command between them the support of about 60 per cent of all Republican voters. In some states, such as South Carolina, they command even more.

All three argue for a foreign policy that uses the carpet-bombing of entire regions and increased deployment of "enhanced interrogation techniques". …

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