Don’t say I didn’t tell you: Two years from now, the GOP will officially split into two parties, with traditional Republicans getting freed up to do their thing while a more robust Tea Party spin-off picks its own nominee for a presidential election that will be unlike any we’ve seen since Ross Perot’s wild ride in 1992.
As political predictions go, it’s out there, I know. But a confluence of trends—including the public’s anxiety, right-wing nuttiness and incentives for “RINOs” (or Republicans in Name Only) and Tea Partiers to go their separate ways—are contributing to what will become one of the most politically cataclysmic presidential races ever.
So forget about tired angles on the “battle for the soul of the Republican Party.” It’s time to start distinguishing Republicans from those Tea Party types we all know, love and ever so slightly detest. The real RINOs aren’t cats like New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie or Gov. John Kasich of Ohio—they’re fire-breathing circus stunts like Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Kentucky), who joined the Grand Old Party in an attempt to co-opt its extensive network of activists, operatives and fundraising bundlers. They’re supported by a powerful entourage of activists who say no to everything from presidential nominees to that recent budget deal everyone is so hyped about. But once they drain the national email lists and decide to jump ship, look out for a Tea Party convention in a Southern city near you.
Here are five reasons you should expect a Tea Party presidential nominee in 2016:
It’s in the Republican DNA. A short history lesson will reveal that factionalism is how the Grand Old Party got started: The original 1854 Republican Party was a fractured campfire gathering that found common ground. By the time Abraham Lincoln jumped onto the scene, a coalition of Free Soil Democrats and Whigs were pulling together a political force of Northern abolitionists that coalesced around their 1860 nominee for president. And since political-party shifts happen in cycles, we guess it’s about that time for a new one to start up.
Americans want a third party. At least that’s what Gallup said two months ago on the eve of the government shutdown, when jaded voters watched the congressional hot mess unfold. A noticeable 60 percent of Americans claimed that they wanted a third party, compared with only 26 percent who thought Democrats and Republicans were adequately representing. Interestingly enough, this was the mood more than 20 years ago, in 1992, when a little-known governor from Arkansas ran against incumbent political-dynasty dad George H.W. Bush, and nearly 20 percent of voters broke for Hee Haw-hour candidate Ross Perot.
You can’t dismiss the 25 percent. That niggling 25 percent of the population made up of folks who like government shutdowns and still think President Obama was born in Kenya just won’t go away. You may say they’re just a minority, but polls show they’re a pretty stubborn one.
Those Republican “nut jobs” we keep laughing about keep running for office. And the strange thing is, they still have an audience. There may not be a huge number of these guys and gals winning general elections, but they come close enough—whether it’s Todd “legitimate rape” Akin in Missouri or E.W. Jackson in Virginia, who insisted that Obama was governing from a “Muslim perspective.”
In South Carolina, where the GOP-led state Legislature is considering a nullification vote against “Obamacare” (sound familiar, history buffs?), the eccentric former GOP Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer won’t rule out a third-party bid. And in Texas, Birther Rep. Steve Stockman is risking it all to run against the powerful—and conservative—Sen. John Cornyn.
Chris Christie actually thinks he can win a Republican primary. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows establishment darling Christie in a tight hypothetical matchup against Hillary Clinton, which he leads 42 to 41 percent. But that’s only if he can survive a hyperconservative GOP-primary process that nearly tripped up 2012 nominee Mitt Romney the last time around. Christie is more conservative than most people think, but he’s not that conservative when compared with a lot of his rivals. He’s smart, though, and perhaps realizes that he won’t have to worry about getting outflanked on the right once right-wingers break from the GOP en masse.
If Christie gets new Republican Party votes plus independents plus moderate-to-conservative Democrats (and a few black and brown folks, too, who like his candid New Jersey style), his camp thinks it can pull together a coalition that gives Republicans their last best shot at the White House before voters of color totally take over.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and frequent contributor to The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune and chief political correspondent for Uptown magazine. He can be found weaving conspiracy theories via Twitter.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.