At the start of the 2016 presidential election — back in 2015 — the Democrats had five main candidates: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chaffe.
The Republicans fielded almost 20: Donald Trump, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Jim Gilmore, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker and Rick Perry.
Why were there so many more candidates on the right than there were on the left?
It’s not that all Democrats (or liberals, for that matter) agree on all things. Black churches may reliably back Democratic candidates, even if they don’t endorse other pillars of the Democratic platform, like gay marriage or abortion rights. However, black churches may be aware that Democratic majorities seek to expand — not restrict — access to the ballot, which is historically a very important issue for their congregations. These issues are not contradictory; ensuring voting rights does not limit gay marriage or a woman’s right to choose. The left proposes gun control, which many on the left are willing to negotiate in some measure, either through expanded background checks or using the law to limit the types of firearms private individuals can purchase.
On the right, however, factions have formed with interests that are often at cross purposes. Big-business Republicans oppose the decline in sales that would follow the limits on media supported by Christian conservative Republicans. Libertarian-minded conservatives don’t understand the need among other conservatives to use the law to butt into the private affairs of people’s bedrooms, and sportsman conservatives who love the outdoors seem incapable of rationalizing their opposition to the climate science that big business Republicans claim is bunk.
Yes, that all sounds twisted. Because it is.
What appears to be happening is the Republican Party is beginning to splinter. It likely will not be a permanent break and it may even rebound before the next presidential election cycle. But the nearly 20 candidates who actively sought the Republican nomination for president each ran not to represent their party but to represent their faction. Some represented the establishment, some represented business activists, and some represented conservative Christians — all reliably safe categories in the Republican camp.
With their cross-purpose policies, however, conservatives are battling themselves as much as the political opposition. And it may be only a matter of time before one or two of those groups decide to take their ball and go start their own party, taking their voters with them.