(c) Josh Sager
In both war and politics, a basic, yet highly effective, tactic is to divide your enemy before a conflict. In war, this tactic involves splitting off and isolating portions of opposing forces in order to make the smaller group easier to deal with. In politics, the concept of dividing and conquering involves fracturing the opposing ideology’s factions into separate groups and utilizing their divisions to reduce the opposing party’s ability to react as a whole.
The conservative movement has virtually taken over the Republican Party, but there are real fissures within the party that can be used to split the party. The modern Republican Party is divided into several major factions: Christian conservatives, neoconservatives, libertarian conservatives, and corporate conservatives. While all of these conservative groups coexist within the conservative movement, their ideologies are often in conflict.
Here are a few examples of such conflicts between conservative factions:
- Libertarian conservatives often disagree with other types of conservatives and are marginalized for it; we see this division manifest in the exclusion of libertarians (ex. Ron Paul) on the national stage of the Republican Party by party elites. Libertarians don’t support the religious policies of the Christian conservatives, the cronyism of the corporate conservatives or the wars of the neoconservatives.
- Christian conservatives are often focused upon promoting “Christian values” (attacking gays, stopping abortion, etc.) and are willing to sacrifice virtually all other policy to achieve these social goals—if economic conservatism or foreign policy conservatism conflicts with their social conservatism, Christian conservatives usually disregard foreign policy and economic policy to pursue their social policy.
By disrupting the internal unity of the opposing parties, progressives and Democrats can fracture the internal unity of the conservative movement and make it easier to win elections. In races where the eventual candidate is disliked by a major component of the conservative movement, the candidate can have a much harder time winning. Rather than vote for the lesser of evils, some conservatives may become demobilized and simply stay home.
For example: if a pro-choice libertarian or corporate conservative were to gain the nomination in a locale with a significant, but not majority, presence of Christian conservatives, they would likely suffer at the polls. Regardless of the candidate’s other views, many Christian conservatives would be unable to support any candidate who supports abortion rights—they would rather not vote and lose the election to a progressive than to vote for a person who supports abortion rights.
Once the conservative movement—a political movement with a very high level of party discipline—is unable to retain its unity, it will be possible for progressives to convince dissatisfied (or simply more reasonable) portions of the conservative movement to break ranks and deal. As long as the conservative movement remains unified and punishes any deviation from accepted policy choices (ex. purging pro-choice conservatives), there is little hope for progressives to achieve a favorable result from political negotiations.