, Newburyport, MA


August 17, 2013

Shribman: Pragmatic vs. ideological


More than a half century ago, this split took its form in differences between figures such as Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower on the one hand and Republicans such as Sens. Robert Taft of Ohio and Karl E. Mundt of South Dakota on the other. The former were internationalists and played to a broad audience, the latter isolationists (or, in Mundt’s case, strong anti-communists) who played to local constituencies. The first accepted the principles of the New Deal; the second never gave up the notion of repealing it.

Once again the Republican Party seems to consist of two such groups, with some of the same characteristics of the dueling factions of the early 1950s, particularly on foreign affairs and on Obamacare, which House Republicans have voted 40 times to eliminate -- a gesture post-war congressional Republicans might have undertaken against New Deal programs had they the House majorities today’s Republicans possess.

In the contemporary reckoning, the presidential Republicans include such figures as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and maybe Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, all potential White House candidates, plus two Ohioans who have not indicated presidential aspirations, Gov. John R. Kasich and Sen. Rob Portman. And to prove that Taft was not alone in being both a congressional Republican and a (three-time) presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, two White House aspirants, seem to fall into the congressional category.

The party itself seems to eschew the pragmatism associated with presidential Republicans. A summertime Marist College Institute for Public Opinion survey found that Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP preferred, by a margin of more than 2-to-1, a nominee with conservative views over one who can win. Some 70 percent of three groups of voters not traditionally associated with the Republican coalition favor the conservative-principle notion: voters under 45, voters earning less than $50,000, and female voters.

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