“It’s disappointing to see infighting in the party,” said Ryan Williams, a Republican operative and former Romney aide. “It doesn’t make us look like we’re in a position to challenge the president and hold him accountable to the promises he made.”
What’s largely causing the dissension? A lack of a clear GOP leader with a single vision for the party.
Republicans haven’t had a consistent standard-bearer since President George W. Bush left office in 2008 with the nation on the edge of a financial collapse. His departure, along with widespread economic concerns, gave rise to a tea party movement that infused the GOP’s conservative base with energy. The tea party is credited with broad Republican gains in the 2010 congressional elections, but it’s also blamed for the rising tension between the pragmatic and ideological wings of the party — discord that festers still.
It was much the same for Democrats in the late 1980s before Bill Clinton emerged to win the White House and shift his party to the political center.
2012 presidential nominee Romney never fully captured the hearts of his party’s most passionate voters. But his tenure atop the party was short-lived; since Election Day, he’s disappeared from the political world.
Those Republican leaders who remain engaged — Christie, Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus — are showing little sign of coming together.
Those on the GOP’s deep bench of potential 2016 presidential contenders, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have begun staking out their own, sometimes conflicting ideas for the party.
Over the short term at least, the party’s divisions probably will continue to be exposed.
Obama has outlined a second-term agenda focused on immigration and gun control; those are issues that would test Republican solidarity even in good times. Deep splits already exist between Republican pragmatists and the conservative base, who oppose any restrictions on guns or allowances for illegal immigrants.