By MAX SCHECHTER
Contrary to what some might assume, the most important political fights often emerge within the parties themselves, not across the aisle. It is very rare that a member of one party will adopt the position held by a member of the other. More commonly, ideological fights within parties shift the overall party view and thus change political discourse. This is why these disagreements are interesting and important to watch. Here are a few fights worth watching right now if you want to guess where the parties are heading:
What the Cheney Family Tells Us About the Gay Marriage Fight
The Cheney family is probably preparing for a pretty awkward Thanksgiving. In case you haven’t been follow Wyoming politics or the ongoing adventures of our former Vice President, allow me to recap. Liz Cheney, daughter of trigger-happy former Vice President, Dick Cheney, is running for Senate in Wyoming. Liz is positioning herself as a younger and more conservative option to the current senior Senator from Wyoming, Mike Enzi. This past week, Liz Cheney got into some hot water when she said that she opposes same-sex marriage. The Cheney family has an interesting history on same-sex marriage. Vice President Cheney differed from President George W. Bush by supporting the states’ right to determine marriage. Dick Cheney’s other daughter, Mary, is a married lesbian who does not appreciate her sister’s stance against gay marriage. For the last week the Cheneys — Dick, Liz, and Mary — have been publicly feuding over this issue.
This fight represents a larger issue surrounding Republicans and gay marriage. Two more states legalized gay marriage this month and the writing appears to be on the wall: Gay marriage is coming and most people in America are happy or indifferent toward that news. Still, in Republican primaries, being anti-gay marriage seems like a necessity, especially if you are a challenger from the right, which Liz Cheney is trying to be. For gay marriage advocates, these are the fights to watch to see if the Republican Party will change its stance on gay marriage. Mary Cheney accused Liz Cheney of being on the “wrong side of history,” an idea that is also the motivating factor for many Republicans who fear that their position on same-sex marriage will put them out of step with the American electorate. When this kind of accusation comes from within your own party, it carries much more weight.
Democrats Turn on Obama(care)
If you’ve been following the rollout of Obamacare, you know there have been some difficulties (that’s putting it nicely). Although everyone expected problems at the beginning of the healthcare exchanges, the technical difficulties have dwarfed what was expected. Even Bill Clinton is calling on President Barak Obama to try and secure his pledge that “if you like your healthcare you can keep it.” Vulnerable Democrats in the House and Senate are getting nervous and worrying that, like in the 2010 elections when the Republicans routed Democrats electorally, Republicans could win big based on Obamacare’s shortcomings. More than 20 Democratic House members voted for a bill that was Republican-proposed to “fix” Obamacare. The party may be turning on the president.
This intra-party feud is less important for substance than it is for style. For months the Democratic Party has been rallying behind President Obama as the Republicans shot themselves in the foot with the government shutdown. Now that Obamacare is scaring people, the Democrats appear willing to turn on their own in order to protect their reelection chances.
The Ultimate Tea Party/Establishment Fight
One cannot write about intra-party fighting without discussing the Tea Party. 2014 looks poised to give us one of the most quintessential and illustrative tea party versus establishment fights we have seen to date. In 2014, the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell is running for reelection in Kentucky. McConnell has fought the Obama administration at every turn, but his support for bailouts and general Washington insider-ness left him open to a tea party challenge from businessman Matt Bevin.
I know many of you think we’ve seen this fight play out before and there is not much more to learn, but I posit that this one is interesting because of who Mitch McConnell is. McConnell is not just another Senator, he’s the Republican leader. This means that he has much more sway over what Republicans do or do not do in the Senate (although I’m sure he doesn’t feel in control with Ted Cruz and Rand Paul’s constant theatrics). McConnell can, to an extent, avoid bringing issues to the forefront much more easily than a rank and file member of Congress. McConnell’s choices will demonstrate what an endangered incumbent does when he has some power over the political conversation.
Intra-party fights are what change parties. More so than public posturing and speeches, these are the disagreements that politicians and their advisors argue over behind closed doors. Republicans wrestling with gay marriage, Democrats deciding how loyal to Obamacare to be and establishment candidates attempting to avoid the tea party traps — the results of these internal fights will guide the broader, more public fights down the road.