Factions in the Republican Party (United States)

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The Republican Party in the United States includes several factions,[1] or wings.

Conservative wing[edit]

The conservative wing of the Republican Party features opposition to labor unions, high taxes and government regulation.[2]

In economic policy, conservatives call for a large reduction in government spending, free trade, less regulation of the economy and personalized accounts for Social Security. Supporters of supply-side economics predominate, but there are deficit hawks within the faction as well. Before 1930, the Northeastern pro-manufacturing faction of the GOP was strongly committed to high tariffs, but since 1945 it has been more supportive of free-market principles and treaties for open trade.[3] The conservative wing supports social conservatism (often termed family values) and pro-life positions.[4]

Conservatives generally oppose affirmative action, arguing that it too often turns into quotas. They tend to support a strong military and are opposed to gun control. They oppose illegal immigration and support stronger law enforcement, often disagreeing with strict libertarians. On the issue of school vouchers, conservative Republicans split between supporters who believe that "big government education" is a failure and opponents who fear greater government control over private and church schools. Parts of the conservative wing have been criticized for being anti-environmentalist[5][6][7] and promoting climate change denial[8][9][10] in opposition to the general scientific consensus, making them unique even among other worldwide conservative parties.[10]

There are several subcategories within conservative Republicanism.

Christian right[edit]

The Christian right is a conservative Christian political faction characterized by strong support of socially conservative policies. Christian conservatives principally seek to apply their understanding of the teachings of Christianity to politics and to public policy by proclaiming the value of those teachings or by seeking to use those teachings to influence law and public policy.[11]

In the United States, the Christian right is an informal coalition formed around a core of evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics.[12][13][14] The movement has its roots in American politics going back as far as the 1940s and has been especially influential since the 1970s.[15] In the late 20th century, the Christian right became a notable force in the Republican party.[16] Politicians associated with the Christian right include former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.[17]


Neoconservatives promote an interventionist foreign policy to promote democracy. Many neoconservatives were in earlier days identified as liberals or were affiliated with the Democrats. Neoconservatives have been credited with importing into the Republican Party a more active international policy. Neoconservatives are amenable to unilateral military action when they believe it serves a morally valid purpose (such as the spread of democracy).[18][19]


Paleoconservatives stresses tradition, limited government, Judeo-Christian ethics, regionalism, nationalism and European identity.[20] Paleoconservatives tend towards both social and cultural conservatism, favoring gun rights, states' rights and constitutionalism while opposing abortion, affirmative action and same-sex marriage. They are skeptical of modern political ideologies and statecraft (which they call the managerial state)[21] and critical of multiculturalism, generally favoring tight restrictions on legal immigration. Paleoconservatives are generally economically nationalist, favoring a protectionist policy on international trade.[22] In foreign affairs, they are usually non-interventionist;[23] this distinguishes them from neoconservatives.[24]

Pat Buchanan is a prominent paleoconservative.[25] The political philosophy of President Donald Trump has also been described as paleoconservative.[26]

Tea Party movement[edit]

The Tea Party movement is an American fiscally conservative political movement within the Republican Party that began in 2009 following the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.[27][28] Members of the movement have called for lower taxes, and for a reduction of the national debt of the United States and federal budget deficit through decreased government spending.[29][30] The movement supports small-government principles[31][32] and opposes government-sponsored universal healthcare.[33] The Tea Party movement has been described as a popular constitutional movement.[34] The movement's name refers to the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773, a watershed event in the launch of the American Revolution.[35]

Politicians associated with the Tea Party include former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann,[36] U.S. Senator Ted Cruz,[37] former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint,[38] former U.N. Ambassador and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley,[39] U.S. Senator Mike Lee,[40] and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.[41]


Traditionalists base their ideology upon the political philosophies of Aristotle and Edmund Burke. They emphasize the bonds of social order over hyper-individualism and the defense of ancestral institutions. They believe in a transcendent moral order, manifested through certain natural laws to which they believe society ought to conform in a prudent manner. Traditionalists in the United States also emphasize the rule of law in securing individual liberty.[42]

Moderate wing[edit]

Twenty-first century moderate Republicans, historically referred to as "Rockefeller Republicans" and more recently known as "Main Street Republicans" or "business conservatives",[1] are conservative to moderate on fiscal issues and moderate to liberal on social issues. While they sometimes share the economic views of other Republicans—e.g. balanced budgets, lower taxes, free trade, deregulation and welfare reform—moderate Republicans differ in that some are for affirmative action,[43] same-sex marriage and gay adoption, legal access to and even funding for abortion, gun control laws, more environmental regulation and anti-climate change measures, fewer restrictions on legal immigration, a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and more relaxed enforcement of illegal immigration and support for "sanctuary cities" and embryonic stem cell research.[44][45]

Prominent 21st century moderate Republicans include U.S. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska,[46][47][48][49] United States Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa and former U.S. Senator Scott Brown,[50][51] and Governors Charlie Baker of Massachusetts,[52] Larry Hogan of Maryland,[53] and Phil Scott of Vermont.[54]

Libertarian wing[edit]

Historically known as Jeffersonian Republicans, libertarian Republicans make up a relatively small faction of the Republican Party.[1][55] Libertarian Republicans in the 21st century favor cutting taxes and regulations, repealing the Affordable Care Act, and protecting gun rights.[56] On social issues, they favor privacy, oppose the USA Patriot Act, and oppose the War on Drugs.[56] On foreign policy, libertarian Republicans favor non-interventionism.[57][58] The Republican Liberty Caucus, which describes itself as "the oldest continuously operating organization in the Liberty Republican movement with state charters nationwide," was founded in 1991.[59] The House Liberty Caucus is a congressional caucus formed by Representative Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan.[60] Prominent libertarian Republicans include former congressman Ron Paul and U.S. Senator Rand Paul.[61]

Historical factions[edit]


The Half-Breeds were a reformist faction of the 1870s and 1880s. The name, which originated with rivals claiming they were only "half" Republicans, came to encompass a wide array of figures who did not all get along with each other. Generally speaking, politicians labeled Half-Breeds were moderates or progressives who opposed the machine politics of the Stalwarts and advanced civil services reforms.[62]

Progressive Republicans[edit]

Historically, the Republican Party included a progressive wing that advocated using government to improve the problems of modern society. Theodore Roosevelt, an early leader of the progressive movement, advanced a "Square Deal" domestic program as president (1901–09) that was built on the goals of controlling corporations, protecting consumers, and conserving natural resources.[63] After splitting with his successor, William Howard Taft, in the aftermath of the Pinchot–Ballinger controversy,[64] Roosevelt sought to block Taft's re-election, first by challenging him for the 1912 Republican presidential nomination, and then when that failed, by entering the 1912 presidential contest as a third party candidate, running on the Progressive ticket. He succeeded in depriving Taft of a second term, but came in second behind Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

After Roosevelt's 1912 defeat, the progressive wing of the party went into decline. Progressive Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives held a "last stand" protest in December 1923, at the start of the 68th Congress, when they refused to support the Republican Conference nominee for Speaker of the House, Frederick H. Gillett, voting instead for two other candidates. After eight ballots spanning two days, they agreed to support Gillett in exchange for a seat on the House Rules Committee and pledges that subsequent rules changes would be considered. On the ninth ballot, Gillett received 215 votes, a majority of the 414 votes cast, to win the election.[65]

In addition to Theodore Roosevelt, leading progressive Republicans included Robert M. La Follette Sr., Charles Evans Hughes, Hiram Johnson, William Borah, George W. Norris and Fiorello La Guardia.[66] Prominent liberal Republicans from the mid-1930s to the 1970s included: Alf Landon, Wendell Willkie, Earl Warren, Thomas Dewey, Prescott Bush, Nelson Rockefeller, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., George W. Romney, William Scranton, Charles Mathias, Lowell Weicker and Jacob Javits. Since 1976, liberalism has--apart from a few holdouts in the northeastern United States--virtually faded out of the Republican Party.[67]

Radical Republicans[edit]

The Radical Republicans were a major factor of the party from its inception in 1854 until the end of the Reconstruction Era in 1877. The Radicals strongly opposed slavery and later advocated equal rights for the freedmen and women. They were often at odds with the moderate and conservative factions of the party. During the American Civil War, Radical Republicans pressed for abolition as a major war aim and they opposed the moderate Reconstruction plans of Abraham Lincoln as too lenient on the Confederates. After the war's end and Lincoln's assassination, the Radicals clashed with Andrew Johnson over Reconstruction policy. After winning major victories in the 1866 congressional elections, the Radicals took over Reconstruction, pushing through new legislation protecting the civil rights of African Americans. They supported Ulysses S. Grant for President in 1868 and 1872. However, their influence waned as Democrats retook control in the South and enthusiasm for continued Reconstruction declined.[68]

Reagan Coalition[edit]

According to historian George H. Nash, the Reagan coalition in the Republican Party originally consisted of five factions: the libertarians, the traditionalists, the anti-communists, neoconservatives and the religious right.[2][69]


The Stalwarts were a traditionalist faction that existed from the 1860s through the 1880s. They represented "traditional" Republicans who favored machine politics and opposed the civil service reforms of Rutherford B. Hayes and the more progressive Half-Breeds.[70] They declined following the elections of Hayes and James A. Garfield. After Garfield's assassination, his Stalwart Vice President Chester A. Arthur assumed the presidency and rather than pursuing Stalwart goals he took up the reformist cause, which curbed the faction's influence.[62]

See also[edit]


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  5. ^ Shabecoff, Philip (2000). Earth Rising: American Environmentalism in the 21st Century. Island Press. p. 125. ISBN 9781597263351. Archived from the original on 20 February 2018. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
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  10. ^ a b Chait, Jonathan (September 27, 2015). "Why Are Republicans the Only Climate-Science-Denying Party in the World?". New York. Archived from the original on July 21, 2017. Retrieved September 20, 2017. Of all the major conservative parties in the democratic world, the Republican Party stands alone in its denial of the legitimacy of climate science. Indeed, the Republican Party stands alone in its conviction that no national or international response to climate change is needed. To the extent that the party is divided on the issue, the gap separates candidates who openly dismiss climate science as a hoax, and those who, shying away from the political risks of blatant ignorance, instead couch their stance in the alleged impossibility of international action.
  11. ^ Sociology: understanding a diverse society, Margaret L. Andersen, Howard Francis Taylor, Cengage Learning, 2005, ISBN 978-0-534-61716-5, ISBN 978-0-534-61716-5
  12. ^ Deckman, Melissa Marie (2004). School Board Battles: The Christian Right in Local Politics. Georgetown University Press. p. 48. ISBN 9781589010017. Retrieved April 10, 2014. More than half of all Christian right candidates attend evangelical Protestant churches, which are more theologically liberal. A relatively large number of Christian Right candidates (24 percent) are Catholics; however, when asked to describe themselves as either "progressive/liberal" or "traditional/conservative" Catholics, 88 percent of these Christian right candidates place themselves in the traditional category.
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  20. ^ Williamson, Chilton, Jr. (January 2011). "What Is Paleoconservatism? Man, Know Thyself!". Chronicles. Archived from the original on December 5, 2004. Retrieved January 27, 2018.
  21. ^ Joseph Scotchie. The Paleoconservatives: New Voices of the Old Right (1999).
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Further reading[edit]

  • Barone, Michael and Richard E. Cohen. The Almanac of American Politics, 2010 (2009). 1,900 pages of minute, nonpartisan detail on every state and district and member of Congress.
  • Dyche, John David. Republican Leader: A Political Biography of Senator Mitch McConnell (2009).
  • Edsall, Thomas Byrne. Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive For Permanent Power (2006). Sophisticated analysis by liberal.
  • Crane, Michael. The Political Junkie Handbook: The Definitive Reference Book on Politics (2004). Nonpartisan.
  • Frank, Thomas. What's the Matter with Kansas (2005). Attack by a liberal.
  • Frohnen, Bruce, Beer, Jeremy and Nelson, Jeffery O., eds. American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (2006). 980 pages of articles by 200 conservative scholars.
  • Hamburger, Tom and Peter Wallsten. One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century (2006). Hostile.
  • Hewitt, Hugh. GOP 5.0: Republican Renewal Under President Obama (2009).
  • Ross, Brian. "The Republican Un-Civil War – The Neocons and the Tea Party Fight for Control of the GOP" (August 9, 2012). Truth-2-Power.
  • Wooldridge, Adrian and John Micklethwait. The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America (2004). Sophisticated nonpartisan analysis.

External links[edit]