Factions in the Republican Party (United States)

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Like most major political parties within two-party systems, the Republican Party of the United States includes diversity on social policy and political economic ideology, being composed of several factions.[1]

Conservative wing[edit]

The conservative tradition in 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] According to The New York Times, these environmental positions have become more extreme since 2008.[11]

Christian right[edit]

The Republicans with religious right or Christian right ideals are strong conservatives on social policy. The National Federation of Republican Assemblies is a religious right organization that operates as a faction of the Republican Party. The Christian Coalition of America is a religious right activist organization considered allied with the party.


The members of the traditionalist or paleoconservative wing generally hold views favorable to business and a strong national defense. They favor cultural traditions and old-fashioned teaching methods to inculcate values and show little love for big government or big business.[12]

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 tend towards mistrust of modern political ideologies and statecraft (which they call the managerial state)[13] and tend to be critical of multiculturalism, generally favoring tight restrictions on legal immigration. They tend to be economically nationalist, favoring a protectionist policy on international trade.[citation needed]

In foreign affairs, they are usually non-interventionist. Paleoconservatives have criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and neoconservatism, which many paleoconservatives believe has damaged the party.[citation needed]


Neoconservatives differ from paleoconservatives in that they promote an interventionist foreign policy to promote democracy and are more moderate on fiscal issues. They were the strongest supporters of the Iraq War. 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 willing to act unilaterally when they believe it serves a moral position to do so, such as the spread of democracy.[14][15]

Moderate wing[edit]

Moderates within the party, historically referred to as "Rockefeller Republicans", now often called "Main Street Republicans" or "Business Conservatives"[1] and by their conservative Republican critics "Republican In Name Only", or "RINO",[16] tend towards being 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,[17] 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 for some also abolition of the death penalty, civil rights laws, embryonic stem cell research.[18][19]

Three Republican Senators who publicly support the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade, as of 2018 are Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.[20][21] Other notable Republicans considered moderate on some issues include former US Senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown, Governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, Governor of Vermont, Phil Scott, Governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, and former Republican US Senator from Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee, who is now a Democrat.

Libertarian wing[edit]

The libertarian wing of the Republican Party, a relatively small faction,[1][22] emphasizes free markets, minimal social controls and a constitutional republic for government structure. They seek to reduce government social spending, regulation, and taxes. They favor gay rights and are split on abortion. They oppose gun control as counter-productive and favor free speech.

Libertarians are fiscal conservatives, seeking to reduce taxes, spending, regulation and the national debt. They favor privatization of government activities such as toll roads and airports. Many support a flat tax (one rate for all) or the FairTax. They also support free international trade and they tend to support reforms to make legal immigration easier. They tend to be more critical of the Federal Reserve and of military spending than any other faction.[citation needed]

On social issues, they typically are not opposed to same sex-marriage, but would prefer to deregulate marriage. They are usually split over abortion. They oppose gun control and increasingly are opposed to the war on drugs.[citation needed]

On foreign policy, libertarians tend to favor non-interventionism,[23][24] avoiding conflicts and wars unless directly related to self-defense. Rand Paul[25][26] and Justin Amash,[27][28] two of the most libertarian-leaning members of Congress, are outspoken supporters of non-interventionism.

Historical factions[edit]

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.[29]


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.[30] 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.[31]


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.[31]

Progressive wing[edit]

Historically, the Republican Party included a progressive wing that advocated using government to improve the problems of modern society. Before 1932, leading progressive Republicans included Theodore Roosevelt, Robert M. La Follette Sr., Charles Evans Hughes, Hiram Johnson, William Borah, George W. Norris and Fiorello La Guardia.[32] Prominent liberal Republicans from 1936 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 virtually faded out of the Republican Party, apart from a few Northeastern holdouts.[16]

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][33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Pew Research Center. "Beyond Red vs Blue:The Political Typology". Archived from the original on June 29, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Donald T. Critchlow. The Conservative Ascendancy: How the GOP Right Made Political History (2nd ed. 2011).
  3. ^ Joel D. Aberbach; Gillian Peele (2011). Crisis of Conservatism?:The Republican Party, the Conservative Movement, and American Politics After Bush. Oxford University Press. p. 105. Archived from the original on February 20, 2018.
  4. ^ William Martin, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (1996).
  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.
  6. ^ Hayes, Samuel P. (2000). A History of Environmental Politics Since 1945. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 119. ISBN 9780822972242. Archived from the original on 20 February 2018. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  7. ^ Sellers, Christopher (7 June 2017). "How Republicans came to embrace anti-environmentalism". Vox. Archived from the original on 2 November 2017. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  8. ^ Dunlap, Riley E.; McCright, Araon M. (7 August 2010). "A Widening Gap: Republican and Democratic Views on Climate Change". Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development. 50 (5): 26–35. doi:10.3200/ENVT.50.5.26-35. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  9. ^ Båtstrand, Sondre (2015). "More than Markets: A Comparative Study of Nine Conservative Parties on Climate Change". Politics and Policy. 43 (4): 538–561. doi:10.1111/polp.12122. ISSN 1747-1346. The U.S. Republican Party is an anomaly in denying anthropogenic climate change.
  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. ^ Davenport, Coral; Lipton, Eric (June 3, 2017). "How G.O.P. Leaders Came to View Climate Change as Fake Science". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on September 14, 2017. Retrieved September 22, 2017. The Republican Party's fast journey from debating how to combat human-caused climate change to arguing that it does not exist is a story of big political money, Democratic hubris in the Obama years and a partisan chasm that grew over nine years like a crack in the Antarctic shelf, favoring extreme positions and uncompromising rhetoric over cooperation and conciliation.
  12. ^ Gregory Schneider (2003). Conservatism in America since 1930: A Reader. NYU Press. pp. 169–175. Archived from the original on June 28, 2014.
  13. ^ Joseph Scotchie. The Paleoconservatives: New Voices of the Old Right (1999).
  14. ^ John Ehrman. The Rise of Neoconservatism: Intellectual and Foreign Affairs 1945–1994 (2005).
  15. ^ Justin Vaïsse. Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement (2010).
  16. ^ a b Nicol C. Rae. The Decline and Fall of the Liberal Republicans: From 1952 to the Present (1989).
  17. ^ "Losing Its Preference: Affirmative Action Fades as Issue". The Washington Post. 1996. Archived from the original on February 23, 2017.
  18. ^ CNN, By Alan Silverleib. "Analysis: An autopsy of liberal Republicans - CNN.com". www.cnn.com. Retrieved 2018-10-14.
  19. ^ Pear, Robert. "Several G.O.P. Senators Back Money for Stem Cell Research". Retrieved 2018-10-14.
  20. ^ Peek, Liz (2018-07-05). "Liz Peek: Democrats are furious about Trump and the Supreme Court – They have only Obama to blame". Fox News. Retrieved 2018-10-14.
  21. ^ "Bloomberg - Are you a robot?". www.bloomberg.com. Retrieved 2018-10-14.
  22. ^ Nate Silver. "There are Few Libertarians But Many Americans Have Libertarian Views". Archived from the original on April 28, 2017.
  23. ^ "Libertarians and the War". Archived from the original on July 29, 2017. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
  24. ^ "Toward a Libertarian Foreign Policy". Archived from the original on July 30, 2017. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
  25. ^ "Rand Paul Found His Voice: Can He Find Noninterventionist Voters?". Archived from the original on July 30, 2017. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
  26. ^ "The Two Non-Interventionists". Archived from the original on July 4, 2017. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
  27. ^ "Trump's Syria Strike Was Unconstitutional and Unwise". Archived from the original on July 30, 2017. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
  28. ^ "Justin Amash (MI-03)". Archived from the original on 2017-08-06. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
  29. ^ "Radical Republican". Archived from the original on November 6, 2017. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  30. ^ "Stalwart". Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  31. ^ a b Peskin, Allan (1984–1985). "Who Were the Stalwarts? Who Were Their Rivals? Republican Factions in the Gilded Age". Political Science Quarterly. 99 (4): 703–716. doi:10.2307/2150708. JSTOR 2150708.
  32. ^ Michael Wolraich. Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics (2014).
  33. ^ Adrian Wooldridge and John Micklethwait. The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America (2004).

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]