Factions in the Republican Party (United States)

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The Republican Party of the United States generally espouses conservatism,[1] but like most parties within two-party systems includes diversity on social and political-economic ideology, being composed of several factions.

This article discusses the current situation of the Republican Party. For information on historical factions, see History of the Republican Party (United States), Radical Republicans, Stalwart (politics), Half-Breed (politics), Progressive Era.

Conservative wing[edit]

The old conservative tradition in the Republican Party is based on opposition to the New Deal, especially as developed by Robert A. Taft and their followers such as Everett McKinley Dirksen. They opposed labor unions, high taxes, and government regulation. Most were isolationist in foreign policy. They were strongest in the Midwest and weak in the coastal states.[2]

In terms of economic policy, conservatives call for a large reduction in government spending, personalized accounts for Social Security, free trade, and less regulation of the economy. Many fiscal conservatives are backers of supply-side economics; however, there are also some deficit hawks within the faction as well. Before 1930, the Northeastern pro-manufacturing factions 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 support the social conservatism, otherwise 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, which puts them in opposition to the business community, and support stronger law enforcement and often disagree with strict libertarians. On the issue of school vouchers the group is split between those who support the concept (believing that "big government" education is a failure) and those who oppose the concept (believing that "big government" would gain the right to dictate schools' or sponsoring churches' positions on controversial social issues).

Common Conservative Republicans include U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (Texas), former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Indiana Governor, former Representative and vice-president Mike Pence, the 1996 and 2008 vice-presidential nominees Jack Kemp and Sarah Palin, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (Oklahoma), Publisher Steve Forbes, activist Grover Norquist and former US President Ronald Reagan.[citation needed] The Club for Growth is a pro-Republican fiscally conservative organization that endorses fiscal conservatives in primaries against more moderate Republicans.[citation needed]

Christian right[edit]

Main article: Christian right

The Republicans with religious right or Christian right ideals are strong conservatives on social policy. Prominent Religious Right Republicans include TV personality Pat Robertson, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (Pennsylvania), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and activist Gary Bauer. The National Federation of Republican Assemblies is a Religious Right organization that operates as a faction of the Republican Party. The Christian Coalition is a Religious Right activist organization considered allied with the party.


Main article: Paleoconservatism

The members of the Traditionalist wing are commonly called "Paleoconservatives". At the intellectual level traditionalists carry on views favorable to business, a strong national defense, and the business community. They favor cultural traditions, old-fashioned teaching methods to inculcate values, and show little love for big government or big business.[5]

The paleoconservative worldview is both socially and culturally conservative. Paleoconservatives generally favor gun rights, states' rights and constitutionalism, whilst opposing abortion, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage. They are highly critical of multiculturalism, with the national question being central to their politics[citation needed]. Paleoconservatives strongly oppose illegal immigration and favor tight restrictions on legal immigration. Paleoconservatives tend to be economically nationalist; favoring a protectionist policy on international trade. They want to see more freedom and a limited government on the economic side while have more regulations and morality on the social side.

In foreign affairs they are non-interventionist. Prominent paleoconservatives, such as Pat Buchanan, have criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and neoconservatism, which many paleoconservatives believe has damaged the GOP. Buchanan left the Republican Party after his presidential primary races in 1992 and 1996, and ran as a third-party candidate in the 2000 election. Other prominent paleoconservatives include Chronicles editor Thomas Fleming, Scott P. Richert, and journalists Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, and Robert Novak.[citation needed]

Traditionalist publications include Modern Age, Humanitas, The University Bookman, The Intercollegiate Review, and Touchstone Magazine. The Paleoconservatives are not strongly represented in the political sphere, but are most visible in publications (e.g. The American Conservative and Chronicles) and organizations such as the Rockford Institute, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the National Humanities Institute, the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal, the Center for the American Idea, the McConnell Center, the Trinity Forum[citation needed], and the American Cause. They are traditionalist with a strong distrust of a modern political ideologies and statecraft, which they call the managerial state.[6]


Main article: Neoconservatism

Neoconservatives differ from Paleoconservatives as 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 of these 'neocons' were originally considered to be liberals or were affiliated with the U.S. Democratic Party in earlier days. 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.[7][8]

Neoconservative publications include The Weekly Standard, Commentary, City Journal, National Affairs, and The New Criterion. Neoconservative organizations include the Project for the New American Century, the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institution, the Manhattan Institute, and the Hudson Institute. Prominent neoconservatives include former U.S. President George W. Bush, former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, former UN Ambassador John R. Bolton, Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio, Congressman Peter King, and pundits Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, and David Frum.[citation needed]

Moderate wing[edit]

Starting in the 1930s the terms "liberal" and "conservative" were mainly used to refer to supporters and opponents of the New Deal. Most Republicans were opposed to the New Deal, but many, especially in the Northeast, agreed with its essential ideas. However, these liberal Republicans were frustrated with the corruption and inefficiency of certain New Deal programs, and said the GOP could do a better job of running these programs. By the 1960s liberal Republicans were often called "Rockefeller Republicans". Hostile conservatives sometimes called them "Republican In Name Only," or "RINO."[9]

Moderates within the GOP, usually calling themselves "Main Street Republicans", tend towards being fiscally conservative to moderate, and socially moderate to liberal, though there are others who are socially conservative and fiscally centrist or liberal. While they sometimes share the economic views of other Republicans – e.g., balanced budgets, lower taxes, free trade, deregulation, welfare reform – moderate Republicans differ in that some are for affirmative action,[10] 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, abolition of the death penalty, civil rights laws, embryonic stem cell research, in a few cases anti-war policies, supporting access to medical cannabis or any of the above. Concerning foreign policy, some moderates may be less interventionist than neoconservatives and place greater value on multilateral institutions although others like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have a very hawkish foreign policy but are to the left of their party in many other areas. Indeed, moderate Republicans can overlap with the neoconservative wing more often than the other wings of the party.[11]

Examples of Moderates are former Governor George Pataki (New York), former State Secretary Colin Powell, William Weld, Paul Celluci, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, Former Massachusetts Govenor Mitt Romney, Jodi Rell, Bruce Rauner, Jim Edgar, Jon Huntsman Jr., New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Jim Douglas, former Michigan Governors George W. Romney and William G. Milliken, Maryland governor Larry Hogan, Donald Carcieri, and the Senators Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), former Defense Secretary William Cohen, Senator Susan Collins (Maine), Mark Kirk (Illinois), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and John Hoeven (North Dakota)[citation needed], former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, former Senators Scott Brown (Massachusetts) and Olympia Snowe (Maine), former Representatives Amo Houghton (New York), David Stockman (Michigan), Jim Leach (Iowa) and Joseph Cao (Louisiana).

The most notable liberal Republicans of the 1930s–1970s included Fiorello La Guardia (New York City), George Norris (Nebraska), Harold Stassen (Minnesota), Wendell Willkie (New York), Alf Landon (Kansas), Thomas E. Dewey (New York), Nelson Rockefeller (New York), Earl Warren (California) and, currently debated by historians, the former U.S. President Richard Nixon.[12][13]

Promiment Moderate Republican organizations are Ripon Society, Republican Majority for Choice, Republican Main Street Partnership, Republican Leadership Council, founded by former New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman.

Libertarian wing[edit]

The libertarian wing of the Republican Party emphasizes free markets, minimal social controls, and constitutional republic for government structure.[14] They oppose government social spending, regulation, and taxes. They are opposed to social conservatives with regard to gay rights,[15] and are split on abortion,[14] which many see as an issue of personal freedom, but others view as an act of violence against a person. They oppose gun control as counter-productive and favor free speech.

Libertarian Republicans typically hold a maximum economic freedom policy and a moderate or maximum social freedom policy. Most Libertarian Republicans are Constitutionalists. Libertarians are fiscal conservatives; libertarian Republicans seek to reduce taxes, spending, regulation, and the national debt. They look for ways to outsource or privatize activities run by the government (such as toll roads and airports). As an alternative to the federal income tax and the IRS, many support a flat tax (one rate for all) or the Fair Tax. They also support free international trade, which they argue is beneficial to both the economy and to international relations, 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.[14]

On social issues they typically aren't 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. They believe that civil liberties as protected by the constitution should not be abused and immigration must be handled lawfully. Libertarian Republicans typically oppose the Patriot Act.[citation needed]

The libertarian faction is represented in the party by the Republican Liberty Caucus, which also actively courts members of the United States Libertarian Party to seek office as Republicans in order to increase the voice of libertarianism within the party. U.S. Representative Ron Paul (Texas), the most visible member of the caucus, ran for U.S. President in 1988 on the ticket of the Libertarian Party, and sought the Republican Party nomination for U.S. President in 2008 and 2012.

Senator Jeff Flake, Senator Rand Paul, Representative Justin Amash, Representative Walter B. Jones, Jr., Representative Raul Labrador, Representative Thomas Massie, former Senator Barry Goldwater, former Representative Barry Goldwater, Jr., former Representative Ron Paul, and notable personalities ranging from Tucker Carlson to Clint Eastwood all identify with this faction.[citation needed]

Libertarian intellectuals in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek and the Austrian School of economics advocate laissez-faire regarding economics. Milton Friedman, leader of the Chicago School of Economics, for example, led the opposition to the draft, which was suspended by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1973.[16]

Neolibertarians are libertarian Republicans, Libertarian Party voters, and libertarian Independents who support a strong military, and believe that Western liberal democracies should use their militaries to overthrow genocidal and terroristic regimes. It is their endorsement of defense policies aligned with the theme "Empire of Liberty" that separates them from other American libertarians, and gives them reason to make political alliance with neoconservatives.[17] On foreign policy, a greater share of American libertarians (43%) than of Americans in general (35%) favor an activist foreign policy modeled on the "Empire of Liberty" theme of policy positions.[18] This is also greater than the share of Republican voters in general (39%) who favor use of this theme for conducting geopolitics.[19]


There is often plenty of overlap between the various categories. For example, a Republican may side with the "neoconservatives" on foreign policy issues, yet also support a "religious right" social agenda and a "fiscally conservative" economic vision. The "Reagan coalition" in the Republican Party, according to independent historian Dr. George H. Nash, originally consisted of five factions: the libertarians, the traditionalists, the anti-communists, the neoconservatives, and the second New Right/religious right.[1][20]

After Reagan left office the Reagan coalition shattered, with the deepest divisions seen between the libertarians and traditionalists (also called paleoconservatives) on one side, and the neoconservatives and the religious right on the other. This was most evident as the neoconservatives and the religious right became the dominant force in the Republican Party. Today, conservatism is generally divided into the categories of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and national security neoconservatives (even though there is considerable overlap among these rather vague categories).

Similarly, moderate or liberal Republicans (see below) may hold views overlapping with those of some of the conservative factions, while diverging with other factions. For example, a "moderate" Republican may hold "fiscally conservative" views on the economy, "neoconservative"views on foreign policy, and simultaneously hold views on social issues, such as abortion, that conflict with "social conservative" views.

Partly because of that overlap, it is difficult to accurately claim which faction of the party currently holds the most power, though such a question is the topic of much speculation. After the 2003 Iraq War many argued the "neoconservative" wing of the party was clearly dominant, as they had been the faction the most supportive of the war. After President George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, however, many attributed the high turnout of Republican voters who claimed to be motivated by "moral values" as a sign that the Religious Right and social conservative factions of the party have gained considerable influence.

Although it is clear that compared to the influence of the conservative factions of the party, the numbers and influence of the moderate wing of the party had diminished in recent decades. In the past many Republicans were not ideological and were conservative in areas but moderate in others. Some say Bob Dole was in this overlapping type of model. Also past figures like Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush would be in this middle of the road category.

For some of these abortion is not considered a big issue while fiscal issues would be. Dole, for example was opposed to abortion but supported government programs and a moderate take on foreign affairs. Ford and Bush at some point were pro-choice, but in other points of their career they were also opposed to abortion. George H.W. Bush was pro-choice and moderate on fiscal issues as Ronald Reagan's vice president, but shifted to the right on many issues during his 1988 presidential campaign after facing primary challenges from more conservative GOP figures. Bush infamously raised taxes in 1990, an act which contributed heavily to his defeat for reelection. He also nominated liberal justice David Souter to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Although business interests lobby and contribute to both parties, the GOP has been more favorable since the Civil War. There are two components: "Main Street" refers to locally owned businesses and "Wall Street" refers to national corporations. They share an interest in lower taxes, less regulation and opposition to labor unions. Spending is another matter, and depends on the particular issue. For example, defense spending is favored. Main Street has an interest in opposing the inheritance tax (the so-called "death tax"), which according to Republicans affects entrepreneurs;[21] Wall Street wants low taxes on capital gains. Both generally support free trade, since the old high tariff faction has faded along with the industries (like textiles) it once tried to protect.[22] The farm sector is generally conservative on most issues—except it wants higher spending on farm programs.

National security[edit]

Republicans who emphasize the priority of a strong national defense (with appropriate high spending) and an aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East fall under this category. Although this opinion is held by others outside the Republican Party, within the GOP it has retained many vocal proponents. This faction had been satisfied with President Bush's policies, but has also criticized him regarding his inactivity on the issue of illegal immigration in the United States.[citation needed] More recently this faction has supported continuation of OEF-Afghanistan under the Obama Administration, but have voiced opposition to the projected cuts in military spending and reduction of missile defense programs. Politicians of this nature include former Massachusetts Governors, Mitt Romney, former Senator John Warner, former Representative Duncan Hunter, Congressman Peter Hoekstra, Representative Joe Wilson, Representative John Kline, and Representative Duncan D. Hunter.[23]

Libertarians like Larry Elder and Neal Boortz who fit into this National Security overlap are ideologically known as neolibertarians. These are free-market, small-government secularists[24] who believe that the U.S. should use its military to topple authoritarian regimes,[17] believe that the U.S. should be active in geopolitics because foreign problems would be worse without U.S. activity,[18] and believe that the U.S. should push harder to bring individual freedom, liberal democracy, and economic freedom to other nations.[19]

States' rights[edit]

Ideologically, the GOP typically supports a smaller federal government. Historically, this translated into keeping power in the hands of powerful state governments, as in the cases of civil rights, abortion laws, regulations on marriage, and mapping of voting districts.[25][page needed] However, conservatives in recent years have demanded federal intervention to oppose state laws with respect to the Federal Marriage Amendment, the Terri Schiavo case, the Kelo case regarding eminent domain, and in cases involving assisted suicide laws and medical marijuana.[citation needed]

To a certain extent, this is contingent upon the faction in question. For example, the paleoconservative and social conservative factions would be far more inclined to favor federal drug regulations trumping states rights, while the libertarian faction would be more inclined to see such power devolved to the states or even further.[citation needed]


Not all Republicans support abortion restrictions and the human life amendment. Though pro-life planks have been part of the party platform since 1976.,[26] before 1988 there was little difference between Republicans and other voters regarding abortion, and in 2015, 40 percent of Republicans supported legal abortion.[27] Despite their divergence from the party platform, pro-choice Republicans are unlikely to switch parties.[28] Pro-choice ideology has been present in the Republican Party since before the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, and the pro-choice ideology is still present today.

According to some pro-choice Republican groups, the Republican belief in limited government and individualism should extend to social issues, such as abortion rights.[29] Research indicates that supporters of pro-choice Republican organizations are motivated by libertarianism.[30] Supporters of pro-choice organizations may hold less conservative views on abortion, but tend to hold relatively conservative views on other political issues.[31]

Pro-choice ideology and support for abortion rights ranges. The 1992 American National Election study asked respondents about their support for the legal rights of abortion. Respondents either believe abortion should only be allowed in cases of rape, incest, and to save the mothers life, abortion should be allowed if there is a "clear need", or that abortion should not be restricted in any way.[32]

There are several organizations and Political Action Committees that support pro-choice republican candidates. The most prominent are Republican Majority for Choice, Republicans for Choice, and The Wish List. These organizations provide money, endorsements, and training to candidates who support abortion rights. Republican Main Street Partnership has shown support for pro-choice legislation.

The Republican Party's shift to a pro-life stance was a gradual change and was not caused by one election or event.[33]

1970s and 1980s[edit]

Before and during the 1960's most abortion laws only allowed the procedure when the woman's life was in danger. At this time many Republicans were for less strict abortion laws.[34] Between 1974 and 1978, studies showed that political ideology had a very weak correlation with support for abortion rights. The correlation between political party identification and support for abortion rights was even weaker.[35] Mary Louise Smith, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee from 1974 to 1977, was pro-choice.[34] Justice Blackmun wrote the Supreme Courts decision on Roe v. Wade. Blackmun was a conservative Justice appointed by President Nixon.[34]

During his presidency President Gerald R. Ford took a moderately conservative stance on abortion, despite First Lady Betty Ford's urges for him to take a liberal stance on the issue. Ford believed abortions should be allowed in certain circumstances and opposed a human life amendment to the Constitution.[34] Ford later stated that he was pro-choice after he had left office[36] and Betty Ford was supportive of the decision made by the court in Roe v. Wade.[34]

The 1976 Republican Party Platform was the first to include a pro-life stance. This comes during the same year that the Hyde Amendment Was passed.[37]

Democrat and Republican Party elites and elected officials became more divided on the issue of abortion in the 1980s. It was not until after Republicans in Congress started consistently voting against abortion in the 1980s that polls showed Republican opposition to abortion.[38]

1990 to Current[edit]

Until 1988 there was little difference in pro-choice attitudes among Democrat and Republican voters.[39]

During the 1992 election, President Bush and Vice President Quayle tended to downplay the importance of abortion during the election so they would not risk turning away Republican voters who supported abortion rights.[40] A substantial number of Pro-choice republicans in the 1992 election did not vote for President Bush because of his stance on abortion. Most of these pro-choice Republicans voted for Perot.[40] While President Bush and the Republican Party took a pro-life stance in 1992, First Lady Barbara Bush stated that she believed abortion to be a "personal choice." [41]

In an interview in 2001, First Lady Laura Bush stated that she believed Roe v. Wade should not be overturned[42] and later stated that abortion should remain legal because she believes "it's important for people, for medical reasons and other reasons."[43]

In 2005, The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act was passed by congress with the help of the Republican Main Street Partnership. However, President George W. Bush vetoed this legislation in 2006.[44]

After the 2012 election, Senator John McCain, who is pro-life, advised his fellow Republicans to "leave the issue [abortion] alone." He warned against going beyond stating one's pro-life belief and actions could hurt the Republican party with women voters and young voters.[45]

In a 2015 poll, 6 out of 10 moderate Republicans believed that abortion should be legal in most or all instances.

See also[edit]

Affiliated organizations:

Ideology topics:

Democratic Party:

Libertarian Party:


  1. ^ a b Donald T. Critchlow, The conservative ascendancy: how the GOP right made political history (2nd ed. 2011)
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Further reading[edit]

  • Barone, Michael, and Richard E. Cohen. The Almanac of American Politics, 2010 (2009) 1900 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, Jeremy Beer, and Jeffery O. Nelson, 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", Truth-2-Power, August 9, 2012.
  • Wooldridge, Adrian, and John Micklethwait. The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America (2004), sophisticated nonpartisan analysis

External links[edit]