3 tensions that are breaking apart the Republican Party

What's behind the GOP crackup?

House Speaker John Boehner talks to reporters after a House GOP Conference meeting at the U.S. Captiol on Jan. 22.
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Although Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) insists President Obama's goal is to "annihilate the Republican Party" and "shove us into the dustbin of history," it's actually internal disagreements that are causing the party to fracture.

As Robert Reich forcefully argues, "The GOP crackup was probably inevitable. Inconsistencies and tensions within the GOP have been growing for years — ever since Ronald Reagan put together the coalition that became the modern Republican Party."

"All President Obama has done is finally found ways to exploit these inconsistencies."

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Here are where the fault lines are forming:

1. Libertarians vs. social conservatives

These two GOP strains have never gotten along with each other. One group says government should stay out of people's personal lives while the other tries to impose its own morality on others.

2. Right wing populists vs. the pro-business crowd

Despite campaign rhetoric, pro-business Republicans are usually just fine with government subsidies, liberal immigration policies, and bailouts — as long as they help keep the profits flowing. But the populist strain in the party sees big business as no better than big government.

3. Deficit reduction hawks vs. small government activists

Though it would seem these two groups have a lot in common, real deficit hawks recognize we must raise taxes along with cutting spending to get the country out from under the debt burden. But the small government fanatics are against all tax increases for any reason.

Republicans have been able to paper over their differences for decades, mainly by uniting the party against the common enemy of "big government." But when the GOP controlled all branches of government during the Bush years, they actually did nothing to shrink government. It just got larger, helping to exacerbate the tensions between the various factions.

Now, with no clear leader of the Republican Party, Democrats might just be able to drive the final wedge into the party and fulfill Boehner's prophesy.

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