Since most of Washington is convinced that the Republicans will recapture the Senate, the talk around town is actually not about the coming conflict with Democrats.
Instead, people are talking about the looming showdown pitting Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz against the moderate Republicans currently in control of the GOP caucus.
You see, the conservatives in the upper chamber are tired of standing down to Obama… but the moderates want to capitulate until the presidential election in two years.
Tensions have been simmering between the two sides for some time now, and after November 4, the gloves are going to come off…
Big Ideas, Flip-Floppers
The moderates believe that Republicans need to govern.
In order to govern, they need to pass bills that Barack Obama will actually sign, such as authorization of the Keystone XL pipeline or trade legislation.
Furthermore, the moderates want to take bold moves off the table until after the presidential race in two years and focus on achieving small, incremental concessions from Obama.
The conservatives, on the other hand, believe that Republicans need to make a bold statement about the direction of the nation.
They want to follow up the mid-term election victory with an agenda that inspires people, and they have big goals: Repeal Obamacare, pass comprehensive tax reform, and stop presidential abuses of power.
On top of that, conservatives want to get back at a few prominent figures – such as Mitch McConnell – who did an about-face and conceded to the moderate leadership.
You see, McConnell, who once said he would “rip Obamacare out root and branch,” told Fox News just days before his election. “Well, it would take 60 votes in the Senate — nobody thinks we’re going to have 60 Republicans — and it would take a presidential signature, and no one thinks we’re going to get that.”
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Yet McConnell, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Senate, is fully aware that Obamacare could be repealed with just 51 votes during the Budget Reconciliation process.
Were he truly interested in repealing the law, it would be possible. In fact, all that’s needed to end Obamacare is strong leadership and a willingness to stare down Obama the same way Newt Gingrich stared down Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
The Presidential Effect
Of course, the 2016 presidential season is greatly impacting both sides of this debate, as well.
The moderate wing is angling to nominate one of their own as the party standard bearer, and they don’t want Congress to make progress on certain initiatives that their candidates don’t support.
Instead, they’d like to focus on issues such as comprehensive immigration reform, which is supported by both Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush.
For his part, Senator Ted Cruz has used tough language against Bush and other moderates who may covet the presidential nomination. He told CNBC: “If Republicans run another candidate in the mold of a Bob Dole, or a John McCain, or a Mitt Romney… we will end up with the same result, which is millions of people will stay home on Election Day.”
Bottom line: Expect fireworks in the weeks ahead, with most of the conflict occurring in a Republican Party that’s split between Washington insiders who want nothing to change and insurgent conservatives who are done playing the game.
Your eyes on the Hill,