Republican infighting is Bill Clinton’s legacy

Former President Bill Clinton.

Former President Bill Clinton.  (Reuters)

Everyone really should be able to admit it is the oddest and most nonsensical fight.

The Ryan budget does raise taxes. It does fund ObamaCare. It does break sequestration. It is a compromised can kicked down the road just to a further distance than normal. In doing so, though, it violates a lot of what the very Republican leaders now kicking the can campaigned against mere weeks ago.


Conservative groups voiced their opposition and sent out their letters saying, “Don’t vote for it.” That is what conservative groups do. They were going to do nothing more than that. There was no organized will to fight what, on Monday, so many conservatives perceived as inevitable.

Then a comical thing happened. John Boehner held a press conference to further bash the conservatives and claim they were doing it for money. Then he held a second press conference to do the same.  He claimed conservatives who had believed him when he said the GOP would hold the line on sequestration had lost all their credibility.

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In large part, we are witnesses the end of Bill Clinton’s little noted Republican legacy.

Because of the amateur nature of the first couple of years of the Clinton Administration, coupled with the Democrats’ historic defeat in 1994, the nation saw one of the largest shifts in party preference among elected officials in modern American history. 

Whole towns of Democrats, particularly in the South, woke up one morning and became Republican. Areas of the country that had not seen a Republican elected ever suddenly found no Democrats to elect.

Prior to the mid-nineties, if a conservative group wanted a conservative policy passed, they had to find a way to form the policy and sell it to both conservative Democrats and conservative Republicans. 

During the Clinton years, suddenly conservatives could stop building bipartisan coalitions because all the conservatives were suddenly Republican. They could work within one party.

Over time, the conservative movement and the Republican Party became the same thing. Reaching across the aisle became a skill set left to atrophy because there really were too few people to reach on the other side.

Had Clinton held his original coalition together, this would not have been possible. But because of choices Clinton made to get himself re-elected in 1996, the Democratic Party at large suffered in the South and elsewhere. 

Democrats suddenly out of the coalition claimed the mantel of “conservatism” for themselves and pro-life Southern populists could largely get away with it. 2010 was not so much a repeat of this as a finishing off of this. 

The rest of the Blue Dogs either got defeated or converted.

Once the GOP and conservative movement became synonyms, much of the conservative movement became cheerleaders for the GOP without a lot of intellectual force behind their push. It was team building, not idea building. 

Conservatives gave George W. Bush a pass because he was on their team and there was no chance of finding a team across the aisle.

No Child Left Behind, Harriet Miers, Medicare Part D, Immigration Reform, and then the 2008 Republican primary season all broke down the synonymous nature of the GOP and conservatives. When Bush left, conservatives woke up hung over and $10 trillion in debt with a more massive federal entitlement program and a larger federal role in public schools.

Then the Supreme Court ruled on Citizens United.

Despite much bad reporting on that case, what it really did was make it possible for conservative groups to break away from the Republican money men. They could go out with empowered grassroots. They could find their own donors. And so they did. But their new donors were much more ideologically conservative than Republican.

Now there is a new dynamic because of this. There is actually enough of a conservative base in the House and Senate beholden to grassroots activists, the GOP finds itself not just having to fight off the Democrats, but also fight off the conservatives.

Clinton’s legacy of consolidating the right within the GOP is only now starting to really crumble away. The right is taking on a life of its own again.  But it would have never gotten to this point, but for Clinton reshaping the Democrats’ own coalition in the nineties.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor. He is founder/editor of The Resurgent. His new book is "Before You Wake: Life Lessons From a Father to His Children”. Follow him on Twitter @EWErickson.