Factions in the Republican Party (United States)

The Republican Party in the United States includes several factions,[1] or wings.

Conservative wing

The conservative wing grew out of the 1950s and 1960s in response to the growth and national prominence of the moderate wing, with its initial leaders being Senator Robert A. Taft, Russell Kirk, and William F. Buckley Jr. Its central tenets include the promotion of individual liberty and free-market economics and opposition to labor unions, high taxes, and excessive 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]

There are several subcategories within conservative Republicanism.

Christian right

The Christian right is a conservative Christian political faction characterized by strong support of socially conservative policies. Christian conservatives principally seek to apply their understanding of the teachings of Christianity to politics and to public policy by proclaiming the value of those teachings or by seeking to use those teachings to influence law and public policy.[11]

In the United States, the Christian right is an informal coalition formed around a core of evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics.[12][13][14] The movement has its roots in American politics going back as far as the 1940s and has been especially influential since the 1970s.[15] In the late 20th century, the Christian right became a notable force in the Republican party.[16] Politicians associated with the Christian right include former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.[17]


Neoconservatives promote an interventionist foreign policy to promote democracy. 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 amenable to unilateral military action when they believe it serves a morally valid purpose (such as the spread of democracy).[18][19] Many of its adherents became politically famous during the Republican presidential administrations of the late 20th century, and neoconservatism peaked in influence during the administration of George W. Bush, when they played a major role in promoting and planning the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[20] Prominent neoconservatives in the George W. Bush administration included Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, and Paul Bremer. While not identifying as neoconservatives, senior officials Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld listened closely to neoconservative advisers regarding foreign policy, especially the defense of Israel and the promotion of American influence in the Middle East.


Paleoconservatives stress tradition, limited government, Judeo-Christian ethics, regionalism, and nationalism.[21] 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 are skeptical of modern political ideologies and statecraft (which they call the managerial state)[22] and critical of multiculturalism, generally favoring tight restrictions on legal immigration. Paleoconservatives are generally economically nationalist, favoring a protectionist policy on international trade.[23] Their position on foreign affairs is non-interventionist. Paleoconservatives do not believe in continual entanglement in wars on foreign soil, and this key characteristic differentiates them from Neoconservatives. Paleoconservatives believe that certain abstract concepts, like "truth," and "reality" are immutable by nature and they seek to understand the most accurate information related to any topic and think this understanding is essential to pragmatic problem solving. This approach to policy positions results in predicable, effective results.[24]

Pat Buchanan is a prominent paleoconservative.[24] The political philosophy of President Donald Trump has also been described as paleoconservative.[24]

Tea Party movement

The Tea Party movement is an American fiscally conservative political movement within the Republican Party that began in 2009 following the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.[25][26] Members of the movement have called for lower taxes, and for a reduction of the national debt of the United States and federal budget deficit through decreased government spending.[27][28] The movement supports small-government principles[29][30] and opposes government-sponsored universal healthcare.[31] The Tea Party movement has been described as a popular constitutional movement.[32] The movement's name refers to the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773, a watershed event in the launch of the American Revolution.[33]

Politicians associated with the Tea Party include former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann,[34] U.S. Senator Ted Cruz,[35] former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint,[36] former U.N. Ambassador and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley,[37] U.S. Senator Mike Lee,[36] and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.[34]


Traditionalists base their ideology upon the political philosophies of Aristotle, Edmund Burke, and Russell Kirk. They emphasize the bonds of social order over hyper-individualism and the defense of ancestral institutions. They believe in a transcendent moral order, manifested through certain natural laws to which they believe society ought to conform in a prudent manner. Traditionalists in the United States also emphasize the rule of law in securing individual liberty.[38]

Moderate wing

Historically, moderate Republicans, particularly those from the Northeast and West Coast, were referred to as "The Eastern Establishment" or "Rockefeller Republicans."[39][40][41] Prominent liberal Republicans from the mid-1930s 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. Following Rockefeller's death in the late 1970s, the liberal Republican brand has—apart from a few holdouts in the northeastern United States—virtually faded out of the Republican Party.[42]

Modern moderates have been known as "business conservatives", and Congressional moderates are members of Main Street Republicans or The Tuesday Group.[1] Moderates tend be 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,[43] same-sex marriage, 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 and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and embryonic stem cell research.[44][45]

Prominent modern moderate Republicans include U.S. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska,[46][47][48][49] United States Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa and former U.S. Senator Scott Brown,[50][51] and Governors Charlie Baker of Massachusetts,[52] Larry Hogan of Maryland,[53] Phil Scott of Vermont, John Kasich of Ohio, and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire.[54]

Libertarian wing

Historically known as Jeffersonian Republicans, libertarian Republicans make up a relatively small faction of the Republican Party.[1][55] Libertarian Republicans in the 21st century favor cutting taxes and regulations, repealing the Affordable Care Act, and protecting gun rights.[56] On social issues, they favor privacy, oppose the USA Patriot Act, and oppose the War on Drugs.[56] On foreign policy, libertarian Republicans favor non-interventionism.[57][58] The Republican Liberty Caucus, which describes itself as "the oldest continuously operating organization in the Liberty Republican movement with state charters nationwide", was founded in 1991.[59] The House Liberty Caucus is a congressional caucus formed by Representative Justin Amash, former Republican of Michigan, now an Independent.[60] Other prominent libertarian Republicans include former congressman Ron Paul and U.S. Senator Rand Paul.[61]

In the 1950s and 60s, fusionism—the combination of traditionalist and social conservatism with political and economic right-libertarianism—was essential to the movement's growth.[62] This philosophy is most closely associated with Frank Meyer.[63] While the fusion of various factions within the big tent has always been critical, original fusionism saw its peak during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.[64]

Historical factions


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.[65]

Progressive Republicans

Historically, the Republican Party included a progressive wing that advocated using government to improve the problems of modern society. Theodore Roosevelt, an early leader of the progressive movement, advanced a "Square Deal" domestic program as president (1901–09) that was built on the goals of controlling corporations, protecting consumers, and conserving natural resources.[66] After splitting with his successor, William Howard Taft, in the aftermath of the Pinchot–Ballinger controversy,[67] Roosevelt sought to block Taft's re-election, first by challenging him for the 1912 Republican presidential nomination, and then when that failed, by entering the 1912 presidential contest as a third party candidate, running on the Progressive ticket. He succeeded in depriving Taft of a second term, but came in second behind Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

After Roosevelt's 1912 defeat, the progressive wing of the party went into decline. Progressive Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives held a "last stand" protest in December 1923, at the start of the 68th Congress, when they refused to support the Republican Conference nominee for Speaker of the House, Frederick H. Gillett, voting instead for two other candidates. After eight ballots spanning two days, they agreed to support Gillett in exchange for a seat on the House Rules Committee and pledges that subsequent rules changes would be considered. On the ninth ballot, Gillett received 215 votes, a majority of the 414 votes cast, to win the election.[68]

In addition to Theodore Roosevelt, leading progressive Republicans included Robert M. La Follette Sr., Charles Evans Hughes, Hiram Johnson, William Borah, George W. Norris and Fiorello La Guardia.[69]

Radical Republicans

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, hard-line abolitionists, 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. John C. Frémont of Michigan, the party's first nominee for President in 1856, was a Radical Republican. Upset with Lincoln's politics, the faction split from the Republican to form the short-lived Radical Democracy Party in 1864 and again nominated Frémont for president. They supported Ulysses S. Grant for President in 1868 and 1872. As Southern Democrats retook control in the South and enthusiasm for continued Reconstruction declined, their influence within the GOP waned.[70]

Reagan coalition

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][71]


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.[72] 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.[65]

See also


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Further reading

  • 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.
  • "A Guide to the Republican Herd" (October 5, 2006). The New York Times.
  • "Belief Spectrum Brings Party Splits" (October 4, 1998). The Washington Post.
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