Factions in the Republican Party (United States)

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Like most major parties within two-party systems, the Republican Party of the United States includes diversity on social and political-economic ideology, being composed of several factions.[1] This article describes the current situation as regards Republican Party factions. For information on historical factions, see History of the Republican Party (United States).

Conservative wing[edit]

The conservative[2] tradition in the Republican Party features opposition to labor unions, high taxes, and government regulation.

In economic policy, conservatives call for a large reduction in government spending, personalized accounts for Social Security, free trade, and less regulation of the economy. 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, which puts them in opposition to the business community, 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.

Christian right[edit]

The Republicans with religious right or Christian right ideals are strong conservatives on social policy. 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.


The members of the traditionalist or paleoconservative wing generally hold views favorable to business and a strong national defense. They favor cultural traditions and old-fashioned teaching methods, to inculcate values, and show little love for big government or big business.[5]

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 tend towards mistrust of modern political ideologies and statecraft, which they call the managerial state,[6] and tend to be critical of multiculturalism, generally favoring tight restrictions on legal immigration. They tend to be economically nationalist, favoring a protectionist policy on international trade.

In foreign affairs they are usually non-interventionist. Paleoconservatives have criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and neoconservatism, which many paleoconservatives believe has damaged the GOP.

Paleoconservatives are not strongly represented in the political sphere, but are most visible in publications, including Modern Age, Humanitas, the University Bookman, The Intercollegiate Review, and Touchstone Magazine.


Neoconservatives differ from paleoconservatives in that 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 'neocons' 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 willing to act unilaterally when they believe it serves a moral position to do so, such as the spread of democracy.[7][8]

Moderate wing[edit]

Moderates within the GOP, historically referred to as "Rockefeller Republicans", now often called "Main Street Republicans" or "Business Conservatives",[1] and by their conservative Republican critics, "Republican In Name Only," or "RINO,"[9] tend towards being 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, 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. Moderate Republicans can overlap with the neoconservative wing more often than the other wings of the party.

Libertarian wing[edit]

The libertarian wing of the Republican Party, a relatively small faction,[1][11] emphasizes free markets, minimal social controls, and a constitutional republic for government structure. They seek to reduce government social spending, regulation, and taxes. They favor gay rights, and are split on abortion. They oppose gun control as counter-productive and favor free speech.

Libertarians are fiscal conservatives, seeking to reduce taxes, spending, regulation, and the national debt. They favor privatization of government activities such as toll roads and airports. Many support a flat tax (one rate for all) or the Fair Tax. They also support free international trade, 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.

On social issues they typically are not 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.

On foreign policy, libertarians tend to favor non-interventionism,[12][13] avoiding conflicts and wars unless directly related to self-defense. Rand Paul[14][15] and Justin Amash[16][17], two of the most libertarian-leaning members of Congress, are outspoken supporters of non-interventionism.

The Reagan Coalition[edit]

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, neoconservatives, and the religious right.[2][18] After Reagan left office the Reagan coalition shattered, with the deepest divisions seen between the libertarians and traditionalists 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Pew Research Center. "Beyond Red vs Blue:The Political Typology". 
  2. ^ a b Donald T. Critchlow, The conservative ascendancy: how the GOP right made political history (2nd ed. 2011)
  3. ^ Joel D. Aberbach; Gillian Peele (2011). Crisis of Conservatism?:The Republican Party, the Conservative Movement, and American Politics After Bush. Oxford University Press. p. 105. 
  4. ^ William Martin, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (1996)
  5. ^ Gregory Schneider (2003). Conservatism in America since 1930: A Reader. NYU Press. pp. 169–75. 
  6. ^ Joseph Scotchie, The Paleoconservatives: New Voices of the Old Right (1999)
  7. ^ John Ehrman, The Rise of Neoconservatism: Intellectual and Foreign Affairs 1945–1994 (2005)
  8. ^ Justin Vaïsse, Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement (2010)
  9. ^ Nicol C. Rae, The Decline and Fall of the Liberal Republicans: From 1952 to the Present (1989)
  10. ^ "Losing Its Preference: Affirmative Action Fades as Issue". The Washington Post. 1996. 
  11. ^ Nate Silver. "There are Few Libertarians But Many Americans Have Libertarian Views". 
  12. ^ https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB118463507387568429
  13. ^ https://www.cato.org/policy-report/julyaugust-2015/toward-libertarian-foreign-policy
  14. ^ http://nationalinterest.org/feature/rand-paul-found-his-voice-can-he-find-non-interventionist-13866
  15. ^ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-two-non-interventionists_us_594f1cdde4b0326c0a8d0918
  16. ^ https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/04/president-trumps-syria-strike-was-unconstitutional-and-unwise/522228/
  17. ^ http://www.yaliberty.org/pac/candidates/amash
  18. ^ Adrian Wooldridge and John Micklethwait, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America (2004)

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]