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'Insurgent' Wing Grapples For Control Of The GOP
There's a battle for control of the GOP between establishment Republicans and a new brand of conservatives.
"You can call them populist, you can call them insurgents, you can them Tea Party adherents. ... I think the general term I try to use is the 'insurgent' wing," says New York Times national political correspondent Jonathan Martin.
The division between the establishment and the "insurgents" was widened by the recent budget battle and the subsequent recriminations over who was to blame for the GOP's loss. And the rift is likely to play out in the 2014 congressional elections and 2016 presidential primaries.
Martin, a former reporter for Politico, co-wrote the New York Times story Fiscal Crisis Sounds The Charge In GOP's 'Civil War.' He talks with Fresh Air's Terry Gross about the party divisions and the groups supporting each side, including the Club for Growth, the Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads and the Senate Conservatives Fund.
On the influence Karl Rove and President George W. Bush had on the current GOP
There's no question that Rove and President Bush brought more conservatives, more evangelicals, more ideologically driven folks on the right to the polls in '04 and that's why they won. But you also have to look at how they fared with other groups: Hispanics come to mind, moderates, women. George W. Bush fared much better with those groups in '04 than his successors did later.
I feel like the party is polling now with those groups [and] compared to what Bush had in '04, the party has gone downhill. My theory ... is that this Tea Party movement began because even though those groups ... supported President Bush in his two elections, they were disappointed. The expansion of Medicare, Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, immigration reform and certainly the TARP bailout in the fall of '08 combined with some other issues I think led to a sense of disappointment with President Bush and more broadly with the party among a lot of conservative activists.
Then, when John McCain lost convincingly to President Obama and President Obama began health care [and] the stimulus, I think that radicalized those conservatives who were already disappointed even more. So I think you can trace this current moment back to President Bush but it's more because of the conservative disappointment with some of the so-called big government conservative policies of President Bush.
On how the Internet has made the country more politically uniform
You have to point to the power of technology and the rise of the Internet. It really has made the world more connected and changed the way politics happen. I think people now, regardless of where they are in the country, are much more tuned in to national politics and the day-to-day or week-to-week vicissitudes of national politics than they were in an earlier day. The way that I see that manifested is during the presidential primaries and caucuses; they're much more shaped by what's happening in national developments than they are [by] what's happening in states, even localities.
Take, for example, the last GOP primary. You had this series of Republicans who rose and fell in national polls and eventually, of course, Romney was the nominee, but you saw that reflected in the states. The states themselves are no longer islands that are driven by their own quirky traditions and their own culture — it's a much more homogeneous political culture. People, especially the political activists who participate in the primaries, they watch the same channels, they read the same publications online, and they're driven by similar factors if they're in Concord, N.H., or if they're in Waterloo, Iowa, and I think that, to me, is the biggest difference. The walls have come down. People now operate much more uniformly across the country in terms of their political actions.
On the leaders of both the establishment and "insurgent" wings of the GOP
The establishment wing of the party is certainly led by the two congressional leaders — John Boehner and Mitch McConnell — and then you have an operative and donor class; Karl Rove, certainly, the former Bush adviser is a very familiar name. ... A lot of donors, certainly on the coast, the so-called Acela Corridor who give big contributions to Republicans, they are pragmatic-minded, they want to win, they want congressional majorities and they want to win the White House. ...
The [insurgent] leaders include Jim DeMint, who is the former senator from South Carolina who now runs the Heritage Foundation; certainly in Congress Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, the two senators who have embraced the role as leaders of that wing; and then in the House you've got a few dozen, mostly junior members of the House who have become spokesmen for this insurgent wing, too.
On the influence of The Heritage Foundation and its "insurgent" arm, Heritage Action
For a long time ... Heritage was a think tank like a lot of Washington think tanks. They churned out white papers and came up with policy ideas — in fact, ironically, the notion of mandating Americans to buy health care actually came from the Heritage Foundation originally back in the '90s. Obviously times have changed since then. ...
The Heritage Foundation was somewhat musty, staid, like a lot of think tanks in Washington. What happened was they decided to be much more of an action-oriented think tank and even more of a lobby. They created this arm called Heritage Action that aggressively lobbies Capitol Hill, that scores votes, if you will, which is to sort of give lawmakers a letter grade for certain votes.
If you talk to any congressional Republican they will tell you nowadays, with conservatives, Heritage Action is the big kid on the block, that lawmakers see them out there and if they are on one side of an issue that will compel a lot of lawmakers on the right to walk that line. It's a real sea change in Washington. ... It is now, in Congress, I think for Republicans, the most powerful lobby. More than the Chamber of Commerce, more than the manufacturers.
On what Heritage Action is lobbying for
They're lobbying for a conservative line against an expanded role for the federal government. They don't like the Farm Bill because they don't like farm subsidies; they have problems with expansion of the welfare state in terms of food stamps; they didn't like the president's health care law; and they were advocates for this strategy, for linking funding the health care law to funding the government more broadly. They were one of the intellectual architects for this strategy, giving outside support for the likes of Sen. [Ted] Cruz and [Sen. Mike] Lee.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. There's a battle for control of the Republican Party between insurgent conservatives and establishment Republicans. The division between them was widened by the budget battle and the subsequent recriminations over who was to blame for the Republicans' loss.
My guest, Jonathan Martin, co-wrote the front page story in last Sunday's New York Times titled "Fiscal Crisis Sounds the Charge in GOP's Civil War." The rift in the party is likely to be played out in the congressional elections next year and the presidential primaries in 2016. I spoke with Martin about the divisions in the party and about the groups supporting each side, including the Club for Growth, the Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads, and the Senate Conservatives Fund.
Martin is a national political correspondent for the New York Times and a former reporter for Politico.
JONATHAN MARTIN: Well, it's about whether or not the party is going to take a confrontational, unapologetic approach to opposing President Obama and more broadly opposing liberalism in trying to roll back the size and scope of Washington or if the party is going to be a generally center-right, pro-business party that accommodates liberalism, tries to sort of ease it a bit but doesn't really try to burn down the house, if you will.
GROSS: Who are the leaders of both sides within the Republican Party?
MARTIN: Sure. Well, the establishment wing of the party is certainly led by the two congressional leaders, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. And then you have an operative donor class, Karl Rove certainly, the former Bush advisor. And a lot of donors certainly on the coast, the so-called Acela Corridor, who give big contributions to Republicans, they are pragmatic-minded, but they want to win, they want congressional majorities, and they want to win the White House.
On the populist side - there's various phrases, by the way. You can call them populist, you can call them insurgents, you can call them Tea Party adherent, although Tea Party is a bit more confusing. I think the sort of general term that I try to use is the insurgent wing, the leaders including Jim DeMint, who's the former senator from South Carolina who now runs the Heritage Foundation; certainly in Congress, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. The two senators have embraced the role of sort of leaders of that wing.
And then in the House you've got a few dozen mostly junior members of the House who have become spokesman for this insurgent wing, too.
GROSS: John Boehner was unable to bring a clean CR to the floor or to pass the Tea Party budget, and I'm wondering if you think he's an especially weak House leader or whether it's just that there's no party loyalty anymore among the insurgents, so it's hard to get agreement.
MARTIN: Well, that's one of the most fascinating developments of the last few years and of this insurgent movement, Terry, is that the traditional factors of party loyalty that have driven politics and shaped politics, especially on Capitol Hill for so many years, do seem to be fading away.
I talked to Senator Jim DeMint over the weekend for a story that we did, and he said big money just does not have the influence that it used to. What he means there is the role of K Street, which is Washington's lobbying corridor, the corporate interests that are represented in Washington used to have significant sway over Republicans in no small part because of campaign contributions.
They do still have some sway, but it is diminished now because there are other outside groups that are much more ideological, much more pure, that have more clout because they have more connections with grassroots voters in districts and states. And right now, a lot of them in the House, certainly in the Senate as well, are more concerned about primaries than they general elections.
And if that's the case, then they're going to respond politically in a way on these kinds of issues that makes them insulated from a primary threat on the right. And so that's how they're acting. That's how they're behaving. I think that explains a lot of what's happened on Capitol Hill the last few months.
GROSS: So let's talk about Heritage Action, which has become a very powerful group within the insurgent wing of the Republican Party. And it is basically the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation. It's a relatively new group. Jim DeMint, the former senator from South Carolina who was one of the, as you put it in the article, I think one of the godfathers of the Tea Party...
MARTIN: Right, yeah.
GROSS: He is now the head of the Heritage Foundation. So tell us about this new wing, the Heritage Action, the lobbying arm.
MARTIN: Sure. I think it's one of the most interesting parts of this story. For a long time, as some of your listeners will know, Terry, Heritage was a think-tank like a lot of Washington think-tanks. They churn out white papers and come up with policy ideas. In fact ironically, the notion of mandating Americans to buy health care actually came from the Heritage Foundation originally back in the '90s. Obviously times have changed since then.
But the Heritage foundation was somewhat musty, staid, like a lot of think-tanks in Washington. What happened was they decided to be much more of an action-oriented think-tank and even more of a lobby, and they created this arm called Heritage Action that aggressively lobbies Capitol Hill, that scores votes, if you will, which sort of give the lawmakers a letter grade for certain votes.
And if you talk to any congressional Republican, they will tell you that nowadays, with conservatives, Heritage Action is the big kid on the block, that lawmakers see them out there, and if they are on one side of an issue, that will compel a lot of lawmakers on the right to sort of walk that line.
So it's a real sea change in Washington. What has happened to this really old think-tank, and it is now in Congress, I think for Republicans, the most powerful lobby, more than the Chamber of Commerce, more than the manufacturers or any of the other traditional K Street outfits. Now they don't necessarily play in campaigns, but there are other groups that will actually play in campaigns.
GROSS: So what are they lobbying for?
MARTIN: They are lobbying for a conservative line, you know, against expanded role for the federal government. The, you know, they don't like the Farm Bill because they don't like farm subsidies, and they have problems with the expansion of the welfare state in terms of food stamps. They didn't like, obviously, the president's health care law, and they were advocates for this strategy, for linking funding the health care law to funding the government more broadly. So they were one of the sort of intellectual architects for this strategy, giving outside support for the likes of Senator Cruz and Lee.
GROSS: Where is Heritage Action's money coming from?
MARTIN: Well, that's a great question. Some of it is from big-name donors. A lot of it's from grassroots individuals. What is interesting is they are very contemptuous of traditional K Street outfits, saying that, you know, the Republicans need to sort of stop blindly following the dictates of the business community, but they don't reveal their own donors. So, some of it actually is mysterious.
GROSS: And how much control does Jim DeMint, who's the head of the Heritage Foundation, have over Heritage Action?
MARTIN: Lots. I mean, he's the head of the whole outfit, so that...
GROSS: Oh, so he's the head of the whole thing, OK.
MARTIN: Yes, yes.
GROSS: And how did he become a godfather of the Tea Party?
MARTIN: Well, he was a House member in South Carolina who, you know, ran for the Senate and won in 2004 and was sort of seen as a fairly, you know, conservative, certainly, but not really a big maker of waves in the Congress. But her really got religion, so to speak, over this issue of earmarks, which in South Carolina was a long bipartisan tradition.
Both senators there for years and years brought home the bacon for roads, bridges, infrastructure, everything else. But Senator DeMint saw an expanding federal government, and one of the sort of ways he was that manifested was members of Congress going to Washington and adding on spending bills with their own pet projects.
And so that's where it really started, with the earmarks, and then from there I think he just became more of a crusader against the sort of size of Washington in people's lives, and I think he also, when he got to the Senate, he saw an old guard over there that was not as ideologically pure as he hoped. And so he began the Senate Conservatives Fund, which tried to bring in more conservative Republicans into the caucus.
And that's been the source of great friction for the last four years, really. That organization plays in primaries. They oppose at times sitting senators, which in the Senate club, as you know, is verboten. I mean that's just - that does not happen. So he's really sort of shaken up, shaken up the very tradition-bound Senate, Terry.
GROSS: So tell us more about the Senate Conservative Fund and where they get their money from.
MARTIN: This is a group that Jim DeMint founded, and their role is basically to try to elect more conservative senators by playing in primaries, including primaries against sitting senators. They were players in the 2010 election. People like Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, get elected. You know, people like Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania get elected. Now, there are other races that were involved that they don't talk about as much, but Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, for example, who lost badly; Ken Buck in Colorado, who also lost.
They get their money from mostly small-dollar givers. I think they have got $2 million in the bank now. They'll certainly have more next year. It's mostly from grassroots donors, online chiefly, who again, who see Washington and see Republicans in Washington as not fully committed or not aggressively committed to rolling back the size of the government.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jonathan Martin. He's a national political correspondent for the New York Times. He co-wrote the New York Times Sunday front page story about the civil war in the GOP. Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jonathan Martin. He's a national political correspondent for the New York Times, and we're talking about the division, the civil war within the Republican Party, which was the front-page story in the Sunday New York Times that he co-wrote.
OK, another group that is backing the insurgent wing of the Republican Party is the Club for Growth.
GROSS: Tell us about the Club for Growth.
MARTIN: This is an older group, Terry, that's been around since the '90s, and they are committed to what they call pro-growth economic policies. So it's a much more fiscal-focused group, and they are committed to sort of supply side economics. And they are a bit different than some of these other groups in the sense that they don't necessarily go after the incumbents to the same degree that the sort of Senate Conservatives Fund is doing.
The best example of that is in Kentucky, where you've got something of a split. You've got the Senate Conservatives Fund already going after Mitch McConnell. You've got former Governor Sarah Palin suggesting that she might go in there and oppose McConnell in his primary.
The Club for Growth, however, is taking a different tack. They are holding their fire and are not committing to going after McConnell, which is I think a fascinating development. Part of the reason for that, Terry, is because the Club for Growth if funded by a lot of big donors. They get their money from a lot of wealthy folks around the country who want sort of low taxes, light regulation. And I think some of those donors are actually fond of Senator McConnell.
So I think the Club for Growth is an organization that is funded much more by sort of big givers than some of these other groups.
GROSS: Where did the Club for Growth stand on opposing raising the debt ceiling and on shutting down the government?
MARTIN: They scored that vote in the House, which is to say that when that vote came up on the floor of the House, I guess it was last week, they said that they prefer a no vote. So they were opposed to the legislation re-opening the government last week and raising the debt ceiling.
GROSS: What confuses me about that is Club for Growth represents certain businesses. And I guess I don't really understand how it could be good for business interests to have the U.S. government either shut down or defaulting on its debts because that would threaten to sink the American economy.
MARTIN: Hurt business, right.
GROSS: And have a terrible impact on the global economy, and that can't be good for business.
MARTIN: Because I think that gets to the distinction between the Chamber of Commerce, for example, and a group like the Club for Growth. The Club for Growth, it's a much more ideologically driven group that is concerned mostly about reducing the size of government and really lightening regulation on business, but it's a much more purist organization.
I mean its whole mission is on sort of small government economics. The Chamber of Commerce is much more of a sort of business-oriented organization. They support some Democrats who are more moderate. They support a lot of moderate Republicans, and for them it's much more what is good for business in the fashion that you're talking about.
GROSS: Let's talk a bit about the Chamber of Commerce. My impression was they had started backing in the past few years more candidates that were on the right side, as opposed to the centrist side, of the Republican Party. But now I think my impression is they think things have gone too far, and they opposed holding hostage the debt ceiling, and they opposed shutting down the government. So where do they...
MARTIN: They've been radicalized by the radical right...
GROSS: Well, do you get the impression that they helped certain insurgents get into office, and now they think, wait a minute, we've lost control?
MARTIN: Oh, I'm sure there's some buyers' remorse for some of the candidates they supported. And look, I think one of 2014's most important developments, if it happens, could be what call the empire strikes back. You know, will groups like the Chamber of Commerce and their allies in Washington's business lobby get organized, work together and try and go out and get some scalps?
The only way that they're going to get respect again in terms of the balance of power in Congress is if they show that, you know, like the Club for Growth or like Heritage Action, that they can be political players. And how do you do that? Well, you go in some of these primaries, and you try and pick a candidate and win.
There's talk about that. We've at the Times, you know, reported about that. There's not anything concrete yet, but that I think is what a lot of these business groups are looking at, is finding Republicans who in their eyes are not supporting business in the fashion that they want. And the question to me is: Can they prove in some of these House races that they can go in there and pick a preferable candidate?
The best example is in Michigan, where there is a young libertarian-leaning congressman from the Grand Rapids area named Justin Amash, and the business community is concerned about him because he's much more of a purist. He was one of the individuals who was leading the charge on the shutdown. And the business community has found somebody who's more of a centrist, and they're helping him.
You know, can the Chamber of Commerce and their allies do more of that in other districts? And I think that's going to be one of the most fascinating storylines next year is this sort of Tea Party/insurgent wing versus the more Main Street Chamber of Commerce wing.
GROSS: Let me quote Scott Reed, the senior political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He said we are going to get engaged. The need is now more than ever to elect people who understand the free market and not silliness.
MARTIN: Well, I'll believe it when they put some money behind some of these races and really, really get engaged. I mean one of the differences between groups like Heritage Action and Club for Growth and groups like the Chamber of Commerce is that traditionally the latter have been more calculating, more, more cautious, you know, more reluctant to throw bombs, and I think that may be changing because of what they've seen in the last few weeks in Washington.
But again, these groups are not sort of bold by nature. So I think if they do go in that direction, that will be a change.
GROSS: We were talking about the Chamber of Commerce and who they're funding and how they had funded a lot of insurgents and now are maybe having buyer's remorse about that. What's John Boehner's relationship, funding-wise, to the Chamber of Commerce?
MARTIN: Oh, well, he raises a lot of money from the Chamber and its members and its affiliates and is close to that world. A lot of his former top staffers, and keep in mind that John Boehner's been in Congress now for a few decades; a lot of his former staffers work in the Washington lobbying community and are close to business.
And so he's part of that. What was fascinating, though, is that the Chamber of Commerce knew where he was on the shutdown issue, and they weren't able to exert that much pressure on him because they know that he is more responsive to his members, who are more responsive to Heritage Action, than them.
I mean it's really a fascinating dynamic here in Washington, Terry, where a Main Street business, you know, Republican like John Boehner is effectively now much more beholden to these conservative outside groups than he is his traditional Main Street allies. And the reason for that is because his members, his caucus themselves are more driven by the conservative outside groups.
GROSS: You know, the article that you wrote in the New York Times on Sunday is about the civil war in the GOP. I'm wondering if you could've written an article about the civil war in John Boehner.
MARTIN: Sure. I mean he's got a tough job, and he's trying to sort of balance what he thinks is right for the country - i.e., raising the debt ceiling - with keeping his conservative member mollified. And that is a difficult balancing act for him. You know, a lot of folks in Washington speculate that he might call it a career next year, and the reason there's that speculation is because people wonder why he wants the job, because it is so - it is so tough.
And it's going to be interesting to see if he does re-up next year for two more years, Terry.
GROSS: So let's talk about another group that has a lot of sway now in the insurgent - over the insurgent wing of the Republican Party, and that's the Madison Project. Who are they, and what's their mission?
MARTIN: Sure, well they are similar to these other conservative outside groups like Heritage Action, like the Club for Growth, which is basically dedicated to electing more purist conservatives in the Republican ranks. Their money chiefly comes from small donors. That's one of the themes that you'll find here with this civil war in the party is that it's harder for Republican traditional outfits like the RNC, like the Senate and the House Campaign Committee, to raise money because there are so many other organizations now that have a claim on the contributions of conservatives and who chiefly fundraise based on not just Democrats or President Obama but on trying to hold their own members accountable.
And so that's a very compelling message for a lot of grassroots, you know, conservatives nowadays.
GROSS: Jonathan Martin will be back in the second half of the show. He's a national political correspondent for the New York Times and co-wrote Sunday's front page story on the civil war in the GOP. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Jonathan Martin, national political correspondent for The New York Times. He co-wrote the front page story in Sunday's Times about the civil war in the Republican Party, between establishment Republicans and Tea Party conservatives. We're talking about some of the groups funding and lobbying each side.
Let's talk a little bit about Karl Rove and his superPAC, American Crossroads. My impression is - and tell me what you think of this - that Karl Rove helped empower the far right of the Republican Party, because his goal was, if you bring in those people, they will tip the balance so that the Republicans win. Because the vote was so pretty equally divided between Democrats and Republicans in presidential elections, that his goal was just, like, bring in more of the Republicans, and that'll be enough.
GROSS: But he brought in people from the far right, and I think now he's lost control of them. And they've become - instead of tipping the balance and adding themselves to the Republican vote, they're their own faction and they're fighting the Republicans, and they're threatening to divide the vote.
MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Right. That's the multiplication, not addition theory. Or some would call it the routing the tiger theory, where the tiger turns up and eats you. I actually differ a little bit on that, because I think that there's no question that Rove and President Bush brought more conservatives, more evangelicals, more ideologically driven folks on the right to the polls in '04, and that's part of the reason that they won. But you also have to look at how they fared with other groups. Hispanics come to mind, moderates, women. George W. Bush fared much better with those groups in 2004 than his successors did later. And if you look at the party's polling now with those groups, compared to what Bush had in '04, the party's gone downhill.
My theory of the case, when it comes to Rove - and more broadly Bush - is that this Tea Party movement began because even though those groups - the conservatives that you're talking about - supported President Bush in his two elections, they were disappointed. The expansion of Medicare, you know, Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, immigration reform and certainly the TARP bailout in the fall of '08, combined with some other issues, I think led to a sense of disappointment with President Bush, and more broadly, with the party, among a lot of conservative activists. Then, when John McCain lost, convincingly, to President Obama, and President Obama began, you know, health care, the stimulus, I think that that radicalized those conservatives who were already disappointed even more. So I think that you can trace this current moment back to President Bush, but it's more because of the concerted disappointment with some of the so-called big government conservative policies of President Bush.
GROSS: So where do you see Karl Rove's superPAC using its money now in the upcoming elections?
GROSS: Supporting the insurgents, or supporting the more moderate wing?
MARTIN: No. Well, so Karl Rove's superPAC American Crossroads is the biggest player among the sort of so-called establishment wing of the party. They want to get people elected that they think have the best bet to win general elections. Part of what makes this whole story so interesting is the fact that the big money that goes to groups like the Chamber of Commerce, or like American Crossroads, it certainly can matter. But what is challenging is that if the candidates that those establishment groups support are seen as the candidates of the establishment, then that hurts them more than any big money can help them. Once they have that label on them, all the money in the world is going to make it harder for them to overcome - in a primary scenario - being seen as the candidate of the establishment. I mean, there is no worse label now in a Republican primary that you can have than the establishment candidate.
And so, again, I think one of the things to watch next year is how do these so-called establishments groups about picking candidates in primaries without officially, you know, laying hands on them and sort of dubbing them their preferred candidates? Because they don't want that to happen.
GROSS: What is the role now of Christian conservatives...
MARTIN: Great question.
GROSS: ...within the civil war of...
GROSS: ...in the GOP? Because the Christian conservatives were, like, the people that Karl Rove had brought in and...
GROSS: ...President Reagan before that and...
MARTIN: Yeah. Sure.
GROSS: ...that that tipped the scale to the - helped tip the scale to the Republican side and presidential elections.
MARTIN: Yeah. That's right.
GROSS: But you don't hear that much about them now.
GROSS: I don't think Ted Cruz or Rand Paul is especially connected to the Christian right.
MARTIN: It's one of the most fascinating - and there are, Terry, there are so many sub-threads and threads to this story that you can pull on and talk about and write about. This is one of the ones that fascinates me, is they don't get the attention that the so-called Tea Party does. But here's the thing: There is a significant overlap between self-proclaimed Tea Partiers and cultural conservatives, and the role of government on fiscal issues gets more attention now. And it has since TARP, since the bank bailout in the fall of '08. That's been sort of last five years. That's the rule. Fiscal issues get much more attention. And that's because, I think, that more Americans see - more conservative Americans see a sort of ever-increasing federal government on fiscal issues. So that's become their concern.
But there is still a robust cultural conservative movement out there, and especially in so-called red America. And there is overlap, but there's also - there are also some key differences, and I think that's going to be an interesting dividing line in the midterms next year, and certainly in 2016, is a lot of younger, libertarian-leaning conservatives don't count themselves as cultural conservatives. Certainly on the issue of marriage, they're either apathetic about gay marriage or full-throated supporters of gay marriage.
So there are differences within this movement, and some of them are generational, the Rand Paul wing especially. You know, this is a sort of movement that he inherited, in part, from his father, Ron Paul, that he is now working to enlargen(ph) as he looks at a 2016 presidential run. A lot of his younger supporters are much more pure libertarians in terms of a really narrow role of the federal government, and that includes both fiscal and cultural and - an issue that we haven't talked about yet - a much more modest role for America in the world.
GROSS: Is Ted Cruz trying to win over the Christian right?
MARTIN: Yeah. I'd put Ted Cruz in a more traditional conservative - look. He has certainly aligned himself with the Tea Party movement. But in terms of libertarianism, I think he's more of a traditional conservative than certainly Rand Paul. And Ted Cruz is from a very conservative state, a very traditional state on cultural issues. So I think Ted Cruz - who, by the way, is the son of a pastor, and whose father often appears with him at political events - is much more comfortable with traditional social conservatism.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jonathan Martin. He's a national political correspondent for The New York Times. He co-wrote the front page story in the Sunday Times about the civil war within the Republican Party.
So, we've been talking about splits within the Republican Party.
GROSS: What kind of splits do you see in the Democratic Party?
MARTIN: It's one of the most under-covered stories, because you've got this vivid struggle within the Republican coalition. But you have something similar in the Democratic Party that - it just doesn't get the same amount of attention, and it's not nearly as in the moment, because of the fact that you have a Democratic president and you've got a Democratic Party that's, for the first time, largely aligned on cultural issues. I mean, Terry, as you know for a long time, the Democratic Party was sort of this odd coalition. You had people from all over the country, from different walks of life, and it was a much more diverse party in terms of its ideological views on issues like guns and on gay rights and on abortion. Culturally, it's a much more unified party now than it's ever been. So that's fascinating.
Where the division is - and it's largely suppressed right now, because of the fact that we've got a fairly popular Democratic president, popular in terms of his own party. Where they do have their division right now is on fiscal issues, and I think it'll get more attention towards the end of the Obama era. And I've actually written about this. There is an ascending populist wing in the Democratic Party that I think wants to take a much harder line on Wall Street and on big financial interests than what is the center-left democratic consensus over the last 25 years.
I mean, really, since Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, there has been a sort of center-left economic consensus in the party. Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, these are not sort of, you know, pitchfork-waving populists. And I think given the lingering economic issues, given the issues that the Occupy Movement spotlighted, you know, inequality to 1 percent, I think you're going to see much more angst among Democratic activists on economic issues and a desire to take some more aggressive steps on issues like student loan indebtedness, on issues like bank regulation as we get closer to 2016 and their next primary. I think those are the issues that you're going to see fought out.
And the way that I see it personified is Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts sort of beau ideal for a lot of liberals, somebody who takes a harder line on Wall Street and on big corporate interests than some folks in her party are comfortable with. And will be pressure on the left for her to run for president. She's said that she's not going to, but I think that pressure is going to be there, because she is somebody who has a very articulate voice in talking about some of these issues of economic fairness.
GROSS: Where do you see President Obama fitting in within the split in the Democratic Party?
MARTIN: You know, there is disappointment on the left with President Obama on economic issues. I think some people on the left thought he would be much more of a populist than he's turned out to be. And I think they thought that his economic policies, his economic advisers would be more liberal.
Now, look, you don't hear that talked about a lot, because the opposition to President Obama is so robust, I think Democrats feel like they should support the home team. But I think there is disappointment, and I think that explains part of the reason of Warren's popularity in part of the reason why Warren is getting some early buzz on the left for president, because it's sort of a stand-in for what they wish President Obama would have been.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jonathan Martin, and he's a national political correspondent for The New York Times. He wrote the front-page story in the Sunday Times - co-wrote it - about the civil war within the GOP.
Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jonathan Martin. He's a national political correspondent for The New York Times. He co-wrote the front-page story in the Sunday Times about the civil war within the Republican Party.
So, we have more deadlines facing us now. If there isn't a budget agreement reached by December 13th, the second round of sequester cuts start January 15th, that would mean another $19 billion of cuts. Now, Mitch O'Connell, the minority Senate leader, said that Republicans would no longer use the threat of government shutdown or not raising the debt ceiling. But is there a chance that we'll be facing these threats again when the next deadline comes?
MARTIN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Now, McConnell very colorfully said it's not going to happen again. In his phrase: There's no education in the second kick of a mule, which he called an old Kentucky saying. But there are some Republicans on the Hill who apparently have not been hit by the mule, or at least not learned from it. And so, look, I think you'll see some of the same hardliners not wanting to give in when these same issues come up again. And they're going to want to see some kind of concessions from President Obama and the Democrats, you know, before they rate - to fund the government. And the big question: What do those concessions look like? And I think that's going to be what is the sort of topic of debate here for the next few weeks.
GROSS: What do you think the odds are of a deal being reached in this budget committee?
MARTIN: Look, I think it's going to be very difficult to get anything long-term and significant. I think the lines have been drawn, and it'll be tough to get the kind of grand bargain that President Obama and Speaker Boehner were negotiating in the summer of 2011. I hate to be a pessimist, but it seems that the most likely scenario would be to keep sort of extending these deadlines, keep doing sort of small or short-term extensions and, you know, eventually, we'll at the 2014 elections, where, hopefully, there will be some kind of resolution.
GROSS: The fact that the Republicans lost the fight over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling, has that caused, you know, a lot of Republicans to change their strategy, to rethink their approach? And what changes do you see, and what effect do you think the Republican loss over the shutdown and the debt ceiling is going to have on the upcoming elections?
MARTIN: I think it has emboldened the establishment wing to speak out more about what they see as the foolish tactics of the right, in terms of some of these efforts to stop the implementation of President Obama's health care law. So you see more people - both lawmakers and interests who are sort of part of the so-called establishment wing - speaking out now. They sort of have had enough. And as far as the insurgents, they are just as committed now to using any and all tactics to stop President Obama as they were before. They have not been chastened one bit. So I think each wing is more dug in. Each wing is now more committed to speaking out and speaking their mind.
And both of them have incentives to do so. The insurgents are saying what folks want to hear in their grassroots base, and the establishment folks really do think - and now have evidence to hold up and prove it - that the insurgent tactics have hurt the brand of the party.
And there's no question now that looking at 2014 and the midterms, that the prognosis for the Republicans is now poor. The good news for Republicans is that this happened in the fall of 2013 instead of the fall of 2014, and the election isn't for another year. If it was sooner, they'd be in a world of hurt.
And so it probably is less likely now that Republicans take back the Senate, and there is now more of a chance that Democrats could take back control of the House. However, a lot can change between now and next year, and those dynamics certainly could change, but there is no question, in the short term, these last few weeks have benefitted the prospects for Democrats.
GROSS: Before you joined the New York Times to serve as a national political correspondent, you were with Politico, and you were with Politico when they were created in 2007. So you've been covering politics seriously since at least 2007. What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in American politics since then?
MARTIN: Oh, you have to point to the power of technology and the rise of the Internet. It really has, you know, made the world more connected and changed the way politics happened. I think people now, regardless of where they are in the country, are much more tuned in to national politics - and, by the way, the day-to-day or week-to-week sort of vicissitudes of national politics than they were in an earlier day.
And the way, Terry, that I see that manifested is during the presidential primaries and caucuses, they're much more shaped by what is happening in national developments than they are what's happening in states, or in even localities. Take, for example, the last GOP primary. You had this series of Republicans who rise and fell in national polls, and eventually, of course, Romney was the nominee.
But you saw that reflected in the states. The states themselves are no longer sort of islands that are driven by their own quirky traditions and their own culture. It's a much more homogenous political culture. People, especially the political activists who participate in the primaries, they watch the same channels. They read the same publications online, and they're sort of driven by similar factors if they're in Concord, New Hampshire or if they're in Waterloo, Iowa.
And I think that, to me, is the biggest difference, is there is more - the walls have come down. People now operate much more uniformly across the country in terms of their political actions.
GROSS: Jonathan Martin, thank you so much for talking with us.
MARTIN: Thank you, Terry. I really enjoyed it.
GROSS: Jonathan Martin is a national political correspondent for the New York Times. He co-wrote Sunday's front page story on the civil war in the GOP. You'll find a link to it on our website: freshAir.npr.org. Coming up, Milo Miles tells us about electro-swing, a new style of dance music blending vintage sounds with modern beats. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.