Republicans: Defining the Three Factions

Phil Jensen


republicans-2012_wby David John Marotta and Megan Russell

The Republicans ran more than a dozen candidates in the 2012 primary and then three presidential candidates in the national election.

In the United States, regardless of the number of actual political parties, the two-party system dominates our political landscape. Third parties arise to challenge the reigning champs, but at the end of the battle, only two major parties remain.

Rick Kriebel 2016


Our current Democratic and Republican parties only gained their standing in the late nineteenth century. Currently the Republican Party is in turmoil, with at least three distinct factions fighting for political control.

The first faction is best called Rockefeller Republicans, likely the most traditionally Republican. The term came into use because of the political views of Nelson Rockefeller, Gerald Ford’s vice president. However, it could be argued that these Republicans resonate historically with Abraham Lincoln, dubbed “the first Republican president.” A recent Rockefeller politician is Mitt Romney.

First and foremost, Rockefeller Republicans are pro-business. They oppose excessive regulation, high corporate taxes and government bailouts. They believe in “letting the market run its course” rather than permitting the federal government to choose which businesses will succeed or fail. However, they do promote generic pro-business legislation.

Woodrow Wilcox


In Lincoln’s day, his pro-business intervention took the form of high protective tariffs to discourage international competition as well as federally funded railroad and canals to assist the reach of corporations.

Contemporary Rockefeller Republicans like Romney promote “energy independence,” meaning the federal government helps local businesses by boycotting their international competition. Romney also supported federal research and development grants while opposing government bailouts.

The primary slogan of Rockefeller Republicans is most easily summarized as “What’s good for business is good for America.” Very few, if any, Democrats sympathize with Rockefellers.

Social conservatives, in contrast, can be found across the political spectrum. They are a minority faction in both the Democratic and Republican parties, emphasizing traditional values and morality.

The term “social conservatism” comes from the nonpolitical sense of the two words. Social conservatives want traditional social institutions to remain strong.

Social conservatism as a political term, however, is relatively new. Up until the last century, the values of social conservatives were rather commonplace across American society and often influenced public policy.

The political party that most accurately represents social conservatives today is the Constitutionalist Party. A recent spokesperson of this view is Virgil Goode.

Social conservatives most of all want to defend values and attack vices. As represented in the Constitutionalist Party’s “Seven Principles,” they support the sanctity of life, a traditional family and personal property. They oppose abortion, gay marriage and unreasonable searches.

They believe the government should grant individuals the freedom to follow their conscience and thus allow them to take moral action. But they also want the government to impose strict laws against immoral acts without regard for an individual’s conscience.

Social conservatives also heavily emphasize traditional values such as courage, hard work and loyalty. Thus they love the military and police force.

A social conservative slogan could easily be this Thomas Huxley quote: “The only freedom I care about is the freedom to do right; the freedom to do wrong I am ready to part with.”

Even though social conservatives frequently disagree with Rockefeller Republicans, they often find themselves supporting the same political candidates for different reasons.

Although the Tea Party purposefully avoids stating an opinion on social issues, many social conservatives sympathize with the slogan “Taxed Enough Already” and consider themselves Tea Party members.

The third faction on the conservative side is the Libertarian Party, the largest third party in the United States. Their 2012 presidential candidate was Gary Johnson.

The Libertarian Party has it roots in the ideals of classical liberals like Thomas Jefferson. It takes its name from the word “liberty,” the party’s only goal.

Libertarians want to promote freedom for all. As stated on their website, the party is “the only political organization which respects you as a unique and competent individual.”

They oppose anything that violates individual liberty and promote anything that supports individual liberty. Libertarians believe federal legislation should deny the government rights and protect those of the individual.

Even when Libertarians agree with social conservative values, they do not think such values should generate federal law. Rather than insisting that their values become law, they believe everyone should be free to choose how to live their own lives. They stress personal responsibility and the principle of self-ownership.

Unlike Rockefeller Republicans, Libertarians do not even recognize businesses as entities. They see a business as a group of organized individuals, nothing more. Thus the liberty awarded to each of those individuals is all that public policy should govern.

The only role of government that Libertarians promote is helping individuals defend themselves from force and fraud. One of their unofficial slogans is “Minimum government, maximum freedom.”

All three factions placed in the top three positions of the Republican primary. Rick Santorum represented the social conservatives; Ron Paul, the Libertarians. Mitt Romney, the most moderate candidate, won the internal contest.

The resulting Republican ticket was less distinctive than it could have been and only garnered lackluster support. Conservatives need to clearly define their core values. Are they promoting the welfare of big business, legislating morality or advocating personal freedom and responsibility?

If the goal was simply to gain more traction on the national stage, Libertarians are the right place of unification. All Republican factions find common ground in Libertarian economic policy, and Democrats sympathize with its concept of social freedom. Libertarian social freedoms even allow social conservatives the best chance of following their conscience free of government intervention.

The Libertarian Party is often perceived as the best of both major parties minus all the corporate and social interventions that make them at odds with one another.



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David John Marotta CFP®, AIF®, is President of Marotta Wealth Management, Inc. of Charlottesville providing fee-only financial planning and wealth management at Subscribe to his blog at Questions to be answered in the column should be sent to questions at emarotta dot com or Marotta Wealth Management, Inc., One Village Green Circle, Suite 100, Charlottesville, VA 22903-4619.
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