It’s not too much of a stretch to say there’s a civil war raging within the Republican Party.
On one side is the tea party that demands adherence to conservative ideals, and on the other side is the so-called establishment that seeks to moderate the party’s message.
If the ongoing controversy surrounding the GOP Mississippi senate primary is any indication, the rift between these two sides will only continue to widen — with the chances of the party becoming a unified whole becoming a dimmer prospect.
But Pat Buchanan points out in his new book, “The Greatest Comeback,” that internal party strife is nothing new to the GOP, and one unlikely man was able to effectively bridge the gap between conservatives and moderates.
That man was Richard Nixon.
“Nixon’s persona, Nixon’s ability, Nixon’s genius, and his perseverance and patience with the abuse he took in reaching out to both sides and endorsing everyone and campaigning for everyone,” Buchanan told The Daily Caller on how the 37th president was able to bring together the party’s warring factions.
Buchanan recounted how the viciousness of the party strife really came to a head in the 1964 presidential primary that pitted conservative favorite Barry Goldwater against moderate leader Nelson Rockefeller.
“Some of the politics are as nasty and vicious as they were against Barry Goldwater and between Goldwater and Rockefeller,” Buchanan recalled. “I just talked to a friend the other night who was in the balcony of San Francisco’s Cow Palace [the site of the 1964 Republican National Convention] yelling at Rockefeller when he was speaking.”
Nixon was able to breach this burgeoning gap in 1968 and 1972 by working with both sides on a variety of issues and his ability to pitch himself as the man who could bring not just the party together, but the majority of the nation together to cast their ballot for the Republicans.
However, he was not able to eliminate the divide in the party stemming from the 1964 primary and Buchanan admitted that “that breach in the party still exists.”
He said that his own 1992 Republican presidential primary campaign reinforced the notion that the division within the party had not gone away and that the leader of the party at the time — George H.W. Bush — could not keep it united like Nixon could.
“Bush kept us united for a time, but I ran against the President of the United States and we pulled an awful lot of folks away from him, three million in the primary,” Buchanan said.
“This thing constantly reasserts itself. It is endemic in the party.”
The outspoken voice for populist conservatism also sees a vicious fight approaching in the 2016 primary, and that it could cost the GOP another chance at the White House.
“Everybody is certainly aware of the fact that you could have a really, bloody battle here which forfeits any chance of winning the presidency,” Buchanan said.
When asked who he thinks might have the ability to bridge this divide like Nixon could, Buchanan didn’t have an answer.
“Do I see a figure now who can pull these elements together? No, I don’t see it right now,” the political commentator said.