The schism between the establishment Republicans and the Tea Party Republicans, so evident in recent days in the battle over the budget in the United States Senate, is a harbinger of the greater battle over the 2016 GOP presidential nomination between the two factions.
The forces are already lining up. On the establishment side, you have Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. On the Tea Party side, you have Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, and even Sarah Palin.
Make no mistake about it--Palin is running.
Just in the last few days, Palin was in the news, offering her opinions on climate change, President Barack Obama's alleged lack of leadership, and even on a United States Marine holding an umbrella for the president. She's just not seeking media attention for the fun of it. She's staying in the public eye so she can run for president.
The schism between the business-oriented Republicans and hard-right ideologue Republicans has been a part of GOP politics since at least as far back as 1952, when Dwight D. Eisenhower represented the business-focused wing of the party whose members didn't really care about social issues, and Senator Robert Taft of Ohio represented Republicans who cared more about right-wing social philosophies.
The establishment Republicans usually win the nomination--but not always.
In 1964, the battle was between the right-wing ideologue Senator Barry Goldwater, and the establishment businessman, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and Goldwater got the nomination. In 1980, George H.W. Bush was the establishment's standard bearer, but conservative Ronald Reagan ended up being the party's candidate.
A wild card in 2016 will be the effect of the Citizens United decision, which has allowed unlimited corporate funding of campaigns.
Will Citizens United allow the establishment to spend enough money to win the nomination for its candidate no matter how fervent and hard-working the footsoldiers of the Tea Party are?
However, if the establishment agrees with Newt Gingrich, that Hillary Clinton is unbeatable if she's the Democratic nominee for president in 2016, it could spend its money on keeping the House of Representatives and trying to take the Senate and more governorships, leaving a path for a Tea Partier to get the GOP presidential nomination.
The Tea Party has been saying the GOP has been losing presidential elections lately because it's been nominating establishment candidates like John McCain and Mitt Romney for president. If a Tea Partier gets the nomination and loses the general election, that will turn the tables and allow the establishment to say that the GOP can't win with an ideologue.
Or, if there is a national issue that turns the electorate against the Democrats like the Iran hostage crisis did in 1980, the Republican candidate could win no matter how far right his or her politics are.
In any case, there doesn't seem to be another George W. Bush out there for the Republicans--a candidate who has both establishment business credentials and conservative social issues credibility. The candidate in 2016 is either going to be another establishment Republican who will disappoint the Tea Party, or an ideologue who will cause business Republicans to close their wallets.