It was a difficult marriage from the beginning. Its success was largely regional and state by state. But where it worked, it worked well, mainly the South and parts of the West. They papered over their differences for years. Now they've grown apart and a messy divorce looms.
It wasn't exactly a shotgun marriage. The Wall Street/Koch Brothers crowd gleefully accepted the support of Tea Party and evangelical leaders, as long as austerity, high-end tax cuts and deregulation were part of the agenda. The cultural right needed money and legitimacy. Everybody got along.
No more. The split was thrust into public view by Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts, two "turncoats," and the Confederate flag. Responses to the flag controversy, and the new constitutional right to same-sex marriage and upholding Obamacare are dividing the GOP family.
Some see it as a political opportunity. "The stage is now cleared for the next generation of issues." says David Frum a conservative-ish Republican. "Whether the presidential candidates agree or disagree with the results of all this, it allows them to say these issues have been settled and move on to things that offer more of a political home-field advantage," said Tim Pawlenty, the former Republican governor of Minnesota.
Or...Ted Cruz is doubling down. These issues are "motivating the American people to come out and vote for restoring our constitutional system. It's very easy for Republican politicians to stand up and say they oppose Barack Obama. I think the question Republican primary voters should ask is, 'When have you stood up against the Washington cartel? When have you stood up against leaders in our own party?"
Or... Lindsey Graham: "I would not engage in the Constitutional amendment process as a party going into 2016. Accept the Court's ruling."
Or the evangelical/cultural rights lawyer Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. "We have been observing the deconstructing of America. The tolerance level has been exceeded."
Throw in the Koch Brothers, the Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street, and Sheldon Adelson and you have the makings of a food fight of cosmic proportions.
What's becoming apparent is that these factions cannot peacefully co-exist. Mere opposition to Obama or Hillary will not be enough to unite the GOP. The timing of the divorce is not good either. If this had happened in 2013 there would be time to reflect and debate outside of the primary pressure cooker. No such luck now. Voting starts in about six months, and candidates will be declaring themselves in Iowa and New Hampshire very quickly.
In the longer run, the judicial demise of Obamacare and same-sex marriage as political issues does put focus back on economic and foreign policy. The Republicans have clearer messages there (they're wrong about austerity but they explain it well.) Democrats not so much. Hillary is trying to figure out what a progressive economic agenda, one that deals with income inequality and middle-class jobs, looks like. It's to-be-seen if she can put it together.
These are the kind of splits that yield third-parties, be it the Progressive and Bull Moose parties of the last century or Ralph Nader and the Greens. Will calmer heads prevail? Will the pursuit of power trump the deeply-held views of each faction? Who, if anyone, is in charge?
Good questions with no answers for now. If the Republicans can produce a talented and likable presidential candidate they can get past these divisions, like the Democrats did with FDR, John Kennedy or Bill Clinton. No such personality seems available, and they will more likely cannibalize each other than re-connect.
Divorce is almost always ugly, personal and damaging. Republicans are about to learn that again.