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What sequester says about who's controlling the Republican Party

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J. Scott Applewhite/AP

(Read caption) Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) of New Hampshire confer during a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting this month. Looming cuts to the defense budget are pitting GOP defense hawks against its antitax crusaders.

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Since losing the White House in November, the Republican Party has been going through a very public period of "soul searching," wrestling with what the party stands for and how to broaden its appeal in future elections. Mostly, that struggle has been cast as a fight between the tea party and what's loosely referred to as "the establishment." 

In reality, it's more complicated than that, of course. The GOP, just like its Democratic counterpart, is a messy compilation of a variety of factions – social conservatives, antitax and small-government crusaders, defense hawks, and a hodgepodge of single-issue voters (gun enthusiasts, for example) – all of whom have different, and sometimes conflicting, priorities.

Now, the battle over the “sequester” – the automatic cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary spending scheduled to hit at the end of next week – is highlighting one of those intraparty fights in a big way, by pitting the GOP's defense hawks directly against its antitax crusaders.


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