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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.

And so far, it's pretty clear who's winning.

As Time's Michael Crowley writes: "With the sequester scheduled to inflict $46 billion in cuts to the Pentagon budget, President Obama has offered an alternative that would mitigate the cuts, in part, by raising taxes on the wealthy. But Republican leaders won’t swallow any new taxes or accept smaller cuts to the federal budget. And so, defense will get the budget ax. And national security conservatives, long accustomed to being granted virtually every wish by their party, find themselves appalled."

The GOP's national security conservatives have made it clear they believe the sequester is not just bad policy, but extremely dangerous. Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona recently called it "outrageous and shameful," saying it "impairs the ability to defend our nation in these very tense times with great challenges to our national security."


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