Heading into the Republican Convention, there has been much speculation about the effect of factions inside the GOP. There are the libertarian followers of Ron Paul, the Tea Partiers, and the reformers from various states. In many accounts, factionalism has a negative connotation. But, as I've argued at length in a recent book, it shouldn't. Party factions are often catalysts of change that shift the internal calculus of both the party in which they reside and their opponents. We've already seen some of these effects with the Tea Party. Readers of this blog are familiar with the attempts of governors like Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and Mitch Daniels to respond to new economic and political realities and translated the Tea Party faction's often inchoate instincts into tangible policies. As I show in my book, all this is nothing new and follows well established patterns in American politics.
Since the Civil War, factions have shaped the parties' ideologies, impacted presidential nominations, structured patterns of presidential governance, and impacted the development of the American state. Factions are often more important than the parties themselves in driving political change. Yet, opposition to the other party usually provides sufficient glue to hold competing factions inside a single party.