FORT WAYNE — F. Scott Fitzgerald issued a book called “Crack-Up” in 1945. He made an observation that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Conservative writer R. Emmett Tyrrell wrote two books in the 1980’s called “The Liberal Crack-Up” and “The Conservative Crack-Up,” in which he discussed the incongruities within each movement. They, in his words, “resuscitated the term” F. Scott Fitzgerald had used. In other words, neither internal contradictions nor the seeming eminent break-up of political parties is a new concept.

In recent state and city elections in Indiana, the Republican Party, particularly in the suburban and higher-income areas, is showing some very sharp fissures. The Democrat Party divisions could not have been more sharply illustrated than when the far-left flank shockingly toppled incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley of New York in a primary. He was a top favorite to be the replacement for leader Nancy Pelosi, until he was purged.

I know from personal experience that this phenomenon is not new. In 1969, I was in Indianapolis after just being elected as Indiana College Republican state chairman. While there, I was invited to a small birthday party for Lt. Gov. Richard Folz. State Treasurer John Snyder, southern Indiana political boss Seth Denbo, and two Snyder aides, Deputy Treasurer John Price and my predecessor as CR chairman, Dave Tudor, were also there.  

Two things I remember most. One was Folz, leaning back in his chair and rhapsodizing poetically about the beauty of looking out over the Ohio River, something I had never heard before. Secondly, they were discussing the upcoming (brutal) internal fight for control of the Indiana Republican Party. The election centerpiece was the nomination to oppose Sen. Vance Hartke but internally, GOP officials were removed, from district chairman to ultimately multiple switches of state GOP chairmen. License bureau managers were among the many patronage employees who were terminated.  

But the Folz birthday party memory related to politics I retained was someone turning to me, probably Seth Denbo, and saying: “You’ll learn that battling the Democrats is enjoyable, but there is nothing like a good primary battle.”  He may have said “war.”

It was 1969. In 1968, the Democrat mayor of Chicago had ordered the tear-gassing of fellow Democrat protestors near the lakefront in Lincoln Park. In Indiana, the Democrat governor, Roger Branigin, had been the favorite stand-in for the incumbent President Lyndon Johnson and Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The anti-Vietnam flank had divided into two factions, one backing Eugene McCarthy and the other supporting Bobby Kennedy. Kennedy won the hard-fought, divisive primary. And then Kennedy was murdered, like his brother had been in 1963, and Martin Luther King Jr. had been earlier in 1968.  

When people talk about divisiveness being irreparable today, it is pretty mild by historical standards. It is not even the socialist turmoil of the early 20th Century, led by supporters of Eugene Debs. It is not the Teddy Roosevelt-William Howard Taft massive Republican true crack-up during the same period. It is not 103rd ballot convention of the 1924 Democrat Convention, at which the key factions were southern Ku Klux Klan forces pitted against Catholics backing Al Smith from New York.

Divisions do cost elections. The 1968 election was close, and having southern Democrat George Wallace siphoning off votes probably hurt Humphrey more than winner Richard Nixon. In 1992, Bill Clinton would likely have been defeated had Ross Perot decided not to oppose President H. W. George Bush for largely personal reasons.  

In the Fort Wayne 2019 mayoral election, it was a classic confrontation along the two current Republican fault lines, social issues and economic issues. Tim Smith defeated long-time City Councilman Dr. John Crawford by sharply delineating their differences. Basically, Tim aggressively implied that pro-lifers should not vote for Dr. Crawford because he was not pro-life and, on the economic front, that Crawford was a big government, old guard, tax-increaser whose entire career hurt Fort Wayne.

The abortion issue, in particular, resulted in harsh comments from Dr. Crawford after Mayor Tom Henry swept to victory. In part, he raised a fundamentally difficult question: If pro-lifers expect to gain any support from people who are not pro-life, can they always refuse to support any pro-choice candidate in primaries? One could ask the Democrats the question in reverse, as they punish pro-life candidates. And where does one draw the line on any single issue? What about gun regulation? Immigration reform? It should also be noted that there is big difference between a primary vote and uniting after a primary. But even for primaries, how harshly a campaign is run will impact a fall race.  

The second issue doesn’t grab media attention as often as social ones because, in my opinion, of media personal bias, but the economic division has long loomed large in both parties. Actual splits have come more from economic differences than social ones. The more socialist wing led by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, pushed by some of the new radical leftists in the U.S. House, is more likely to split the Democrats than social issue differences are going to split the Republicans.

Among Republicans, it was for 150 years more of the Main Street versus Wall Street argument but, for example, in Fort Wayne it was more Main Street versus a more libertarian, anti-Chamber of Commerce business view. No tax is good. It is not about federal power that flows from taxation. Almost any tax is wrong, apparently, even at the local and state (e.g. vehicle user tax) levels. Tim Smith bashed Dr. Crawford for all his tax votes. It was on that basis that he dissed Crawford’s entire career on the city council (which Smith has admitted was too harshly stated). The criticisms were of Fort Wayne Main Street businesses, not Wall Street.
The sharpness of the scorn for the business leaders who have worked with the city and that has led to the downtown revival in Fort Wayne set teeth on edge. It is one thing to oppose government assistance, or argue that government should not be picking winners and losers in development, but the tone of calling opponents RINOs (i.e. anyone disagreeing with you) has made it difficult to reunite.

Tom Henry’s ads featured, for example, Marcia Crawford who was furious about the denegation of her husband’s career. Henry featured Chuck Surack, a sort of financial godfather right now for the city and generally a Republican donor. Other Republicans also spoke out for Henry as well. (I did not.  Both candidates had been good friends for over 25 years.)

The question in both political parties is not whether people are going to drop differences. They will not. The primary system is meant to offer choices to voters. However, unless a party desires to lose, its candidates must not detonate nuclear bombs on each other in primaries. Otherwise, either side can implode. Whichever side best succeeds in holding its factions together will win. Our parliamentary system requires coalitions within two parties. It is messy, but works better than the alternatives. 

Souder is a former Republican congressman.