When I was growing up in the 1950s the conventional political wisdom was that it was the Democrats who engaged in wild raucous public political battles with each other. Republicans settled their differences behind closed doors and presented a dignified buttoned down image to the public. There was the famous quip of Will Rodgers, "I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat".
The 1948 election encapsulated the contrasting images. Harry Truman, that feisty little man from Missouri traveled around the country on his train shaking his fist and giving em hell. The new deal coalition split into three separate tickets with Truman having to compete with two third party challengers as well as the Republicans. Thomas Dewy, who was described as looking like the groom on top of a wedding cake, preserved his dignity and awaited his inevitable coronation which somehow just didn't quite come off.
Now the Republicans are spending truck loads of money tearing each other apart while the Democrats are discussing whether anybody will even bother to challenge Hillary Clinton. What has happened to the American political scene in the past 60 years?
I think that one of the biggest changes is that the Republicans acquired the socially conservative southerners. They were a major source of problems for the new deal coalition. The South seems to be where some of the most fractious battles with the Tea Party are taking place. Thad Cochran is rather the epitome of the traditional southern senator. He presents the benign face of the old south oligarch and was resting on the laurels of his seniority and the privileges that go with that. Now he has been reduced to going out and stumping for black votes. Just what is this world coming to!
I have never been able to feel that I have really gotten a grip on what the Tea Party is really about. Much of it looks like a bunch of right wing nuts who really aren't wrapped real tight. However, the lunatic fringe doesn't pull in big political money. The TP does.
During the new deal there was a mostly behind the scenes division in the Republicans in terms of cooperating with the policies of the Democratic administration. It was basically along the lines of the East Coast financial elite with international interests and Midwestern business whose financial interests were fundamentally different. The East Coast crowd was typified by the Rockefeller interests. They supported the adoption of the Social Security program and used their resources to influence the policy. FDR was willing to cooperate with them as long as nobody caught him talking to them. He eventually brought Nelson into his administration. The Midwestern crowd, as typified by McCormick were adamantly opposed to anything that would increase labor costs.
There is some indication that we may be seeing a bit of a replay of such a divide between the interests of Wall St and those of people like the Kochs. One of the many ways in which things are different now is that the Sons of the Confederacy are playing on the other team. Restraint and moderation is not part of that culture.