Politics abhors complexity. As a result, recent reports of a “civil war” on the Right over the Republican budget and health care strategies are often framed as moderates versus conservatives, or as pitting the Tea Party against the old GOP establishment.
These sorts of designations serve the purposes of most people entangled in politics. The descriptors are comfortable shorthand for reporters and cable news producers, as well as various political factions.
Democrats like to portray Republicans as being taken over by a group of extremists. Establishment Republicans want to portray their opponents within the party as unreasonable, while Tea Party supporters want to portray all conservatives who disagree with their take-no-prisoners approach as sellouts to the Washington political establishment.
But this made-for-TV spectacle doesn’t recognize another group on the Right. It’s the subset of conservatives who agree with the Tea Party that Republicans should be more faithful to the principles of constitutionally limited government, but who also believe that Tea Party groups often employ counterproductive methods.
Surveying the political landscape over the last decade, these are the people who were sickened by the way the Republican-controlled Congress rubber-stamped President George W. Bush's brand of big-government Republicanism, with its runaway spending, Medicare prescription drug plan and federal expansion of education.
They welcomed the Tea Party movement as a counterweight to the earmark-taking, lobbyist-infested culture in Washington that perpetuates Big Government.
But on the other hand, they acknowledge that there are limits to what Republicans can accomplish by controlling merely the House of Representatives.
For instance, these conservatives didn't think the current Republican-controlled House surrendered in the “fiscal cliff” deal when the GOP agreed to make 82 percent of the Bush tax cuts permanent rather than allow taxes to automatically increase on everybody Jan. 1 in hopes it would lead to a better deal.
This subgroup of people still supported conservative challengers against moderate-to-liberal Republicans Richard Lugar in Indiana, Charlie Crist in Florida, and David Dewhurst in Texas, as well as Bob Bennett in Utah.
In all cases, these were states in which a more conservative candidate could win a general election — and, in all but one case, did win.
But on the other hand, this group thought that Delaware's Christine O'Donnell was a joke of a candidate and that in a deep-blue state that President Obama had just won by 25 points, moderate Republican Rep. Mike Castle was the most conservative electable candidate.
To this subset of conservatives, Mitt Romney was a horrible presidential candidate with a moderate-to-liberal record as governor, but former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would have made a terrible candidate, too.
Just like Tea Party groups, these conservatives passionately oppose Obama's health care law. But at the same time, they thought the strategy of trying to defund it through the budget process was doomed to fail, because it hinged on getting the Democratic Senate -- and Obama himself -- to agree to defund Obamacare.
And this group of conservatives was correct. Despite the fact that government has shut down and the Republican leadership has dug in, there are no signs that Democrats are closer to buckling and defunding Obamacare. In fact, it's not even being discussed.
Meanwhile, the shutdown story has given cover to the Obama administration to divert attention from the disastrous rollout of the health care law.
There is a group of limited-government conservatives sandwiched between the current Tea Party movement and the Big Government, K Street wing of the Republican Party. They are the Tea Party pragmatists.