CIVIL WAR: GOP Coalition Splinters Into Open Conflict Over Debt Ceiling

The Republican leadership’s efforts to avert a debt ceiling crisis with a two-tiered set of cuts is turning into the most divisive wedge issue the party has confronted since President Obama took over in 2009.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) may have thought his face-saving plan, which he hoped to bring to the floor Wednesday, offered a path to victory. However, since treading upon it he’s been beset from all sides. It’s not just that the President is threatening to veto the bill, should it ever make it past the Senate; it’s that Boehner’s fellow conservatives are sniping at him with (not so) friendly fire. Now the vote he’d hoped to bring triumphantly to the floor Wednesday looks delayed until at least Thursday, and even then the outcome is uncertain.

That’s because the GOP is teetering on the brink of a debt-based civil war. More traditional Republicans and big business types are desperate to avoid a recovery-crushing default. But their Tea Party colleagues are leading a rebellion of epic – perhaps even galactic – proportions. Cue the John Williams music and find out who stands where in this stand-off between the Establishment’s storm-troopers and the Rebel Alliance.Boehner’s Imperial Legion

Boehner has rallied core elements of the Republican establishment to his cause, including business leaders, the House leadership and even the aging warrior Fred Thompson.

His generals:

The Chamber Of Commerce

Perhaps the establishmentiest part of the GOP establishment is firmly behind Boehner’s plan to get the debt ceiling raised for a few months. The Chamber sent a letter to members Tuesday urging them to vote for the plan and promising that the bill will be included in the Chamber’s annual congressional vote scorecard.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)

The preeminent GOP voice on budget issues (and chair of the powerful budget committee) is also standing with Boehner. In a National Review op-ed published Tuesday afternoon, Ryan took the tack of most of Boehner’s supporters: the bill ain’t perfect, but it’s better than letting through the Democratic alternative.

Grover Norquist

The anti-tax pledge Norquist commands has led him to be a central player in the debt ceiling debate. In most cases, Republicans are terrified to cross him. This may not be one of those cases. Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform say the Boehner plan is fine with them, giving Boehner a strong ally in the fight.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor

At his press conference discussing his proposal Monday, Boehner stood with all of the House GOP leadership at his side. But none mattered more than Cantor, who helped scuttle the “grand bargain” plan Boehner and Obama had worked out over the revenue increases contained within it. On Tuesday, he called on his Republican colleagues to get on board with Boehner’s new proposal.

Rep. Allen West (R-FL)

West may be Boehner’s Benedict Arnold — the rebel leader who changes teams and goes back to work for the dark side. Unlike most tea partiers, West signaled his support for the Boehner proposal, giving the Speaker hope that his caucus would act as one with just days to go until default.

Many Of The Presidential Candidates Who Are Not Michele Bachmann

The good news: many of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination are not publicly opposed to Boehner’s plan. The bad news: two of them are Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman (neither of whom are regarded as rock stars by the Republican rank-and-file).

Fred Thompson

Hey, do you want to know what Fred Thompson thinks about the debt ceiling debate? He thinks Boehner’s plan is a good one. So there’s, uh, that.

Those are the big players fighting for the Empire. Now it’s on to….

The Rebel Alliance

Leading the rebellion against Boehner is a scrappy coalition of small government groups, Tea Partiers, and ultra-conservative lawmakers. Will they be able to regain control of the Debt Star and harness its power, or will it blow up in their face?

The key players:

The Cut, Cap, And Balance Crew

Hardline conservatives in the House and Senate have demanded a “Cut, Cap, and Balance” deal that includes a radical balanced budget amendment that would cut entitlement programs by massive amounts. While the Republican leadership has already paid lip service to the bill and even passed it in a symbolic vote, CCB backers like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) are demanding the whole enchilada or they’ll force a default. Both DeMint and Jordan believe they have enough Republicans pledged to their side to scuttle Boehner’s weaker proposal.

Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul

Presidential candidates, sitting House members, and influential Tea Party figures, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul have been busily tearing down any and every potential deal since the debt ceiling fight began. That’s because neither of them believes it should be raised at all. It’s been the centerpiece of Bachmann’s TV ads and Paul has launched his own online campaign to rally Republicans against any compromise by their leadership. Trailing behind is Tim Pawlenty, who politely (how Minnesota!) rejected Boehner’s plan late Tuesday.

Club For Growth

The anti-tax organization was famous for going after Republicans in primaries even before the rise of the Tea Party. Now with their former president, Pat Toomey, helping to lead the rebellion from within the Senate, the Club has only become emboldened. CFG has demanded a balanced budget amendment or default, with little wiggle room at all. As for the Boehner plan, “It cuts almost nothing immediately, it caps only discretionary spending, and it does not require passage of a balanced budget amendment,” according to a statement on the group’s website.

The Tea Party

Tea Party groups are often too busy fighting their own civil wars against each other to make an impact, but leading activists are mostly united in condemning Boehner’s efforts to secure a deal. Freedomworks, led by ex-Majority Leader Dick Armey, is whipping conservative lawmakers and other Tea Party-leaning groups against the latest proposal and throwing its backing behind Cut, Cap, and Balance. “The only introduced plan that could protect our national AAA credit rating is Cut, Cap and Balance,” the group’s CEO, Matt Kibbe, said in a blog post. And they’re the moderates in this category: the grassroots Tea Party Patriots are demanding that the debt ceiling not be raised under ANY circumstances.

Lindsey Graham

Much like Lando Calrissian, Graham’s motives are complex and mysterious. On the one hand, he’s one of the leading moderates in the Senate and even urged his colleagues recently to accept a tax increase as the price of a debt ceiling compromise. On the other hand, he came out on Tuesday against Speaker Boehner’s compromise because it fell short of the Tea Party’s favored Cut, Cap, and Balance pledge. Could long-simmering threats of a primary challenge from the right in 2014 have anything do with his sudden change of heart?