The prospective 2016 GOP presidential nominees are increasingly unhappy. Not with Democrats, but instead with each other.
Now, as I argued in The Guardian a couple of months back, conservatives should welcome policy debates that help forge the GOP's evolving identity. This process is crucial post the 2012 disaster. However, what we're witnessing at the moment has very little do with the exchange of ideas. With Christie and Paul engaged in a bitter and very public personal conflict, the GOP is starting to look like a soap opera. As Matt Lewis has noted, it was always inevitable that the 2016 field would begin to openly challenge each other. However, the tone of these exchanges does not bode well for the GOP's necessary re-branding.
As Rand Paul and Marco Rubio illustrated during the drone debate, just because politicians disagree on major issues, this doesn't mean that they must disagree on all issues, or make their distinctions personal.
Anyway, from my viewpoint, resurgent hostility in the conservative movement is just as much about identity as it is about political manoeuvring. Case in point- at the same time as Christie v Paul, we're witnessing another battle in a different field - that of the pundits - Scarborough V Hannity. Conservatives of all ideologies realize that change is coming. In part, this explains why the internal immigration debate within the GOP has been so heated. As a result, desperate to shape change in ways that bind with their own ideological outlooks, we're seeing conservatives return to labelling. From 'RINOs' to 'wacko birds', the battle lines of conservative identity are hardening.
Sure, this gamesmanship might be amusing, but from a general conservative perspective it's also bad news. As relentless and increasingly bitter insults are thrown out and thrown back, the conservative movement will continue to fracture. As the 2014 midterms approach, this dynamic is likely to combine with other challenges- in so helping to make the GOP's electoral position an unnecessarily precarious one.
In short, conservatives on all sides must cool the rhetoric.