The nightmare express for the GOP establishment rolled through Ames, Iowa this weekend as the Family Leadership Summit came to the ever-crucial caucus state. This year's event was headlined by superstar Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and also included a few faces from the past including former Iowa Caucus winner Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) and businessman Donald Trump. The Summit, now in its second year, is designed to educate and mobilize the social conservative base, but has increasingly served as a platform where the socially conservative wing of the GOP has attacked moderate Republicans for abandoning their values and imperiling the cause of the conservative movement.
Over the course of the three-day summit, establishment Republicans were routinely criticized for compromising on social and economic issues. Santorum told a capacity crowd that "his challenge to the Republican Party is to take a page out of [the evangelical wing's] book and start pushing forth an agenda of ideas to raise up folks" who would want to vote for GOP candidates. Santorum went one step further by praising President Obama's tactics in the 2012 election, by saying that he at least spoke to social conservatives instead of marginalizing them, like the Republicans did.
Cruz chose to focus his speech at the Summit on his upcoming push to defund Obamacare after the August recess, when Congress will vote to raise the debt ceiling and fund the federal government past September 30. Cruz derided his fellow senators for refusing to use the September debate as a linchpin for defunding Obamacare and said that Congress could not be counted on to accomplish this task. Cruz's father, Rafael who also spoke at the Summit, mirrored his son's remarks saying, "Obamacare is going to destroy the elderly by denying care … to people who are in catastrophic circumstances."
Such rhetoric from two standout conservatives greatly stirs rumors of a fractious divide amongst congressional Republicans and within the national GOP as a whole during a critical moment when party unity is seen as essential. With many controversial issues like immigration reform, an internet sales tax and a farm bill coming before Congress when it returns from its August recess, some within the Republican Party are forced to wonder whether it can maintain national legitimacy while continuing to be split internally on so many consequential issues.