The Republican Problem
Posted by Sal on January 22, 2008
The Republican Party over the course of my lifetime has been a source of both hope and frustration. Hope because it represents the best chance for a return to the ideals of our Constitution, and for advancing the cause of Conservatism. Even our moderate Presidents have helped to stem the tide of liberalism by blocking what the Democrats would do if they had complete power.
The frustration comes in because, since 1980, the Republican party has not nominated a truly conservative candidate in the mold of Ronald Reagan for the office of President. In 1988, George H. W. Bush succeed Reagan as leader of the party, even though there were more conservative candidates in the race (Jack Kemp, Alexander Hague). In 1996, Bob Dole, a moderate, won out over the more moderate Lamar Alexander, and the more conservative Phil Graham, Pat Buchanan, and Steve Forbes. In 2000, the seemed-to-be conservative-but-really-a-moderate George W. Bush won out over John McCain.
Now, in 2004, the most viable Conservative candidate in the race, Fred Thompson, has lost what appears to be a critical defeat (although even Fred has his problems of not being a pure conservative which give one pause — his support for McCain-Feingold and his vote against convicting President Bill Clinton in the impeachment trial — the Constitution is important). The remaining field is made up of candidates who appeal to one or two legs of the Conservative movement, but not all three, with the exception of Mitt Romney. Romney’s problem is that he does not always appear credible on the issues and sincere, as he has had a history of changing his views on some issues to get elected (although not nearly as much as the press would have you believe). He also does not inspire on a regular basis the way Reagan did (with the exception of his speech on Mormonism. If we saw more of that, Romney would be leading the pack). Rudy appeals to the fiscal and security legs, but throws off the social conservatives. Huckabee appeals only to the social conservatives, and preaches a new-brand of populism that attempts to replace true Conservatism. McCain appeals to security conservatives, as well as Democrats and independents.
How did we get here today? First, it has been difficult to find a candidate that truly inspires and leads in the way Ronald Reagan did, and who treats Conservatism as a guiding philosophy rather than a political necessity. Even those who are close to being true Conservatives don’t inspire a movement like Reagan did. Second, the party is fractured. The true Conservatives make up a portion of the party, and a large portion, but not the majority. The rest of the party is made up of people who support one or two of the legs (Social, Fiscal, and Security) but not all three, as well as establishment “Rockafeller Republicans”. Finding a true conservative that can appeal to all but the establishment is difficult, as one or another of the elements is usually missing.
The open primary system is also a major problem for the Republican party electing a true conservative. In this election, the results may have been drastically different if not for the open primary system. For example, assume Huckabee wins Iowa. New Hampshire comes around, and McCain is nowhere to be found, as he did not do well at all among Republicans in that race, and probably drops out. Romney wins New Hampshire and Michigan, and we head to South Carolina. With McCain not in the race, South Carolina decides between Huckabee, Thompson, and Romney. McCain’s Republican voters probably do not go to Huckabee, so they would most likely go to Thompson or Romney, making it a very different primary.
Finally, for the Republican party to succeed beyond 2008, it needs to get back to Conservatism. To do that, a leader must be found who is both a true Conservative and who can inspire the base to vote for them. I’m not sure if there are any out there right now, but one always has to keep hope. The road to defeating liberalism may be long, but it can be achieved. There will be missteps, elections won and lost, and two steps back for every three steps forward, but in the end Conservatism will defeat Liberalism.
Correction: Mike pointed out that Thompson did indeed vote to convict Clinton on the charge of Obstruction of Justice, but not on the charge of Perjury. While I still think that the vote to not convict on Perjury is questionable, it has a bit more credibility than a vote to not convict at all. I stand corrected.