What now for the Republican-Conservative conventicle?
IF YOU THINK THAT THE 2008 presidential contest was a long and painful process, just wait for the post-election fight on the right. The recriminations began before The One ascended into electoral heaven.
On the question of how we got here, conservatives seem to have broken down into roughly two competing camps. One says that the Republican Party keeps encountering defeat at the ballot box because it isn’t conservative enough. For eight years under George W. Bush, there was compassion without conservatism in the form of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, No Child Left Behind, amnesty for illegal immigrants, and increases in discretionary spending unseen since Lyndon Johnson splurged on guns and butter at taxpayer expense. The Republican Congress was even worse, indulging in ethical lapses and binging on pork. Yet this year, Republicans nominated a presidential candidate to Bush’s left.
Other conservatives counter that there is something deeply wrong with the Republican message, and maybe even conservatism itself. While millions worried about their vanishing stock portfolios, disappearing jobs, and nonexistent health insurance, the GOP was at best offering solutions to the problems of 1980 and at worst being smothered by a conservative cocoon more concerned about Bill Ayers than Joe the Plumber. John McCain, they argued, was particularly ill suited for the role of compelling economic messenger in this climate.
There is an element of truth to both critiques. Conservative domestic policy must go beyond attacking earmark abuses and chanting, “Drill, baby, drill!” But that doesn’t mean the right should cozy up to big government. Rockefeller Republicanism was good for Nelson Rockefeller, but not the GOP as a whole. Conservatives must resist succumbing to either the liberal conventional wisdom or the right’s own herd mentality. The former produced numerous catty attacks on Sarah Palin, the true star of the Republican ticket; the latter convinced many conservatives that the surge made the Iraq war a winning issue.
Few Americans are Tories, making big-government conservatism untenable. Thankfully, not many more are liberals.
W. James Antle III is associate editor of The American Spectator.
Well. Now that was unpleasant.
The most liberal member of the United States Senate, a man with no training, education, or experience relevant to the job, will be the president of the United States for the next four years. And his vice president will be a man whose claim to 36 years of experience in foreign policy is tarnished only by the fact that he has been wrong on every major issue.
The result was inevitable: John McCain is not a conservative and his running mate, Sarah Palin, was not ready for prime time. Between the two, they failed to appeal to the essential conservative constituencies and unite them. Reagan Democrats—facing the financial crisis—largely went for Obama. Evangelical Christians in places such as Ohio could have made the difference in some states.
Let the recriminations begin, let the tumbrels—and the heads — roll. The Republican Party has to define and solve the problems that led them into the wilderness. Some are obvious. Some are not. Two examples:
First, the Democrats require anyone who votes in their primaries to at least profess allegiance to their party. Republicans, by allowing cross-over voting in early primaries, enabled the Democrats and independents to choose their candidate. Don’t believe it? Examine the margins by which Sen. McCain won in places such as New Hampshire. The margin of his victory in those primaries was equal—according to the exit polls—to the percentage of cross-over votes. And the Republican Rules Committee has adopted these same bizarre rules for 2012.