I don't know why RSM is so insistant on bringing up Ross Douthat's Harvard credentials, since they don't speak to anything anymore than my lower-tier ivy credentials might. They're irrelevant to his argument, which is summarized as follows: Senator McCain's loss should not necessarily be construed as a failure of moderate Republicanism (though Rush is saying it is). Instead, it's a failure of strategy, given its substance-free approach.
Ross's assessment omits this point. The substance-free approach of McCain and Co. is absolutely tied to moderate Republicanism and the campaign's strategic failure. McCain's lackluster response to the economic crisis is a perfect example of this. His aversion to addressing issues was rooted in lacking a coherent philosophy as the thread to weave through it. What was it the press and conservatives have been howling about for months? The lack of a message. Wouldn't that message have been solidified if McCain ran on simply more than "I was for the surge before anyone else was?"
Yet that's what moderate Republicanism offers. It offers a few issues where their expertise might be attractive to independents. In this game, however, a Democrat always wins. Why? Because a Democrat can argue about the need for moderation as a way to shortcircuit concern about going too far with spending. No one in the party will call the candidate on his ambition. A moderate Republican, however, has to contend with a party base that's a little more discerning.
Rush's point was that true conservatism -- a belief in the right to life, a strong national defense, and limited government, resonates in a way that does not happen with watered-down self-servatism, because the latter is too difficult to effectively communicate in a way that resonates with independents and core conservatives. The point is that you can reach independents using a conservative message. When you try to simply cater your message to independents, though, it makes little sense -- because independents themselves have a philosophy that doesn't quite make sense (otherwise, more people would be attracted to it, right?).
Ran Hay, a commenter on Stacy's earlier post, puts it fantastically well: "Even 'moderates' and 'undecideds' pine for clear choices."
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