We need conservatives.
I am not repelled by small c conservatism. On the contrary, I believe conservatism is an essential balance and break on the hunger and energy of the progressive movement. As I read once somewhere, we need gray-haired men wearing gray suits sternly scouring the federal budget for pricey and impractical items. We need those guys saying, “Nope, not this year. We can’t afford it.” We need people that won’t hesitate to go to Afghanistan but who also won’t go to Kuwait without a UN mandate or to Bagdad without a plan. I want those guys to put more cops on the street, crack down on drunk driving and call bullshit on ethanol. Raised in the era of Reagan, my historical impression of conservatism remains a mostly positve one; pragmatism, caution, competent governance and the will to engage with the world as it exists not as one wishes it existed.
But I am repelled by the modern republican party – with its Terri Schiavos, its trillion dollar wars of democratization, antagonism to modern science, systemic torture, gay hate, incompetence at FEMA, and especially its under the radar appointments like that of Dr. David Hager to the FDA.
According to the National Review, the 2008 Republican Party Platform included a ban on stem cell research, not just federal funding. The opposition to abortion gets deeper every year – the 2008 vice presidential nominee opposed abortion even in cases of rape and incest. That same vice presidential nominee also supported teaching religious mythology in public science classrooms. This is the national ticket not the fringe of the party, so I don’t want to hear that only the fringe is crazy. And now the editor of the most popular conservative community blog - a place where Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Mitch McConnell occasionally post, is putting together a leper list for all the heretics who blasphemed Sarah Palin.
The fringe is ascendant.
The findings in this poll show the widening gap between those who self-identify as republicans and the electorate as a whole:
While a sizeable majority of voters say Republicans have lost in 2006 and 2008 because they have been “too conservative,” a sizeable plurality of Republicans say, it is because they have “not been conservative enough.”
Over three-quarters of Republicans say Palin was good choice, while a majority of the electorate says the opposite.
Two-thirds of Republicans say McCain has not been aggressive enough, but a majority of voters think they have been too aggressive.
Looking to the future, a large majority of Republicans say the party needs to “move more to the right and back to conservative principles,” while an even larger majority of all voters say, it should move to the “center to win over moderate and independent voters.”
The country needs a conservative party that is a healthy, robust, and modern – one that is a national party, not a regional one, whose main appeal is to a very narrow subset of people. After the 2008 election there is no longer a single republican congressperson in all of New England. The 2008 electoral map enforces this notion – all of the red states are either southern evangelical or sparsely populated states of the plains and mountain west. Even John McCain’s own campaign manager is sounding the alarm:
Looking forward, [Steve] Schmidt sees the need for a wholesale reinvention of the party. “The party in the Northeast is all but extinct; the party on the West Coast is all but extinct; the party has lost the mid-South states — Virginia, North Carolina — and the party is in deep trouble in the Rocky Mountain West, and there has to be a message and a vision that is compelling to people in order for them to come back and to give consideration to the Republican Party again.”
This map shows the counties where McCain 2008 outperformed Bush 2004. Notice a pattern?
But the demographic problems run deeper than geography – the Republican party also has a major problem with the youth vote, as Daniel so ably demonstrated recently. And depending on which exit polls you look at, Obama outperformed Kerry by anywhere from 25 to 38 points among 18-29 year olds. Patrick Ruffini at thenextright breaks down some of the numbers:
People have been focusing on whether the youth vote was up. It was — slightly: going from 17 to 18 percent. But the real story about the youth vote is not how many “new” voters Obama got to show up. It’s how he produced a gargantuan 25% swing among existing young voters, or those who were sure to vote for the first time anyway.
18 percent times a 25 percent increase in the Democratic margin equals 4.5 points, or a majority of Obama’s popular vote margin. Had the Democratic 18-29 vote stayed the same as 2004′s already impressive percentage, Obama would have won by about 2 points, and would not have won 73 electoral votes from Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, or Indiana.
According to Pew Research, party ID among the young hasn’t always skewed to the left. In 1992 the republicans actually had a 1 point advantage among the 18-29 group (including me), while in 2008, the democrats had a 25 point lead among that age group.
And that isn’t the only demographic problem looming for the Republican party – according to the Census Bureau, the number of people claiming minority heritage has risen 11% since 2000. Hispanics are the largest minority group in the country as well as the fastest growing. With that in mind, the 2008 exit polls don’t look good for the future of the republican party – african americans broke 96/3 for Obama, hispanics broke 67/30 and asians 63/34. Bush only lost the hispanic vote in 2004 by 9 points - 53/44. And considering the republican base only recently torpedoed the 2007 Bush/McCain immigration reform bill, what are the chances of the GOP winning those hispanic voters back in our lifetimes?
So what should conservatives do about the republican party? Even before the election there was a growing shit-storm of recrimination on the right; Kathleen Parker, David Brooks, and Peggy Noonan, among others, came out against Palin. Then, in the days leading up to the election, Colin Powell, William Weld and a host of others endorsed Obama, prompting Rush Limbaugh to lob one of the first grenades in the coming conflict:
Way back during the Republican primaries … we were told by the Republican Party hierarchy that the only chance the Republican Party had (by the way, we were told this also by some of the intellectualoids in our own conservative media) to win was to attract Democrats and moderates; and that the era of Reagan was over, and we had to somehow find a way to become stewards of a Big Government but smarter that gives money away to the Wal-Mart middle class so that they, too, will feel comfortable with us and like us and vote for us.
Now, I wish to ask all of you influential pseudointellectual conservative media types who have also abandoned McCain and want to go vote for Obama (and you know who you are without my having to mention your name) what happened to your precious theory? What the hell happened to your theory that only John McCain could enlarge this party, that we had to get moderates and independents? How the hell is it that moderate Republicans are fleeing their own party and we are not attracting other moderates and independents?
When I saw the Weld thing today I smiled and I fired off a note to all my buddies and I said, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! How can this be? How can this be? This is the kind of guy that our candidate was supposed to be attracting, and we were supposed to be getting all these moderates from the Democrat Party,” and we will, by the way. We’re going to get some rank and file, average American Democrats that are going to vote for McCain. But these hoity-toity bourgeoisie… Well, they’re not the bourgeoisie, but… Well, they are in a sense. They’re following their own self-interests, so I say fine. They have just admitted that Republican Party “big tent” philosophy didn’t work. It was their philosophy; it was their idea. These are the people, once they steered the party to where it is, they are the ones that abandoned it.
This prompted a flank attack by Ross Douthat at the Atlantic.com blog:
For Rush, there are only two kinds of people in Republican Party: True conservatives like him, and “moderate Republicans.” The latter is an ideologically-inclusive category: You can be pro-choice or pro-life, David Frum or Colin Powell, a Rockefeller Republican or a Sam’s Club conservative; indeed, the only real requirement for moderate-Republican status is the belief that the Republican Party needs to reach out to voters who don’t agree with, well, Rush Limbaugh on every jot and tittle of what conservatism is and ought to be. And this inclusive definition allows Limbaugh to shape a narrative of the ’08 election in which “moderate Republicans” can shoulder more or less all the blame for what’s gone wrong.
The logic is so airtight it’s suffocating. John McCain is a moderate Republican. Some people – the party establishment and the “intellectualoids” – said that only someone like McCain would stand a chance of winning the Presidency in 2008, given the state of the GOP brand. But here we are in October, and John McCain is losing – and worse, some of his fellow moderate Republicans are defecting to Obama. Therefore, not only are all the people who urged the GOP to nominate McCain discredited, but so is anybody else who disagrees with Rush Limbaugh about the future direction of the GOP. Moderate Republicanism had its chance this year, and it failed. The big-tent approach was tried and found wanting. Next time, they’ll listen to Rush if they want to win. And so forth.
Take a step back, of course, and the whole argument collapses. (McCain’s substance-free campaign discredits more reformist visions of conservatism how, exactly? The defection of Bill Weld, blueblood extraordinaire, is supposed to undercut the idea that the GOP should be trying to appeal to middle-class Wal-Mart shoppers? McCain is still going to win the “rank and file, average American Democrats” – it’s only the “hoity-toity” types who are jumping ship? etc.) But read quickly (or delivered with Rush’s customary brio), it has a certain surface plausibility – just enough, I suspect, to be persuasive to the many, many conservatives eager to be convinced that the ’08 outcome had everything to do with John McCain’s heresies and the treason of the Beltway elites, and nothing whatsoever to do with them.
Douthat is a pretty interesting guy and I don’t think anyone would call him a moderate – he is a social conservative who has made the arguement that pornography is adultery but he still wants the republican party and the conservative movement to be a big tent without purity tests and one that can grow and appeal to those outside the Evangelical Free States of Dixie. Since the election, others, including David Frum joined the fray:
In the wake of yesterday’s bruising result, the Republican party faces an excruciating and divisive choice between two very different futures.
The first choice is the choice on display at the excited rallies that cheered Sarah Palin all through the fall. This is a choice to fall back on the core base of the Republican party. The base is almost entirely white, almost entirely resident in the middle of the country, moderately affluent, middle-aged and older, more male than female, with some college education but not a college degree. Think of Joe the Plumber and you see the core of the Republican party.
This year, an economically squeezed Joe did not come through for the GOP. But once the dust settles, many Republican leaders will urge the party to return to the tried and true. They’ll say: 2008 was an unusual year! Iraq, Bush, Katrina, the financial meltdown, and a too-moderate candidate at the head of the ticket: No wonder we lost! But the messages that won for Reagan in 1980 and Newt Gingrich in 1994 and George Bush in 2002 will win for us again. Taxes – guns – right to
life – patriotism – the formula is all there. Stick to it.
If 60% of the Joe vote is no longer enough, nominate Palin – and win 65%. Or 70%. Whatever it takes.
As I said: that’s one path.
There’s another. It’s the path that begins by facing up to the arithmetic that says – Joe is no longer enough. God bless him, he’s
the GOP base, and no Republican wants to lose him. But he needs reinforcements.
A generation ago, Republicans dominated among college graduates. In 1984 and 1988, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush won states like California, Pennsylvania and Connecticut – states that have been “blue” for a generation. (America’s least educated state, West Virginia, went for Michael Dukakis in 1988.)
Those days are long gone. Since 1988, Democrats have become more conservative on economics – and Republicans have become more conservative on social issues.
College-educated Americans have come to believe that their money is safe with Democrats – but that their values are under threat from Republicans. And there are more and more of these college-educated Americans all the time.
So the question for the GOP is: Will it pursue them? To do so will involve painful change, on issues ranging from the environment to abortion. And it will involve potentially even more painful changes of style and tone: toward a future that is less overtly religious, less negligent with policy, and less polarizing on social issues. That’s a future that leaves little room for Sarah Palin – but the only hope for a Republican recovery.
There are worse things than a compromised, corrupted Republican Party. As Brennan and Buchanan once wrote, “The licentious sinners we can control; the saintly ascetics may destroy us.”
The Republican Party is balkanizing; internal contradictions and conflicts between interest groups are emerging. The coalition must find a new agenda, or the Right must find a new coalition. The Republican Party will go in one of two directions:
Leave Us Alone — the Limited Government coalition; socially tolerant, economically conservative, with a strong skepticism of government and preference for individual freedom
God, Guns and Butter — the Christian Democrat coalition; socially conservative, economically liberal; the extension of the “compassionate conservative” approach.
The Leave Us Alone group sounds a lot like what the British Tories have become post-Blair. They’ve purged the molotov-cocktail throwing idealogues and focused on competence and efficient government. Honestly, in my anecdotal experience, the Leave Us Alone Coalition seems like it might be the biggest one out there; lower taxes, lower regulation, and lower spending but without the government cameras in your bedroom or your wife’s and daughter’s gynecological exam room. Henke continues:
A Leave Us Alone coalition — skeptical of social engineering by government elites, dedicated to expanding the role of individual choice and reducing the intrusions of government — is more politically and philosophically coherent. And, equally importantly, it involves a policy agenda that addresses major current problems (entitlements, school choice, religious freedom, health care) in a way that offers a clear distinction with the Left.
The worst case scenario for the Right is a reorientation — of agenda and of infrastructure — to adopt the Left’s policy framing and compete on the Democrat’s agenda. Rebuilding the Right’s Movement in that direction would take the wrong lesson from the current cyclical swing towards Democrats. When the pendulum swings back the other way — when voters grow tired of the excesses and failures of Democratic policies — the Right must offer a clear choice; a vision genuinely distinct from the Left. If the Christian Democratic vision succeeds, the Right will find its worst case scenario has come to pass.
I must say no small part of me delights in this well-deserved comeuppance. There is no one that needs a long-dark-night-of-the-soul more than these people. Can they really continue to define conservatism so rigidly? Will they continue to mock and purge as many RINOs as they have during the past 8 years? Who will be left in their coalition?
For all the blathering they still do about Reagan, wouldn’t the Gipper himself be considered an apostate by the modern republican party? St. Ronald of Santa Barbara raised taxes, signed immigration amnesty, cut-and-ran from Beirut, negotiated without preconditions with an evil empire, and sent three moderate judges to the SCOTUS. From everything I’ve witnessed recently that’s more than enough for Reagan to have been disappeared from the party of today.
More evangelicals voted for McCain in 2008 than Bush in 2004 and they still got smoked by a 48 year old black man with the name Barack Hussein Obama. That, along with the demographic evidence cited above tells me their message is focused like a laser on one specific group of people that isn’t by itself, large enough to win a national election.
They need a bigger tent. They need to distance themselves from the ignorance and incompetence of the Bush 43 presidency. To me, at least, the way to do this is to hunker down and focus on good government – reform and making shit work. Granted, that will be hard to do considering their deep minority status in Washington right now, and much depends on Obama’s ability run the executive as well as he ran his campaign, but what other choice is there? Go harder right? Double down on stem cells? Square their abortion logic and run on outlawing IVF? Offend more brown people? Pray that Obama receives an out of wedlock blow job?
I guess we’ll know the answer if they nominate Sarah Palin as their 2012 nominee.