An e-mailer suggested that he was dismayed that I could suggest that
Pat Buchanan’s migration to the Reform Party would hurt the Republican
It was not Perot’s fault that Clinton defeated Bush and Dole. They
lost the elections themselves. The Republicans, he implied, are
scapegoating other people and third parties instead of accepting
responsibility and returning to their roots.
I’m mostly sympathetic to this view. Regardless of Perot’s actual
impact on those elections, the Reform Party may never have been
inaugurated if Bush Sr. and Dole had spoken and governed more like
conservatives. The Reagan Democrats likely would have remained loyal to
But so much has happened in the past seven years. Even if the GOP frontrunner were as conservative as Ronald Reagan, I’m
not sure a very damaging Reform Party effort could be prevented
this year, unless Buchanan can be dissuaded from bolting.
The Reform Party threat is possible only because of major ideological
shifts occurring in both major parties.
It is true that there has always been some ideological overlap
between the two parties but the lines have been become extremely blurred
following the Cold War and especially since the Clinton era.
In the Reagan years, Republicans stood for lower taxes, lower
spending (even though their actions failed to match their rhetoric
there), peace through strength, free trade, law and order and social
conservatism across the board.
On foreign policy issues, Republicans have always been guided by the
vital security interests of the U.S. But prior to the collapse of the
Soviet Empire, any Communist incursion could properly be viewed as
threatening our national interests.
On domestic policy, the Republicans enjoyed a monopoly on tax cutting
and the Democrats were accurately painted as taxers and spenders. Indeed
the Democrats regarded the deficit as a Keynesian badge of honor, rather
than an abject forfeiture of their children’s future.
But today, a review of where the parties line up on the various
issues shows just how murky things have become in this extremely fluid
and volatile political environment.
The GOP has yet to develop a coherent foreign policy following the
Cold War because they have failed to reach a party consensus as to what
constitutes a threat to our strategic interests.
GOP hawks view our national interests more expansively than GOP
doves. But the doves, for the most part, are by no means isolationists.
They favored intervention in the Gulf War, but not Kosovo.
On domestic policy, the Republicans have all but abandoned
supply-side tax philosophy but have recaptured the spending-reduction
mantle (even though they have not been properly credited for the
Whereas Republicans used to be uniformly free-traders, today, a great
many of them are protectionists, in the spirit of Democrat stalwart Dick
Gephardt. Meanwhile, Democrats Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Bill Bradley,
though, have become free-traders.
Most Republicans remain social conservatives and Democrats social
liberals, but too many Republicans are becoming increasingly apologetic
and discreet about it.
From the ’60s until approximately the ’90s, the Republicans were
synonymous with law and order and condemned the expansion of criminals’
rights under the Warren Supreme Court. The GOP hated big government,
except for law enforcement and the military.
Today, with the lawless Bill Clinton as Chief Executive and the
resulting corruption of the Justice Department and FBI, Republicans are
far more distrustful of law enforcement than Democrats.
During the impeachment debacle, Republicans missed a golden
opportunity to re-establish themselves as champions of the rule of law.
Apart from the valiant efforts of the House Managers and the GOP House
majority, the Republicans dropped the ball by failing properly to
properly convict Bill Clinton for multiple felonies.
The point of all this is that there is less ideological cement and
much less loyalty uniting the Republican Party than during the Reagan
heyday. Republican officeholders are largely responsible for both by too
often placing polls before principle.
Because rank-and-file Republicans are driven more by ideology than
blind loyalty, the party suffers when it abandons its platform.
The unifying theme for conservatives must be stemming the tide of
liberalism. But that can only be done with an affirmatively conservative
agenda. Or else, in eight years or less, we may witness a large-scale
implosion, if not radical restructuring of the Republican Party.