For the first time, I am wondering about the long-term viability of the Republican Party. I say this not as an advocate of its demise or restructuring but as an observer of troubling signs.
The Republican Party is thought to be the institutional vehicle for the advancement of conservative policies, but for decades, the conservative movement has been frustrated with the party’s deviation from conservative principles – its refusal to live up to its decidedly conservative platform.
I believe that the disappointing results for Republicans in the 2006 elections and probably the 2012 elections, as well, were in no small part attributable to frustrated conservatives staying at home.
The thinking among many conservatives has been that the party has consistently fallen short by failing to restrain the growth of the ever-expanding federal government and by failing to nominate sufficiently conservative presidential nominees. That is, if we would just nominate and elect Reagan conservatives and govern on Reagan principles, we would recapture majority status in no time.
The main opposing view – call it the establishment view – holds that Republicans need to accept that the reign of small government is over, get with the program and devise policies to make the irreversibly enormous government smarter and more energetic. In other words, Republicans need to surrender to the notion that liberalism’s concept of government has won and rejigger their agenda toward taming the leviathan rather than shrinking it.
I’d feel better if the ongoing competition between Reagan conservatives and establishment Republicans were the only big fissure in the GOP right now, but there are other cracks that threaten to break wide open, too. Our problems transcend our differing approaches to the size and scope of government and to fiscal and other economic issues.
Reagan conservatism is no longer under attack from just establishment Republicans; it’s also under attack from many inside the conservative movement itself. Reagan conservatism is a three-legged stool of fiscal, foreign policy and social issues conservatism. But today many libertarian-oriented conservatives are singing from the liberal libertine hymnal that the GOP needs to remake its image as more inclusive, more tolerant, less judgmental and less strident. In other words, it needs to lighten up and quit opposing gay marriage, at least soften its position on abortion, and get on board the amnesty train to legalize illegal immigrants. I won’t even get into troubling foreign policy divisions among so-called neocons, so-called isolationists and those who simply believe we should conduct our foreign policy based foremost on promoting our strategic national interests.
One might reasonably assume that President Obama’s abysmal record would usher in an era of GOP unity, but ironically, his policies have put such a strain on America that they seem to be exacerbating, rather than alleviating, the divisions within the GOP. I see my more libertarian-oriented conservative friends on Twitter, for example, wholly frustrated with conservatives who refuse to surrender on the social issues and thereby, in their view, jeopardize a coalition that could successfully oppose Obama’s bankrupting of America. It’s as if they believe that all social conservatives have morphed into Todd Akin.
Maybe it’s just from where I’m sitting, but it appears to me that momentum is building among Republicans to capitulate on the issue of same-sex marriage, no matter what negative consequences might result from society’s abandonment of support for traditional marriage. Likewise, it seems that many Republicans are determined to surrender on the immigration issue on the naive hope that Republicans will instantly shed the ogre factor and be on equal footing to compete for the Hispanic vote.
I belong to the school that believes the Republican Party must remain the party of mainstream Reagan conservatism rather than try to become a diluted version of the Democratic Party. This does not mean Republicans can’t come up with creative policy solutions when advisable, but it does mean that conservatism is based on timeless principles that require no major revisions. Conservatives are champions of freedom, the rule of law and enforcement of the social compact between government and the people enshrined in the Constitution, which imposes limitations on government in order to maximize our liberties. If we reject these ideas, then we have turned our backs on what America means and what has made America unique. What’s the point of winning elections if the price is American exceptionalism?
I refuse to acquiesce to the cowardly notion that conservatives are intolerant or mean-spirited because they oppose discriminant treatment for groups and classes of people, because they support the rule of law, because they oppose a runaway entitlement state and because they adhere to traditional values, including the protection of innocent life.
But my personal preferences as to the future of the conservative movement and the GOP aren’t really the point. The point is that no matter what I prefer, the hard truth is that the movement inside the Republican Party to abandon social conservatism is nothing short of a political death wish. Denying it will not alter the reality.