Less than five years after Karl Rove mused openly about the possibility of Republican dominance for decades – an idea which was absurd at the time – the Republican Party finds itself in disarray. The moderate wing is showing itself to be as RINO as ever, and in one case, that of Sen. Arlen Specter, the pretense is finally over. It goes without saying that the moderates are wrong; their advice to do as the Democrats do, only a little less enthusiastically, not only betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamic nature of electoral politics in a democracy, but ignores the fact that this was essentially George W. Bush's approach to governance.
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher generally refused to follow the Left's siren song, and while they were viciously lampooned and hated for their refusal to abandon their principles, they won the respect, admiration and affection of the voters. Thatcher, in particular, was known for being inflexible, hence her nickname, "The Iron Lady." Her demand that the president of the United States find a backbone when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 is among the most informative dialogues between two national heads of state in man's recorded history. It is also, unquestionably, the most hilarious. "Don't go wobbly on me, George."
George W. Bush instead attempted to find common ground with the political opposition, with disastrous results. He was not loved for his moderation; conservatives increasingly came to regard him with the sickened horror of the betrayed, while left-wingers held him in rightful contempt. His failure to return the faith and loyalty initially shown to him by the Republican grass roots was not only despicable, it was politically inept. It is interesting to see that Obama appears to be cut from the same treacherous and ungrateful cloth; certainly his supporters appear to be expressing buyer's remorse even faster than Bush's did.
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But the worst mistake was the Republican Party's post-Bush obsession with so-called pragmatism. But, as events have proven, political pragmatism is anything but pragmatic! The party elite, supported by the party media, put forth one establishment moderate after another, starting with Rudy Giuliani, followed by Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, before ending up with the worst possible choice, John McCain. (Ideologically speaking, Giuliani may be worse but at least the man can be confirmed to be sound on ferrets.) These men were uniformly considered to be among the electable choices, even though the one man declared to be unelectable, Rep. Ron Paul, turned out to be the only candidate who actually won an election in November 2008.
This isn't the only thing that was strange about the Republican nomination. McCain, Giuliani and Romney were all considered to be more centrist on issues regarding which the country is essentially split. This meant that they were theoretically more attractive to voters on the left, while being less attractive to voters on the right. The important question, then, was whether they could pick up enough voters on the left as they were going to lose on the right? At the same time, they held positions that were more or less identical to Obama's on the foreign military occupations, immigration and the Wall Street bailouts. Ron Paul, on the other hand, stood for positions that were extremely popular with the broad spectrum of the American electorate, as strong majorities favor ending the foreign occupations, limiting immigration and not bailing out the banks.
The electoral math is clear. Ron Paul was far less likely to lose the average Republican voter to Obama than John McCain was to lose the conservative Republican voter to indifference. No pro-life, small-government social conservative was going to sit out the election over the occupation of Afghanistan. And Paul was far more likely to take anti-war, anti-immigration, anti-bailout votes away from the pro-war, pro-immigration, pro-bailout Obama, especially since Paul's easygoing libertarianism tends to mitigate somewhat the effects of his social conservatism with social liberals. Even the most paranoid abortion supporter knew that what you had to fear from Ron Paul was a long and tedious lecture on the history of fiat money and the Federal Reserve, not his social views crammed down your throat. So, Paul was a far more viable presidential candidate than the establishment moderates could ever have been.
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But assume, for the sake of argument, that excitement over America's first Indonesian president was so overwhelming that Ron Paul lost to Obama in the general election by a margin similar to that enjoyed by John McCain. Would the Republican Party be in any worse shape now? No, quite to the contrary, it would be in a strong and consistent position from which to resist the continuous series of bailouts, to resist the extension of the Afghan occupation to Pakistan, and most importantly, to resist the tidal wave of federal spending that threatens to drown the American economy. Such a party would have also been well-placed to capitalize on Obama's inevitable errors in 2012; as it stands, only a complete meltdown in 2010 combined with Democratic failure to successfully blame the collapse on the previous administration will suffice to render a Republican candidate seriously competitive.
The problem with the cost of sacrificing your principles is that you don't pay it only once.