It’s only been a week since the defeat, but the battle lines have already been drawn in the fight over the future of conservatism.
In one camp, there are the Traditionalists, the people who believe that conservatives have lost elections because they have strayed from the true creed. George W. Bush was a big-government type who betrayed conservatism. John McCain was a Republican moderate, and his defeat discredits the moderate wing.
To regain power, the Traditionalists argue, the G.O.P. should return to its core ideas: Cut government, cut taxes, restrict immigration. Rally behind Sarah Palin.
Cutting government, cutting taxes, and restricting immigration (at least illegal immigration) sound good to me.
And by the way: “rally behind Sarah Palin” is not a “core idea” of the Republican Party, David. It’s true that most Traditionalists have rallied behind her, and she may well be a Traditionalist candidate in some future race. But however much Traditionalists might like her, let’s not load the dice by suggesting that supporting her is a “core” Republican idea.
The other camp, the Reformers, argue that the old G.O.P. priorities were fine for the 1970s but need to be modernized for new conditions. The reformers tend to believe that American voters will not support a party whose main idea is slashing government. The Reformers propose new policies to address inequality and middle-class economic anxiety. They tend to take global warming seriously. They tend to be intrigued by the way David Cameron has modernized the British Conservative Party.
Moreover, the Reformers say, conservatives need to pay attention to the way the country has changed. Conservatives have to appeal more to Hispanics, independents and younger voters. They cannot continue to insult the sensibilities of the educated class and the entire East and West Coasts.
I don’t think the future of the Republican party is to be Democrat Lite.
While I disagree with the Traditionalists on some issues — gay marriage, the environment, animal rights, and the like — I tend to fall into what Brooks calls the Traditionalist camp on the major issues.
I still think people believe in cutting taxes and limiting government. They just want a party that is actually going to do it.
Brooks says that Reformers argue that “American voters will not support a party whose main idea is slashing government.” I’m not so sure that the spirit of rugged individualism is dead in this country, and that people are willing to chuck the idea of limited government over the side. I just think voters don’t trust Republicans to actually carry out their stated principles.
My main concern is the changing demographics of the country, which I talked about in this post. We have lost control of our borders, and if the Republican party has truly lost the Latino vote by championing tight control of the border, this election result may signal a permanent retrenchment. Yet I can’t see dealing with that problem by declaring the borders open. This may be the biggest practical problem facing the party.
I still think that there is a strong element of conservatism in this country; people went to the polls and voted against gay marriage (which I support) and for Obama (whom I oppose). There is still a belief in conservative principles, but we lack a leader to stand up for them.
We need a leader who won’t cave to the elites or to the religious fanatics, but who will stand up for genuine American principles in a smart and different way. Someone who presents like Obama, but who believes the opposite of everything Obama believes.
I just think we have to find the right figure to articulate our principles, and be smarter about how we do it. And we have to convince the country that we are willing to actually put these principles into action.
The future of the Republican party does not lie in abandoning our principles, but in finally standing up for them.