WASHINGTON, March 10, 2013 – The annual American Conservative Union’s CPAC meeting is where the Modern Right goes to see who will be the new superstars of the Republican Party. Since Ronald Reagan’s impromptu speech at the 1976 GOP convention, the words conservative and Republican have universally come to mean the same thing to America’s voters. But in recent years the evolving Republican Party has supported candidates and policies which have created a deep rift and an identity crisis for Reagan era-styled conservatives.
Over the last few presidential elections, many Reagan conservatives voted partisan Republican out of loyalty to the ideological brand but felt immense aversion towards the policy positions or voting records of the GOP presidential nominee. Voting for the Republican nominee “at all costs” just to deny the Democrats the White House has led to a Möbius logic loop in which conservatives never attain their political goals or elect their desired leaders.
Just what is a conservative to do who believes in a strong national defense and secure domestic borders but firmly opposed the use of extraordinary rendition, “enhanced interrogation” (aka torture), or the 2003 invasion of Iraq? Conservatives universally wanted justice against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda for the terrorist attacks of 9/11 but many were flummoxed over how invading Iraq – while still committed to war in Afghanistan – made sense at all.
What is a conservative to do who believes in a thriving and stable economy but opposed the enactment of Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind or the Wall Street bailouts under George W. Bush? Conservative hawks for limited government and fiscal restraint were horrified by the massive spending seen under the Bush Administration.
These are questions that have often been met with a “take one for the team” or a “shut up and get in line” attitude in which conservatives are reminded of how allegedly evil by contrast Democrats are and how “necessary a two party system is for democracy and effective representation in America.” Anyone who dares to constructively point out discrepancies between the conservative ideology and the Republican reality is accused of using “liberal media talking points” and told to stop ideological card-checking fellow conservatives.
At events like CPAC, conservatives are routinely promised in hardline speeches how Democrats will be fought tooth and nail only to discover when elections are over those same Republicans hand over concession after concession to Democrats on supposedly hill-to-die-on issues. At CPAC 2010 the way Republicans talked about holding the line on taxes and opposing Obama at all costs had to leave more than a handful of conservatives scratching their heads at the compromises Republican put forth during the so-called fiscal cliff crisis of 2012.
A better alternative for the conservative movement would be to focus less on reforming Republican partisanship and to emphasize fostering conservative ideology. The liberal and progressive movements are wildly successful not because their candidates are superior but because their organizations emphasize promoting and subsidizing their ideas at all levels of American culture and society alike. Conservatives insist on promoting Republicans but liberals and progressives promote policy.
Ronald Reagan advocated absorbing the conservative dissidents of the Democrat and Libertarian parties in the late 1970s and successfully leveraged his broad coalition to produce a victory in the 1980 presidential election. Yet the Republican control of agenda-setting power in elected government has by and large failed conservatives and will continue to disappoint so long as conservatives house all of their hopes in Republicans alone. Today, conservatives should instead seek to reward and promote conservatism wherever it takes root. As unorthodox as it may seem now, promoting conservatives in other parties would create an ultra-competitive environment in the GOP that would force it to return to base conservatism or risk extinction.
Republican Senator Robert Taft once said “too many people desire to suppress criticism simply because they think it will give some comfort to the enemy to know that there is such criticism. If that comfort makes the enemy feel better for a few moments, they are welcome to it as far as I am concerned because the maintenance of the right of criticism in the long run will do the country maintaining it a great deal more good than it will do the enemy and will prevent mistakes which might otherwise occur.”
The conservative movement must stop suppressing criticism and providing blanket ideological cover for Republicans. When all parties and peoples of the United States are once again interested in conserving the Constitution and our long-held quality of life, conservatism will have attained its objective and restored America.
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