Skip to comments.Where Have All the Conservatives Gone?
Posted on 04/24/2006 12:42:34 PM PDT by ex-snook
April 24, 2006 Issue
Copyright © 2006 The American Conservative
Where Have All the Conservatives Gone?
The Republican Partys top contenders for 2008 arent paleoconservativesor any other kind.
By W. James Antle III
Come 2008, who will succeed George W. Bush at the helm of a troubled Republican Party? Though the next presidential race is far off, the question is already on conservatives minds.
The last few months havent been kind to Republican operatives who assumed President Bushs slide in popularity would be temporary. Instead, his approval ratings have settled below 40 percent, averaging 38 percent over the last four Gallup polls, and the president appears determined to drag the rest of his party down with him. Bush remains committed to an increasingly unpopular stay-the-course position on Iraq and is actively pushing amnesty for illegal immigrants in defiance of the GOP base.
So far the grassroots have been generally reluctant to defy Bush in return. But public discontent with the White Houses immigration and foreign-policy initiatives could create as many opportunities for traditional conservatives as Democrats, something Bush Republicans are beginning to sense. The president has begun sprinkling his speeches with denunciations of isolationism. Fred Barnes declared, in the pages of The Weekly Standard no less, Its a paleo moment in America.
If so, its a moment the leading contenders for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination seem content to let pass. The field is dominated by candidates who support the Bush line on immigration and Iraq or are inclined to go even further. In a March Fox News/ Opinion Dynamics poll, the top three Republican hopefuls were former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani at 29 percent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at 22 percent, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich drawing 8 percent. Not a paleoconservative among them.
The sole Iraq skeptic, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), is at the bottom of the pack with just 1 percent. The Fox poll is no outlier. Giuliani and McCain lead in most surveysin November, Rasmussen Reports had Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joining them in the top tierwhile mavericks like Hagel languish in the low single digits.
Rice isnt sounding like someone who plans to be a candidate in 2008, and Gingrich is running on the fumes of 1994 nostalgia. Giuliani and McCain are the beneficiaries of near-universal name recognition and fawning press coverage. But few of the dark horses offer paleosor the growing majority of Americans who disapprove of Bushs handling of Iraq and immigrationmuch reason for optimism. Unless something changes dramatically over the next year and a half, rather than taking the opportunity to repudiate the current presidents mistakes, Republicans are poised to nominate someone who favors repeating them.
If something does change, it will likely be due to one of two potential candidates. While foreign-policy realists dream of Hagel breaking out of his asterisk status, many immigration realists pin their hopes on Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.). Tancredo has graduated from House backbencher to the leader of an effective congressional immigration-reform faction. In December, he and his allies fashioned a tough enforcement-only border-security bill that passed the House. Tancredo has been touring the country as the Senate prepares to undo his handiwork.
Tancredo is realistic about his presidential chances. He tells reporters that he would prefer to see a first-tier candidate take up the immigration issuesomeone taller and with better hairbut is considering a run if no one obliges. Soon we may see some of the princes in waiting jockeying to become the Tancredo of the Senate, predicts Will Adams, the congressmans spokesman.
A Senate version of Tancredo would be a welcome addition to the field, given how inhospitable many leading Republicans have been to the real one. He was excluded from the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (SRLC), with organizers citing schedule and ballot space constraints and Tancredos office calling it a clear snub from the leadership. Congressman Tancredo may have been kept off the stage, says Adams. But the immigration issue wasnt off the stage.
Hagel has also gotten a poor reception from Republican regulars. He garnered just 0.2 percent of the vote at the SRLC straw poll and is unpopular with conservative activists. Despite a solid lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 85 percent, he has been tagged with the GOP Rights favorite epithetRINO, or Republican in name only.
If the choice were Hillary v. Hagel, I would be tempted to vote for Hillary, even apart from my ideologues desire to punish a bad Republican, wrote National Review senior editor Richard Brookhiser on the magazines website. This is a bogus choice, since Michael Jackson has as much chance of being the GOP nominee as Hagel.
Conservative distaste for Hagel appears to have two causes. The first is that the Nebraska senator established himself as a reliable Bush critic before he developed a reputation as a Beltway conservative in his own right. James Dobson has accused Hagel of being coy about a constitutional amendment forbidding same-sex marriage. Supply-siders fault him for telling the Washington Post Style section that in a presidential debate he couldnt take that pledge not to raise taxes. Without strong conservative credentials of his own, observers see his differences with Bush as a liability among Republican primary voters.
Hagels second problem is that he is perceived as being too close to McCain. While the two senators are far apart on foreign policyHagel is known for prudent internationalism while McCain outdoes Bush in go-it-alone interventionismthe Nebraskan was one of the few senators to endorse McCain in 2000. Lumped together with his Vietnam service and disputes with Bush, the McCain clone label has stuck. George Neumayr, in a cover story for The American Spectator, mocked him as Chuck McHagel, others prefer to taunt him as the poor mans McCain.
Republican consultant Patrick Hynes, an expert on evangelical voting patterns, sees several reasons the 2008 field will probably remain a paleo-free zone. Paleoconservatives are not organized politically and there are no political consequences for defying them, he says. They are absolutely right that their views on foreign policy have a long conservative pedigree, but most voters dont really care who is the purest in their political tradition.
It is true that adherents of the older strains of conservatism amount to more of an intellectual movement than an electoral one. David Brooks memorably wrote that Pat Buchanans 1996 presidential bidperhaps the most successful paleo political venture to datewas as close to an intellectuals campaign as we have seen in modern politics. There is no real paleo presence among the partys state chairmen and Rolodex-wielding fundraisers. But an ambitious conservative neednt channel Russell Kirk to realize there is an incentive to move away from unpopular positions on salient issues. According to a Hotline poll, Iraq is the top reason Republicans disapprove of the president.
But the Rolodex men arent just weeding out dissenters on the war and immigration policy. This field is strikingly weak even on basic conservative staple issues. For the past 25 years, it would have been difficult for a candidate who was outspokenly pro-choice or in favor of gay rights to mount a serious bid for the Republican nomination; Giuliani is both. McCains record on social issues is more consistent with GOP norms, but he is distrusted by the Christian Right and despised by economic conservatives. His unsuccessful 2000 presidential campaign was widely seen as an attempt to relieve both factions of their control over the party.
This will provide some interesting insights into conservative prioritieswhether they prefer war and guest workers or traditional values and small government. Some of the Rights opinion-makers have already reconciled themselves to the front-runners moderation. In 2004, David Frum penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, the title of which pronounced Giuliani pro-choice, but still the best choice. The Weekly Standard promoted McCain when he took a more adversarial line against the GOP establishment; his saber-rattling on Iran and talk of committing still more troops to Iraq may make him William Kristols favorite a second time around.
Conservative outlets that are more interested in domestic policy have already started casting about for alternatives. The two favorites have been Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The smooth-talking, telegenic Romney has appeared on the covers of National Review, The Weekly Standard, and The American Spectator (the last with the headline Romney Rocks!). The football-throwing, NASCAR-loving Allen has graced the covers of NR and Newsmax.
Both men are odd choices for conservative adulation. Until he began seriously entertaining presidential ambitions, Romney was a Northeastern moderate Republican. As recently as his 2002 campaign for governor, he pledged to protect the right of a woman to choose under the law of the country and the laws of the commonwealth. He has had as many positions on abortion as John Kerry has on Iraq, says Hynes.
Allen is a more conventional red-state Republican, but despite his 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee, as governor of Virginia he was pro-choice in the first trimester and opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade. Factor in Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who is also tepid on social issues, and all the stronger cultural conservatives linger at the back of the pack alongside war critics and immigration reformers.
Hynes warns, Republicans may be in real trouble with values voters. Traditional conservatives are also in real trouble if, after eight years of Bush, the best the GOP can do is even worse.
April 24, 2006 Issue
"The Weekly Standard promoted McCain when he took a more adversarial line against the GOP establishment; his saber-rattling on Iran and talk of committing still more troops to Iraq may make him William Kristols favorite a second time around.
Looks like the Weekly Standard is pushing McCain to carry the 'paleo momement in America'.
Hey Barnes, no sale.
I think Barnes is on multiple payrolls.."If you know what Im sayin??"...He's lost touch recently with the immigration, port debates and has been uncharacteristically confused trying to figure out what true conservatives want.
My thought exactly. If they nominate a pro-choice Republican, I will just pass on the presidential race.
The conservative movement is pretty much dead, having splintered into a number of single non-cohesive constituent issues, and is largely dissolving back into the cranky, negative, pessimistic form it took in the 1940s and '50s. Perhaps in another 20 years it will be reborn behind a new, positive leader.
"Where Have All the Conservatives Gone?"
There sure aren't any in WASHINGTON.
Where in the world are Conservatives?
George Allen would be fine with me. I respect those who feel otherwise, but abortion just isn't a strong motivating factor in my voting.
"Factor in Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who is also tepid..............."
Tepid, spineless, and not up for the game.
Bring in another 20 million illegals and grant them the franchise before 2008.
Enforcing immigration laws and securing our borders is NOT a paleo-Conservative issue per se. But it's nice of the RINOs to try and pigeon-hole it that way.
They all leave me pretty unhappy. I doubt I would vote for Guilliani. I'd rather let Hillary implement "the NY Agenda". McCain is just weird. I like his pork-bashing, which he'd done for years. But being so clueless as to push McCain-Feingold is not a big positive. Still I might rather have him than Hillary.
Getting out of the MSM-chosen candidates, Allen strikes me as a stuffed suit.
Romney is a classic Rockefeller Republican. He just put in socialized health care in Mass. Again, why not let Hillary do it?
Tancredo at least gets it on one issue, a really important issue, and isn't a follower. He was opposed to illegals before it was cool. He also seems like a real conservative, as far as his other issues.
At this point he's the only one who appeals, but realistically Representatives never are elected.
I would not vote for Condi. What has she done besides appear on Sunday talk shows? Do we have more international support for the WOT since she became SoS? No. As National Security Advisor she paved the road to Iraq, which is not a winning campaign theme.
Who is the other Congressman, Pence? I've heard good things about him on FR. But again, Reps. have a dismal record running against Governors. Of course Hillary isn't a Gov, but a former co-President.
Kind of appears, doesn't it, that conservative issues will be buried in future campaigns.
Thanks for comments. It does look rather bleak for conservative candidates, never mind Paleos. Looks like the 2008 GOP campaign will feature 'we are all big Government Democrats now'.
BZZ! Wrong! A Senate version of anything is always a bad idea.
Agree. Executive experience has the best track record for President. The GOP lineup of conservative governors is rather bleak. Another 'Eisenhower' would be welcome.
As Governor he also issued an Executive Order preventing state funds paying for employee abortions and, most importantly championed Virginia's Parental Notification law.
"Enforcing immigration laws and securing our borders is NOT a paleo-Conservative issue per se...."
I'm curious if you consider yourself to be a paleo-conservative. "paleo-Conservative" is a pretty new term in my lexicon. I just recently read about it in "American conservatism; an encyclopedia". I felt like I almost fit into that category, but maybe not quite. What is your take on immigration issues? Do you consider those views to be part and parcel with being a paleo-conservative? or does paleo-conservatism not address immigration? If you feel like going even further, what can you tell me about your take on "Iraq"? I found some of the assertions in the article about what various conservatives think or should think on Iraq to be pretty far off base.
I'm here and I'm stay'n!
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