>> When a party receives the conservative vote regardless of the candidate, do you think that makes it more or less likely that the party will run a genuine small government conservative?
Less likely - though I do object to the premise that the Republican Party will recieve the conservative vote regardless of the candidate. For instance, if Ron Paul were the candidate, many conservatives, myself included, would be forced to find another candidate/ party to vote for.
I think a mainstream political party that is hell-bent on running a fringe political candidate will be an irrelevancy. In order to remain mainstream, you’ve got to appeal to more than the fringe of the party ... you’ve got to have appeal to capture 51% of the electoral college.
I believe a mainstream conservative - like Thompson, Romney, Hunter, Huckabee, and probably even Giuliani - will likely recieve the support of the conservative base, as well as a significant portion of the middle. A candidate who appeals ONLY to the base has no shot at victory, and, as such, would hurt the cause more than help it. I think Gingrich (not Paul) would be the best example here, because of the baggage from the Clinton years. Ron Paul doesn’t even appeal to most conservatives, he appeals to the dozens of loudmouthed libertarians throughout the country.
That’s the way a democracy (or democratic republic, in this case) works - you have to appeal to more than just the base. Otherwise you’re just Ralph Nader - a cute sideshow while the mainstream candidates campaign.
Self-identified conservatives don’t make up quite a majority in this country (though we’re closer to a majority than liberals), so compromises with moderates/ independents are the only way to make any progress at all.
Conservatives could take a lesson from liberals on the art of “incrementalism” ... they seem to have it down pretty well, chipping away at conservatism. We need to learn to chip back (like we’ve been doing on abortion, for instance). Politics isn’t an all-or-nothing game.