Skip to comments.The Death of Conservatism? - 43 Mistakes and the GOP's Dobson's Choice
Posted on 01/29/2008 11:55:19 AM PST by Sideshow Bob
There have been more than a few recent articles and editorials attempting to affix blame for the demise of the Republican Party. Peggy Noonan blames President Bush. Rush Limbaugh believes a McCain nomination will kill the party. However, even in a worse case scenario, the Republican Party will probably stagger along for several years much like the last decade of the Whigs. Conservative Republicans should probably be more concerned about the impending demise of the conservative movement within the party. Some individuals can be blamed more than others, but this folly has many fathers. The latest blow to conservatives has come from within thanks to Dr. James Dobson and other egotistical evangelicals. Political doomsayers may be correct and it is likely too late to save the conservative movement in 2008. Conservatives can correct their path to destruction for 2010 and beyond, but only if they look back at recent history, recognize the actions and actors that have brought the party and movement to this point, and to learn from a long series of missteps and mistakes.
Ronald Reagan built a winning coalition of conservatives, independents and establishment moderate Republicans in 1980. A coalition of social, economic and security conservatives had come together to form a plurality within the GOP and wrest leadership of the party from the establishment, moderate GOP. The Iran-Contra scandal (Mistake #1) weakened the coalition and the moderate wing of the party regained control of the GOP (Mistake #2), which led to the election of President George H.W. Bush (Mistake #3).
While the elder Bush had adopted albeit reluctantly many conservative ideals, he and the moderate GOP leaders advocated a kinder, gentler approach (Mistake #4). Conservatives might have been content to take a back seat to moderate GOP leadership, but they read Bushs lips and their support and enthusiasm for the Republican Party evaporated after the Bush tax increase (Mistake #5). In 1992 some conservatives were taken in by Ross Perot and his anti-establishment, anti-Washington message (Mistake #6). Others just stayed home (Mistake #7) and helped Democrats elect the Dope from Hope, Bill Clinton, with just 43% of the popular vote (Mistake #8).
The only positive to come out of 1992 was that it helped create an opening for an obscure, but brilliant Congressman from Georgia to lead conservatives to regain control of the Republican Party. Newt Gingrich reformed the three-legged conservative coalition and took an upstart innovative approach of leading the GOP from the House with a 1994 national congressional campaign platform the Contract with America.
It is important to note that prior to the 94 elections, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole and other establishment, moderate GOP leaders scoffed at and were dismissive of Gingrich and the Contract. Dole and Senate moderates rode the Contracts election coattails, but made it plain that the GOP Senate did NOT sign on to the program, was not obligated to it, reluctantly followed Gingrich's lead, and worked to water down each and every one of the Contract's provisions (Mistake #9).
By January 1996, Dole was the presumptive Republican presidential nominee (Mistake #10). Dole sought to convince Speaker Gingrich to fold up the federal government shutdown stalemate with President Clinton and allow Dole to lead the GOP via his presidential campaign.
Dole gave Gingrich the choice of single-handedly continuing the shutdown and fight with Clinton and the media with Candidate Dole seeking a different path from the House GOP or deferring to Dole's presidential campaign and resuming the conservative battle together with Gingrichs friend Trent Lott to keep President Dole honest after the 96 elections. Gingrich made the wrong choice (Mistake #11). Gingrich probably should have run for President himself in 1996 (Mistake #12).
We all remember what happened. By caving in and compromising on the shutdown, the conservative House leadership lost some of their ability to control their more moderate members (Mistake #13). Bob Dole lost (Mistake #14). Trent Lott built his own voice separate from the House (Mistake #15). And with no help from Lott & the GOP Senate and a Clinton veto looming on all conservative issues, Gingrich, Armey & DeLay focused too much of their efforts on the growing Clinton scandals (Mistake #16).
Gingrich was able to maintain order within the House even during the Clinton impeachment. But after the Senate RINOs failed to do their duty and convict Clinton (Mistake #17), the House moderates began feeling their oats (Mistake #18).
Then, the impact of the missing FBI files took effect. Allegations of marital affairs Gingrich and Hyde took their toll (Mistake #19). Seeing his conservative House coalition slowly diminish and Lott's desire to set on a different path, Gingrich stepped down as Speaker (Mistake #20). Then his presumed successor, Bob Livingston from Louisiana, was also taken out by a marital affair (Mistake #21).
House Moderates became emboldened and championed the lackluster Dennis Hastert as Speaker to muzzle Armey & DeLay and appear less confrontational (Mistake #22). This effort also helped to clear the agenda of party leadership for the 2000 GOP presidential candidates (Mistake #23). And in 2000, conservatives settled for the "compassionate conservatism" of George W. Bush (Mistake #24). Many conservatives stayed home, nearly costing Bush the presidency and actually losing GOP control of the Senate in 2000 (Mistake #25).
To be fair, conservatives should thank God everyday for W's leadership in dealing with 9-11. But Bush also squandered the opportunity to push the party and country to the right following that horrible event (Mistake #26). The GOP regained control of the Senate in 2002, but based solely on the countrys fears of Democrats inability to deal with national security concerns and not on conservative social and economic principles. Meanwhile, the House drifted further to the center (Mistake #27).
Conservative fears of repeating Florida 2000 helped Bush win reelection in 2004, despite the party's overall drift to the center. By now, any conservative elements in the House and Senate were in complete retreat. The moderates ruled the roost in both houses. RINO defections on the Iraq war (Mistake #28), wasteful earmarks (Mistake #29) and ethics scandals (Mistake #29) were now front and center for the GOP. The only conservative victories of 2005-06 were the confirmations of Roberts and Alito to the Supreme Court. And it took a battle to defeat Bush on his nomination of Harriet Miers to do it.
By Fall 2006 conservatives had become utterly disheartened. Attempts to make the Bush tax cuts permanent stalled (Mistake #30), the continued treachery of Arlen Spector, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and the Gang of 14 (Mistake #31), increased dissatisfaction with George Bush and the Miers nomination debacle all caused conservatives to stay home in November 2006 (Mistake #32). And the GOP lost both the House and Senate.
Occasionally, the conservative movement can still rise up. The reaction to the Amnesty bill was encouraging. But other than that, conservatives have again been wandering in the wilderness. GOP moderates and RINO's have been resistant to allowing a conservative to assume leadership in Congress. And any potential conservative congressional leader has held back (Mistake #33), in part due to the extremely early start of the 2008 presidential race (Mistake #34).
And what did conservatives get for 2008 GOP candidates? Were there any Reagan conservatives who possessed all three legs of the coalition stool - strong national defense, social conservatism, economic conservatism?
Instead, we got Rudy Giuliani. An autocrat who has little affection for social conservatives, but pledged to nominate strict construction judges. Whoopee!
Instead, we got John McCain. An angry RINO maverick who enjoys flouting social and economic conservatives AND even the GOP establishment to gain favor and positive reviews from the liberal media.
Instead, we got Mitt Romney, an uber-wealthy GOP establishment moderate. At least Romney panders to social and economic conservatives with recently discovered flip-flopped positions on issues of importance to those two factions.
Instead, we got Mike Huckabee the Dope from Hope, part II. While he is just as slick and manipulative as Bill Clinton, Huckabee is nowhere near as smart.
Instead, we got Ron Paul, a true blue, libertarian nutbag. Paul has a few economic bona fides that have pulled away a few non-nut job libertarians. But I'm sorry, Dr. Paul is a kook.
Instead, we got the Obscure Four - Tom Tancredo, Alan Keyes, Tommy Thompson & Duncan Hunter. Tancredo & Keyes are single issue candidates. Tommy & Dunc are well-rounded politicians (especially Hunter), but they lacked the ability to have broad nationwide appeal.
Seeing this morass of blech, Fred Thompson entered the fray expecting to be the savior of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Fred should have been that candidate.
Unfortunately, Dr. James Dobson and a few evangelical leaders decided to cut off their nose to spite their face (Mistake #35). You see, Fred's not a Bible thumper. Neither was Ronald Reagan. And like Reagan, Fred is a bona fide, all-around, federalist conservative. That wasnt good enough for Dobson. And when Fred refused to kiss Dobson's ring of evangelical purity, Dobson went shopping for a candidate he thought he could control.
Flim Flam Huckabee seized on that opportunity. Huckabee played Dobson into thinking that Dobson could be a GOP kingmaker (Mistake #36). A handful of evangelical leaders blindly pushed Huckabee as a viable conservative (Mistake #37). The media, who knows a GOP loser when they see one, helped fan the flames of Huckabee's support. For a time, the scheme worked. Huckabee won Iowa (Mistake #38), but eventually the truth of Huckabee's Christian Socialism became evident to most conservatives.
But the damage had been done. Social conservatives were now spilt. Some had been taken in by Huckabee's class warfare (Mistake #39). Some had been taken in by the media's false depiction of Fred as a lazy campaigner (Mistake #40) and settled for Romney, Rudy or, worse, McCain (Mistake #41).
Added into this deceptive mix was the ability of independents and Democrats to participate in and distort the Iowa, New Hampshire & South Carolina Republican primaries (Mistake #42). Media darling McCain was back! McCain the new Comeback Kid was ready to lead....the GOP down to defeat. Meanwhile, Fred's race and the ability for the GOP to unify behind a Reaganesque conservative died (Mistake #43).
At best, the GOP could still end up with a George W. Bush-lite nominee like Mitt Romney. He will at least pretend to care about conservative ideals from his Country Club wing of the party.
At worst, the GOP could end up with John McCain. McCain, the perennial thorn in the GOP's side who was once touted as a possible VP running mate for John Kerry!
Who knows? Its still remotely possible that none of the moderates and RINOs still in the presidential race will win a majority of the primary delegates. Maybe a conservative nominee could still rise up in a brokered GOP convention. Maybe a conservative national congressional campaign like the Contract with America could still arise in time for the 2008 elections. But really, thats a fantasy.
The reality is that conservatives will have to wait until 2010 or 2012 to reassert itself as the true and legitimate leaders of the Republican Party. The reality is that conservatives have allowed numerous people to make numerous mistakes which have led the movement to this precarious point. The reality is that conservatives and the GOP are now left with this Dobson's Choice of Romney or McCain. Pass the nose clips and prepare for the worst.
For me, it’s Romney or __________. Fill in the blank, but it won’t be McCain.
>>Mitt Romney.. his Country Club wing of the party.<<
I thought Country Club Republicans were Episcopalians?
If it’s Romney, I hope he wins the general election; If it’s McCain, I hope Hillary or Obama win and take the blame for the next 4 years
“Unfortunately, Dr. James Dobson and a few evangelical leaders decided to cut off their nose to spite their face (Mistake #35). You see, Fred’s not a Bible thumper. Neither was Ronald Reagan. And like Reagan, Fred is a bona fide, all-around, federalist conservative. That wasnt good enough for Dobson. And when Fred refused to kiss Dobson’s ring of evangelical purity, Dobson went shopping for a candidate he thought he could control.”
I think Dobson’s ill conceived attack on Thompson played a major part in ensuring that no conservative will occupy the White House in 09.
Excellent, excellent commentary.
“At best, the GOP could still end up with a George W. Bush-lite nominee like Mitt Romney. He will at least pretend to care about conservative ideals from his Country Club wing of the party.”
Romney will drive the last nail in the conservative coffin by going hard left while hordes of glassy eyed image lickers worship his silly putty looks on “A Day in the Life” threads. His fake sincerity will insure a smooth ride over the cliff to socialism.
Interesting stuff. I disagree about the Fred related mistakes. Fred in fact ran a poor campaign and failed to motivate people. You could say that seeing the morass of RINO candidates, the MISTAKE was drafting Fred in the first place. We would have needed either a) a better candidate/campaigner to draft or b) get behind Mitt that much sooner. But Fred went where he was meant to go. That part, sadly, was no mistake.
He said that Fred wasn’t a ‘bible thumper’, which is true. When I think of a ‘bible thumper’, I think of a phony like Huckabee using the bible to pander and trick people or at the very least someone making an issue out of their religion for political gain.
This crap is getting tiring. I hope it goes away over after the nominee is chosen. Yes, McCain is annoying (personally, at this point I’d rather see Romney, but neither of these two are all that great), but this garbage about “you are either a conservative or you are not”, and “he’s no better than Hillary” is ridiculous. I haven’t seen Hillary staunchly supporting the WOT and Iraq war. I haven’t seen McCain pandering to NOW and the pro-abortion lobby. And bet your bottom dollar that Hillary will appoint a few more Ginsburgs to the USSC.
Fine, keep bitching now (that’s what primaries are for), but have some sense in the general election campaign.
As for Rush Limbaugh, he makes the best case that can be made for opposing McCain in the general, but frankly its not very good. By suggesting that somehow Hillary “will be no worse” than McCain, and that “we may need a Hillary” to bring back conservatism, he’s really minimizing the importance of conservatism. Connservatism is important enough to me that I will always pick the MOST conservative candidate available, even if it is McCain in the general election. Conservatism is important enough to me that I do not want 4 or 8 years of a flaming liberal Hillary. Is Rush suggesting that the next 4 or 8 years are not important? Hell, they are to me.
Bible thumper is the respectful term for evangelicals. The less respectful terms are Jesus freak, Rapturist, etc.
The idea that Romney advanced the liberal cause in Mass is wrong. The Mass legislature is 85% Democrat - a veto-proof majority by a country mile. Romney slowed them down, watering down their socialist universal health plan by mandating that private insurers be involved. He also managed to appoint some Republican judges in that den of iniquity.
I guess people could write in a name. I bet this year both Democrats and Republicans will make this a historic election with the most write in’s setting a record for Guiness.
Romney or McCain...either way we get AMNESTY
McCain for the ploiticical advantage...and Romney for the Big Business/slave wages, pathway to citizenship, we cant send them all back...
Welcome to Amerivilla
Looks like another Duncan Hunter endorsement to me. Draft Duncan Hunter, Take II!
Very good commentary. Right on the money.
I want to vote for someone who at least has a theoretical chance. If it’s McCain, and I can’t support his VP, then I will be hoping that Paul goes third party. I think I could lower myself to vote for him, if the alternative were McCain.
It had a part in it, that is for certain, but so did many "establishment" Republicans who didnt like the fact that Fred wouldnt kiss their fat rear. At that point, they decided to fold behind someone who would - Romney.
I don’t think it’s Conservatism that is dying. It is the Republican Party.
I don’t know anyone who is happy with the horrible choices we are left with for this election.
The Republicans will lose this election(just like they lost last year), and hopefully, they’ll be smart enough to return to the Reagan roots that brought them (us) to power.