I know it's been a light couple of weeks here at A&S, and to be honest, I'm unlikely to be doing multiple posts every day for the foreseeable future. But it'll still be regular (should be around one a day, maybe two), and hopefully we'll maintain our reputation for sterling quality control (er, do we have a reputation for that?).
One dynamic forcing Republicans to new ground is the failure of the Bush presidency. This is leading liberals to insist that President Bush's tenure proves conservatism doesn't work, and conservatives to insist that Bush was never a real conservative (something they didn't say when his poll ratings were high).I agree with Dionne's last assertion, and on a general level I think he is seeing the same crisis in the conservative movement that I'm seeing, but I don't think he's getting the nuances quite right - and they're important nuances.
Something similar happened to Jimmy Carter in 1980 when conservatives attacked him as a liberal while liberals disowned him. Carter's defeat by Ronald Reagan was followed by an extended liberal nervous breakdown. Now it's conservatives who are panicking.
But Republicans also know in their guts that their old axioms don't work anymore because their constituencies are breaking up.
The obituaries this week for the Rev. Jerry Falwell often took the form of elegies for the entire religious right. Younger and suburban evangelicals may be more or less conservative, but they do not share the ideological fervor of the Moral Majoritarians. These new evangelicals care about issues other than abortion and gay marriage. They yearn, along with almost everyone else, for problem-solving competence. [...]
If conservative ideologues were the dominant force in Republican primary politics, Giuliani would not be at the top of the pack, Gilmore the Pure would be doing better, and McCain and Huckabee would not be placing bets on pragmatism and political reconciliation. Yes, every Republican still wants to be called a "conservative." But they are all feeling pressure to pour new wine into that old vessel because it's almost empty. And Democrats beware: A less orthodox Republican Party would be a lot more popular.
[T]he idea that the heresies (most of them minor) on display in South Carolina somehow represent the GOP candidates' efforts to rethink party ideology seems, well, wrong. For the most part, they're exactly what they appear to be: The candidates' efforts to deal with (and, wherever possible, minimize) their inconvenient political baggage.Let's consider Huckabee again. The former Arkansas governor is saying what he's saying about taxes precisely because he's on the defensive against enforcers of conservative orthodoxy. That's why he emphasizes the "94 tax cuts" claim; his refusal to renounce all tax increases comes across more as a self-defense strategy than anything else -- an attempt to avoid complete capitulation, which would make him look weak. In fact, I think Huckabee would have a sound strategy for success in a general election if he were to more strongly emphasize his disagreements with economic conservative orthodoxy, but as he well knows, the Club for Growth won't let him.
As Dionne notes, Huckabee may have raised taxes as governor of Arkansas, but he still pitches himself as a fiscal conservative who cut taxes "94 times." Giuliani has only embraced his pro-choice past because his earlier efforts to finesse it away were such an abject failure. As for Romney, he defended a federal role in education because he was specifically asked whether, in light of his many convenient ideological conversions (on abortion, gay rights, etc.), he'd had any conversions that might hurt him with the base. Defending No Child Left Behind seemed a better bet than admitting that he's a shameless, flip-flopping opportunist. Really, the only candidate who proudly defended his apostasy was McCain on torture.
Far from being characterized by the kind of freethinking, let's-reinvent-the-party spirit Dionne seems to describe, the GOP primary has thus far been a race to the right on almost every issue: McCain suddenly recognizing the advantages of tax cuts for the rich, Romney reeducating himself on fetal rights, and of course everyone (with the exception of fringe candidate Ron Paul) embracing a war that, while ever-more unpopular with the public at large, is still a rallying cry for the GOP base.