alien & sedition.
Monday, August 27, 2007
  Republicans at a Fork in the Road

Following on the previous post, let's return for a moment to the "Movement 2.0" conversation. Consider these two points from Soren Dayton's post about possible ways forward for the GOP coalition:
Another option would be to continue to play for the working class, as Bush so incredibly succeeded in 2004, with "the party of capital" winning the white working class vote by 23%. The problem is that we lost a bunch in 2006, and we are unlikely to succeed in 2008. However, that would be the strategy of the Sams Club Republican advocates....

Another option would be the resurgence of a reformist movement in the GOP. This would be a strategy for holding on to the upper-middle class and appealing to students. There would be process reforms like earmark reform, which is clearly a Republican issue, and ethics reform, which could be. There are more complicated parts like redistricting, which is a Republican issue in California, but Democratic in places where GOPers lose from it. There’s actually a natural technological niche here with things like the Sunlight Foundation, Ruffini’s open API stuff, etc. There is a historical antecedent in the TR Progressive movement, and it doesn’t damage the existing coalition too much. Right now, this is a post-partisan issue rather than a partisan one. But once the Democrats take charge, it will quickly become a partisan one. It is already starting. In fact, we could use the cover of a Hillary Clinton presidency to co-opt the anti-Hillary anger into a constructive direction.
Dayton says he favors the latter approach, though he concedes it may be "too post-partisan" for many conservative activists. He also hints at melding a reformist politics onto a redoubled pro-war line.

There's no doubt that pro-war voters are a crucial component of the Republican base right now, though while Dayton sees this constituency as "part of the answer" for the GOP coalition, there's also the possibility that they are part of the problem for Republicans, forcing the party's candidates into a hard-line position that repels mainstream voters (including critical constituencies like Hispanics and young voters).

But let's broaden the frame. Dayton has a series of very interesting posts on the subject of conservative renewal. In one, he observes:
[T]he deeper problem is that we need to re-evaluate and re-configure our core issues so that they appeal to 60-70% of the American people. After all, and as I have noted, you cannot win elections without independents. Right now the Dems are winning because the GOP is not competing. "You can’t beat something with nothing."
The problem is how to get to that 60-70%. It seems that, among the brighter young conservative activists, two broad approaches are emerging, and right now they are competing against each other.

Here's how Reihan Salam defined them:
I see two ways to do this: a moralistic domestic reformism that ties together the applied neoconservatism of welfare reform and crime-fighting, the social conservatism of moving to reduce the number of abortions (through restrictions or abortion alternatives) and income-splitting and other marriage-friendly and family-friendly measures, and a civic nationalism that emphasizes America's common culture and the central importance of assimilation and integration....

Or War on Terror nationalism, which focuses on the defeat of America's enemies to the exclusion of domestic issues.

Right now, WOT nationalism is surprisingly potent, certainly in the Republican primary race. In part, this is a function of the collapse of the GOP's big tent. My sense is that the shelf-life of War on Terror politics is limited. Over the long term, I think a commitment to WOT nationalism will shrink the Republican Party.
Dayton essentially makes the contrasting case in a series of posts criticizing Mike Huckabee for the candidate's nativism, economic populism, and isolationism. If Dayton seems to favor a combination of "post-partisan" reformism, libertarian-esque economic policies, and something like the "war on terror nationalism" Salam identifies, Huckabee apparently represents the specter of "Buchanan/McGovern Republican[ism]," which would amount to "isolationism, protectionism, and "'culture war.'"

This is where I begin to put words in mouths, creating oppositions where the original authors might be more inclined to look for nuance, but let's take all this discussion as an opportunity to outline two broad possible futures for the right's coalition.

One is something like "moralistic domestic reformism," which would meld a slightly softened form of social conservatism to a right-wing version of economic populism. The other is a kind of libertarian pro-war nationalism with an added focus on procedural reform issues. We've seen how critics of each approach might characterize them. It's probably safe to say that inasmuch as there is a presidental candidate to represent each tendency, it's Huckabee for the former and Giuliani for the latter.

It's difficult to escape old paradigms. Dayton cites James Antle's warning that "the fusion of economic populism and social conservatism has generally been a losing strategy in Republican politics," even while noting that "there are fewer economic conservatives in the party than there used to be." The concept of fusionism itself has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years; conservatives seem torn between declaring the old fusionism outdated and reminding themselves of the inherent value of the concept itself. Yet if the balance has been thrown -- if there is no longer equal weight between fiscal and social conservatives -- can fusionism really mean anything at all? Does it make sense to speak of a "new" fusionism, or was there only ever one kind of fusionism -- one which expired when the balance of forces it expressed began to shift?

In one sense, it's unfortunate that Giuliani and Huckabee enter this race with such a disparity in resources -- it would be fascinating to watch the battle between them develop along these ideological lines. Of course, there's an excellent chance that neither man will win the Republican nomination. It's possible that GOP voters either don't recognize, or simply aren't willing to pursue, the large-scale philosophical questions currently confronting the Republican party and the conservative movement.

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You know, I haven't read the entirety of these posts as I, at times, tire from the sanctimonious sewage laced in the occasional paragraph. Nevertheless, it seems as though you're focusing on what Conservatives need to do to find voters, and your thesis is that they "change". Aren't we better off with public officials who have beliefs and stick to those beliefs regardless of their popularity? If the goal is power for the sake of power, color me unimpressed, and that seems to be an idea of American political parties you not only accept but actively advance.
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