Open University

Conservatives And The Gop


by Jacob T. Levy
Via Michael Crowley at The Plank, I see this article from the Politico on conservative dissatisfaction with the Republican presidential nominees. No mention is made of what I assume to be the simplest hypothesis here: Conservatives know that the fate of the Republican nominee in 2008 rises or falls entirely on the next eighteen months in Iraq, and are pretty sure that the results won't be pretty, so they're despairing of the absence of any electoral savior who could possibly keep the White House. The damage that Bushism has done to conservativism wasn't undone by the 2006 election, and the time in the wilderness is going to last more than two years, and at some level the activists know it.

But anyway...

a few thoughts.

From that Jonathan Martin article:

"Where do social conservatives go?" asked Dan Schnur, a California-based Republican consultant who worked for McCain in 2000 but is staying out of the 2008 contest. "They've been the determining force in the nomination process for a generation and they've got no candidate in the top tier."

Ah, yes, the halcyon generation when the Republican presidential nominees included: in 2000, at least one of Gary Bauer, Steve Forbes, or Alan Keyes; in 1996, Pat Buchanan; in 1992, Pat Buchanan; in 1988, Pat Robertson; and in 1980, Phil Crane. What's that...?

Reagan was indeed ultimately backed by social conservatives, but he was hardly one of them. In no contested Republican presidential nomination race has the nominee actually been a social or Christian conservative, except W; and he was still challenged from the social right by no fewer than three candidates more closely aligned with social conservatism.

More accurate is the following:

So, for the first time in decades, the GOP is left in unfamiliar uncertainty. The party that had a Nixon, Bush or Dole on every ticket for a half-century but one is now left with none of the above.

The one was 1964, when 'movement conservatism' (albeit not social conservatism) was able to briefly topple the GOP's aristocratic impulses. Thirteen out of fourteen presidential elections in a row features Richard Nixon, Bob Dole, or a George Bush on the Republican ticket. In 1980 movement conservatism (with social conservatives playing an important part but not in the driver's seat) was able to rally to Reagan but was unable to block HW from the vice-presidential position (and they tried). And neither Nixon nor Dole nor HW had any meaningful ties to any part of movement conservatism, much less to social conservatism.

The line that runs from Goldwater through Reagan to Gingrich has been the part of Republican history that's gotten the most attention for a long time; it's the movement conservative narrative of triumph (followed by the narrative of hubris and collapse in the twelve years since 1994) and a tale of organized villainy to the left. But I wonder whether it was ever as central as it sometimes seems, or whether the GOP's aristocratic urges (aligned with though not identical to Rockefeller Republicanism) haven't always been more powerful than we've recognized.

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