“More Conservative, Less Republican”
Kevin Williamson at NRO is beginning to see what we on this site have posited for quite some time now — and in fact, was the foundational assumption behind “outlaw” (which, as we know, was subsequently mocked by certain sanctimonious GOP bloggers who have determined that I must be driven off the intertubes): namely, that liberty and individual autonomy, the framework of classical liberalism or constitutional conservatism, as it’s more frequently labeled today, is far more widely appealing to Americans than both the progressives and the “pragmatic,” “compassionate conservative” big government white board fluffers would have us believe.
[...] astonishing fact: When it comes to the policy opinions of American voters, there have been three peak years for conservatism: 1952, 1980, and . . . right now, according to Professor James A. Stimson, whose decades-long “policy mood” project tracks the changing opinions of the U.S. electorate. Americans have grown more conservative on the whole, but the even more remarkable fact is that the electorate has grown more conservative in every state. As Larry Bartels points out in the Washington Post, the paradoxical fact is that Barack Obama was first elected in a year in which the American policy mood already was unusually conservative, and he was reelected in a year in which it had grown more conservative still. And so the question: Why did an increasingly conservative electorate elect and reelect one of the most left-wing administrations, if not the most left-wing, in American history?
That seeming paradox may be explained in part by the fact that the American public’s increasingly conservative views are not associated with an increased sense of identification with the Republican party. In late January 2004, Gallup found a Republican/Democrat split of 31 percent to 33 percent in the Democrats’ favor, with more identifying as independent (35 percent) than as a member of either party. In September of this year, those numbers were 22/31/45. Add in the “leaners” — those who do not strictly identify with one party but generally are inclined toward its views — and the GOP was at a 44/51 disadvantage in 2004, and today is at a 41/47 disadvantage. Which is to say, the Republicans lost 3 percent who didn’t move to the Democrats, and the Democrats lost 4 percent who didn’t move to the Republicans. Independents jumped from 35 percent to 45 percent during that period.
So as the electorate grows paradoxically more conservative and less friendly to Republicans, the challenge for the GOP is to figure out how to connect its conservatism with a conservative public that distrusts the conservative party. That doesn’t sound like a terribly difficult challenge, but it is. Conservatism is a philosophy, which is a different thing from a specific policy agenda. Talking endlessly about the middle class is not going to cut it, nor is tinkering with tax rates. And beyond the specific political platform, Republicans have to show that they can be trusted to govern with the best interests of the broad electorate in mind. In 2013, showing that Republicans can govern starts with Republican governors. If there is any upside to the shutdown showdown, it is that by highlighting the fecklessness and foolishness of Washington, it increases the odds that a governor rather than a senator will emerge to lead the GOP in the next great contest.
Leaving aside what is likely a thinly-veiled shot at Cruz and Lee — and perhaps even the feint toward a Chris Christie “inevitable” nomination — what is important to note here is that the country itself is conservative in the sense that it believes in fiscal restraint, a limited but responsive government, and then — beyond that — it wants to be left alone, to live freely, to pursue personal interests, to enjoy life without the constant intervention of government agencies or social engineers looking to tinker with citizens’ lives as if they were studying lab rats.
When I first wrote about what I called “outlawism” — which was captured nearly concomitantly in the spirit of the TEA Party movement — I was talking about a collection of those Democrats who still believed in individual liberty, personal responsibility, the “Protestant work ethic,” and fiscal sanity (the erstwhile Reagan Democrats) coupled to classical liberals, conservatives, and many libertarians, all of which shared the basic belief in the ideals set forth in our founding documents. That is to say, they may differ on certain policy issues, but they don’t differ on fidelity to the Constitution and the liberty it was designed to protect.
In 2008, Mitch McConnell told us the era of Reagan was over — and that the GOP risked becoming a regional party. On the first assertion he was spectacularly wrong, if you can believe Stimson’s policy mood data; but on the second point, he was correct, albeit not for reasons he tried — and the GOP establishment statists have tried repeatedly — to convince us of: the GOp risks becoming a regional party because increasingly it stands for nothing, preaches “pragmatism” rather than principle, and protects the status quo while attacking the conservative activists in its midst.
The establishment GOP pretended to learn from 2010′s elections, but instead, all they’ve done since is work to drive out the interlopers in their midst. Jindal is right that this is far more difficult to do at the state and local level, but that just highlights the disconnect — and I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here, because personally I believe the break to be studied and intentional — the national GOP and its white board humping “architects” have with those who would naturally gravitate toward a party that extolled conservative principles and then acted upon them: rein in spending, decrease the size and scope of the federal government, downsize or cripple entrenched bureaucracies that serve only now to molest the American people, to drive up their fuel costs, punish their industry, and keep them forever bound in red tape, servants to an unelected branch of government that can only exist if national politicians agree to keep funding them.
Which is why I’ve been saying for years now that the two-Party divide is a ruse: the GOP establishment and the Democrats make up a perfectly copacetic ruling class elite, and the real second Party, the TEA Party, has been far more the object of GOP attacks than a Marxist President and his coterie of central planners and army of bureaucrats.
It is, as I’ve termed it repeatedly, the ruling class vs. the rest of us. And the problem is, more and more, the people don’t know where to turn for representation. Which is how a conservative nation is left with a progressive President: we are tired of being told we must settle for the lesser of two evils, and many conservative-leaning voters have simply tuned out the Republicans, and won’t go to bat for the likes of Mitt Romney or John McCain — particularly when they themselves won’t forcefully fight an opponent who has spoken of fundamental transformation and insists the Constitution is a flawed document that must be overcome by a program of theft and authoritarianism disguised as “social justice.”
The reason you saw the grass roots rise up recently — just as they did in 2010 — is because they saw a few brave politicians willing to fight for them. And the GOP went immediately into attack mode — not against Obama or Obamacare, which they’ve only tried to deal with symbolically — but rather against the presumptuous citizen legislators in the Senate who refuse to abide by the cozy rules of a sleezy, inbred, single-party system whose disagreements are often times nothing more than theater intended to keep the fund raising money flowing.
And no, it doesn’t help that so many professed “conservatives” undermine the efforts of actual conservatives, be it through leaks, or speeches on the Senate floor, or appearances with GOP boosters, or with articles or blog posts meant, ultimately, to keep the status quo while giving the appearance of agitating for change.
We see you now. And we’re disgusted.