Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Ideas In Tension

Here are some thoughts,

1.  The GOP's big domestic policy weakness lies in crafting a specific economic agenda that can plausibly offer higher living standards and at least somewhat greater security (especially in health care.)  It does not follow that to make progress on economics, Republicans need to move left or default on the social issues.  Alienating social conservatives makes the job of crafting a winning coalition that is geared to economic reform harder rather than easier.  It is possible to stick to social conservative principles while running an economy-focused campaign.  Which is to say that while Virginia is not America writ small, Mitch Daniels might have something to learn from Bob McDonnell.  One of the lessons of the McDonnell campaign: if you have an appealing economic message and a principled but nonabrasive stand on the social issues, it is to the conservative Republican's advantage to have the Democrat run a "divisive" culture war campaign.

2.  Except in the very short term (as in 2010) the GOP cannot win consistently without expanding its demographic base.  There is also no chance of a winning and decent conservative politics absent those self-identified conservatives who make up the Republican base.  There are two temptations to avoid.  The first is the assumption that conservatives can win by bringing the Reagan-era coalition back together and assuming that inroads with demographic groups outside that coalition will happen without special effort.  The second is to triangulate against conservatives by moving left in order to win over persuadables who consume mostly left-leaning media and hoping that conservatives will stick with you because they have nowhere else to go.  Both roads lead to California.  The worst thing is that a lousy center-right politics will tend to alternate between these two approaches as each one, in turn, fails to combine electoral success with good policy outcomes.  There is no practical alternative to crafting a policy agenda and message that appeals to conservatives and those who do not think of themselves as conservatives, have not bought into the conservative narrative of the recent past, and who do not consume much if any right-leaning media.  That is an enormous challenge because it involve simultaneously threading multiple policy, cultural and media needles.

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 16 Comments

Look east to Chris Christie. That is the model. Do that and the GOP wins and grows.

Any return to "social issues" will kill the movement. There are plenty of fiscal conservatives who don't like being preached to. Transformation of the heart is not a question of government policy.

Fiscal management is.

It is worth recalling, as we saw in the health care debate, social conservatives are often the strongest supporters of limited, constitutional government. I suspect this is more true of the rank-and-file, than it is of leaders. Huckabee, like Bush, is for big government.

Don, I don't think that believing that the Supreme Court should not create a virtually unlimited constitutional right to abortion at every stage of the pregnancy, while making the Second Amendment a dead letter constitutes preaching or an abuse of our politics or a source of weakness for the Republican Party. There is probably some fraction of the public that is both deeply disgusted with even an incremental and deemphasized social conservative agenda and in favor of deep entitlement cuts and radical market-driven health care reform. But I think it would be madness to try to court this group by bailing on the social issues because it would cost more (social conservative) votes than it would gain.

Or to put it another way: if you refuse to vote for candidates who espouse economic policies you like because of the possibility that a Republican President might sign a law banning government subsidies of abortion, your issue priorities are such that you probably belong in the Democratic Party in the first place.

I think we may have entered a phase in American economic life that hasn't existed since the great depression. If the Repubs stick to econimic issues and go after the federal and state unions non sacrificing life styles, then we will have all of the right, two thirds of the center and ten percent of the left. There is no other subject that will defeat the left quicker than tax and spend into eternity. Our national debt can never be paid off if we don't tackle the issues of entitlements and union pensions. If the Dems try to bail out states that are about to default like California than we need to make that the cherry on the sundae of economic doom.
If we just list the government's failures, Medicare, Social Security, Post office, Obamacare, any gov. do good program, public schools and all of the many other failed gov. programs and are honest about the resolution of them, we can start a new conservative movement.

Pete, it's a matter of where the emphasis is placed.

The country is willing to embrace sensible responsibility.

Unless and until the social conservatives are able to live by the words they preach, they had better back-burner the emphasis on things such as overturning Roe v. Wade and pushing prayer in school and creationist teaching. It won't fly. It just won't.

Now, before you accuse me of being an anti-gun atheist abortionist be aware that I generally align with social conservatives to a point. My stance is one of pure practicality. The media is just waiting for the Tea Party movement and other new movement conservatives to fly the evangelical banner. They will hammer home the "morality police in the bedroom" theme. And the middle 10% will either stay home or flee to a third party candidate.

Don, on emphasis: I agree, but also believe that telling social conservatives that there will be no action taken on their issues loses more votes than it gains and deserves to do so.

On your second paragraph: The less said the better, but an GOP approach to social conservatives that combines an attitude of smug contempt (are we really arguing about whether the GOP presidential candidate should lead with creationism?) with a GOTV strategy of "shut and and go away but only after you vote for us" will do every bit as well as it deserves at the voting booth.

If Republicans actually craft a good economic message (which is really the hard part) and combine it with an incrementalist and deemphasized social conservative agenda, I think it is just great if the Democrats choose to run a culture war campaign. Thats a recipe for Democratic defeat.

What we've got out of a succession of Republican administrations have been:

1. Some agreeable judicial appointments. If the appointments to the federal Supreme Court are any guide, one might guess that roughly 40% of Republican appointees to the federal courts are respectful of democratic choice in the absence of explicit warrants in constitutional text and 25% are as bad as any Democratic president would have appointed.

2. A prohibition on public subsidies to the promotion of feticide by international agencies.

3. A prohibition of public subsidies to ghouls who wish to engage in embryonic stem cell research.

4. A legislative effort to put a spanner in the works of a conspiracy by various members of the Florida bar (in cahoots with the thuggish Michael Shiavo) to starve a helpless nursing home resident to death.

Please note that a Democratic Congress and President enacted prohibitions on the federal funding of feticide in domestic hospitals and clinics and the federal legislation which declares that persons wishing to make a public point of their sexual perversions should seek employment in establishments other than the U.S. Military.

If you de-emphasize our agenda any more, we got nothing. Not acceptable.

AD, its relative when it comes to emphasis on these issues. My preference is more than McCain in 2008, but with economic reforms paramount. With all the usual caveats about the differences between state and federal office, I think Bob McDonnell in Virginia is a pretty good model to follow.

It's important not to conflate demography with destiny. What I've seen is an upper spiral on immigration -- these folks vote, so we can't restrict immigration--we have to move left to include these new demographics. Job one is to restrict immigration, which is a winning issue.

But there is also great sense in running simply as fiscal conservatives in this election cycle. The overreach in the Obama administration is so severe (beyond my wildest imagination, in fact) that simply running on fiscal sanity will probably work.

THEN we work on the demographic future. And no, Pete, winning hearts and minds almost never trumps identity politics. It's just too easy to mobilize people along lines of race, ethnicity, religion, and language. Ideology comes in a poor second to all that. The dems understand this, and so do we -- we are just too shy of being called "racist" to embrace the truth.

Redwald, I certainly agree that a politics of border security can (and should) work, but how it is presented matters alot. Ramesh Ponnuru again. As for identity politics: there are lots of different kinds of identity and nonwhite = Democrat is one that should be argued against. I also don't hink that "ideology" should be any kind of major selling point. I think it should be a broad range of policies that offer higher living standards and (somewhat) more security. I also think that any kind of white racialist politics will alienate more whites than it attracts. And so thank God we are spared that temptation.

I also think social issues ought to have their place in a 2012 Republican presidential campaign and ignoring those issues both will and should hurt hurt the GOP.

I am not advocating an explicit "white racialist" party platform. I am saying we attend to our own needs without compromise, and let people whose interest aren't being served (the multiculturalists) call us whatever names they please. "Big tentism" has damned near been the death of the conservative movement. We must be either hot or cold -- lukewarm is a loser (thank you, St. John).

Redwald, on economics four instance, I am unclear on how a set of policies that address "our" needs on growth, family-friendly tax policy, or health care would not also address the needs of many nonwhites. I also don't see any bigtentist/echonotachoice/multiculti/bathwater/girlydoilyunderpantsy qualitites to such a set set of policies.

I'm sure there are many overlapping interests. To the extent that we attract some minorities with these sound fiscal and social policies, great. They are more than welcome. But you are naive if you think you can propose family-friendly policies and/or health care policies without addressing the black underclass or the burgeoning Hispanic populations of the Southwest and elsewhere. Race is an underlying theme in America, and try as you might, charging through the middle with color-blinders on won't attract many minority voters (and I say, so be it).

Morality is emphatically central to Biblical teaching, but evangelism and prophecy also. Yet ancient and modern philosophy agree with Biblical teachings on the need for self control based on obedience to the requirements of natural right. It is a cheap trick to refer to the defense of life, marriage and family, the foundations of civilization, as preaching, unless we wish to ignore the wisdom of the greatest sages as "preachng." Doubtless, we should act prudently or even boldly, as circumstances require or permit. Here and now, nibbling at the edges of abortion (given the Roe "super precedent") is the best policy, based on the principle that abortion on demand violates the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Stout defense of family and marriage is not only desirable but appropriate, given the overwhelming majorities that have voted to uphold marriage between one man and one woman in numerous state elections. The claim of "preaching" is a diversion from the polity's overriding need to defend its basic institutions.


I am amazed that you seem to have dismissed what you call "color blindness" as impolitic, and perhaps even undesirable, because race is a "theme" in American history. There are a lot of other bad "themes" in our history (crime, self indulgence, bigotry), but that hardly justifies acquiesing in injustice. And make no mistake, race-based policies of any sort and for whatever allegedly good cause are unjust. This is understood not only by whites and blacks alike, but even members of the "underclass" understand it too. Benefiting from injustice is not equivalent to believing it is justice. All persons with self respect reject entitlements, whatever their income or status, even as some wealthy and "educated" persons endorse entitlements as the obligation of the successful to the unsuccessful. There is nothing "realistic" about indulging racism, for it is bad policy and unhealthy for the polity. It is unrealistic to temporize, particularly in a polity founded on the principle that "all men are created equal."

Redwald, I'm not sure that the votes of that fraction of the population whose lives are both materially poorest and most disorganized (of any race or ethnicity) is a big vote target for either of the major parties. There are however many millions of middle-class and working class Latinos and African American who stand to economically benefit from pro-growth, pro-parent tax policies as well as market-oriented health care reform. I'm also in favor of looking at policies that would help people (especially young men) at the lowest end of the income distribution (I'm not sure what mix of policies, though several kinds of education reform and maybe Reihan Salam-style wage subsidies - though I'm very undecided on the latter.)

And as for race (and ethnicity), the identification of a racial or ethnic group with one party is partly self-reinforcing once it is established but not destined. The endurance of such an identification is also not destined, but it is surely strengthened by the acquiescence of the other party in the arrangement. Obama is currently trying to consolidate the Latino vote around the Democrats by pushing for amnesty measures he damn well knows aren't going to pass any time during his first term. The political dynamics of the amnesty debate are complicated. Its not that amnesty is a highest priority issue for most Latinos, but the tone of the debate probably benefits Democrats if the debate is isolated to pro-amnesty vs. anti-amnesty. I'd rather the debate shift to measures that can revive a stagnant jobs market, making easier for hard working parents to raise their families, and replacing Obamacare (which will increase the premiums of middle-class Latinos and expand an already broken Medicaid system that underserves its clients) with a set of policies that will restrain cost growth and give people more security. And point out that amnesty is, at the moment, an attempt by Democrats to distract the country from their economic failures. And say so in Spanish alot of the time. Republicans will also need an answer on immigration and I recommend Ponnuru's suggestion of implementation of security measures with a later limited amnesty.

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