May 16, 2007

The Republican Party's evolution

Two interesting articles have recently appeared around the same topic- the question of what the Republicans will do in 2008 and how much it matters. Both articles take as their starting point the fact that the two major figures on the Republican side running for President- Giuliani and McCain have doubtful conservative credentials and the third Mitt Romney has been less than solid in expressing his social conservatism. Social conservatives increasingly are looking outside of those running for President and hoping that Fred Thompson makes a run- or that the campaign of Mike Huckabee or Sam Brownback catches light. What does this mean for the Republican party?

Well first we ought to acknowledge the role of fortune in this- the right's prince was supposed to be George Allen who lost his senatorial seat in part through a gaffe that no one could have predicted, Rick Santorum who had the profile likewise lost his seat in Pennsylvania and a third possible candidate Jeb Bush is ruled out because of the fact his brother is the sitting President. So in part the reason why there isn't a conservative big hitter running is because through accident there just isn't a conservative big hitter out there. This has happened before- conservatives aren't always good at finding candidates- indeed going back in time most of the Republican party's candidates have been from the moderate wing of the GOP- George Bush senior, Gerald Ford, even Richard Nixon were all accused of selling out. So the lack of a conservative candidate may denote nothing more than a combination of accident and outreach.

Well that's not the opinion of Thomas Edsall. Writing in the New Republic, Edsall suggests that the Republican Party is changing its nature. He argues that after twenty years where Republican candidates have based their national tactics upon social conservatism- they have switched their focus- terrorism is now the issue in the Primary and a candidate like Giuliani for all his pro-abortion credentials and toleration of homosexuals is acceptable because he is tough. Personally I think that Edsall here is right- the Republican party and its supporters disproportionately beleive that they are in an existentialist battle with Islamic terrorism- just look for example at today's National Review discussion of the candidate's debate from last night. But Edsall is wrong to think that this is new- in the long run Republicans have continually been interested in national security. In that sense the 90s were a complete aberration- the cold war rhetoric of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagen elevated them to power just as the anti-terrorist rhetoric of Rudy gains him support. A key part of the Republican coalition going back to the 1950s and 1940s has always been those worried about national security.

So Edsall in my view is wrong to state that the Republican party is changing, its more that Republicans are refocusing on something that has always been important to them but during the nineties for obvious reasons wasn't as important as the culture wars. Thomas Schaller in the American Prospect argues a very different case- and I think demonstrates why Edsall in my view at the moment is more accurately distinguishing what is happening. Schaller argues that the Republicans may well run a no-hoper like they did in 1964, because they aren't going to win anyway (the margins are too tight to be that confident in my opinion) and because the present candidates aren't rightwing enough. So Schaller thinks instead of opting to run Giuliani and be defeated 49-50, the Republicans will run a Brownback and lose 40-60 (these are numbers I pluck out of the air) and hope such a candidate's run will ideologically invigorate the movement like Barry Goldwater's run in 1964 did.

The issue though with Schaller's thought is that I don't think his analysis is right: he significantly doesn't mention Goldwater who was the only Republican candidate to do precisely this in 1964 and I think its significant because as soon as you do the comparrison between now and 64 evaporates. Conservatives are much stronger now than they were then. In 1964, they were coming off the long years of Eisenhower- indeed since the 1920s there hadn't been a partisan Republican in the White House- and a succession of radical democratic administrations from the New Dealers of Roosevelt, the Fair Dealers of Truman through to the New Frontiersmen of JFK and the creators of LBJ's Great Society. Conservatism was much weaker then- now it doesn't need the kind of sacraficial candidate that it did in 1964. Its much more sensible to argue like Edsall that we are seeing a change in focus within conservatism.

I have previously argued that its worthwhile thinking about politics as a language game- I still think that impression works very well and in this context it does too. The point about conservatives is that the stresses may slowly be moving in terms of what policies are important to them- you can't imagine anyone winning a Republican primary who is pro-appeasement- but you can imagine someone winning who is pro-abortion and that does say something, not that Republicans have abandoned abortion, but that they have taken up terrorism as an issue as well. That's the change that Edsall and Schaller are really noting- but Edsall overstresses it and Schaller fails to see how seriously Republicans take terrorism- they really do feel that a Democrat in the White House would bring a more dangerous world, its worth taking them at their word when trying to analyse their political platform and if you do you suddenly realise why they are promoting electable but dodgily conservative candidates this time around.

Ultimately my impression at the moment- and everything could change- is that most US conservatives are taking the view that without an obvious conservative electorally popular candidate they might as well find someone who is certain to be tough on terrorism. That doesn't mean that other issues are dropped at all- but it does mean that since 9/11 terrorism has become a huge issue on the right, it is the real litmus test for Republicans today, and that abortion possibly say comes second to it. The refocus of Republican politicians is mirrored on the Democratic side of the aisle where Iraq is very much a make or break issue for candidates- Clinton is suffering because of her Iraq stance- the simple fact of the matter behind what Edsall and Schaller say is that today we have an election that will be partly about foreign policy- something you couldn't really say of either 1992, 1996 or even 2000.

However one last note- I'm not sure that these articles should even be written now- we don't know who the nominee will be for either party- so everything here is just supposition. Re-reading this post there are two other issues worth noting that I haven't got time to deal with- firstly the Republican party aren't solely conservatives, other groups like Libertarians come into play and secondly that conservatism isn't a monolith- I still think though that the overall thought has something in it.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I see both parties evolving and both headed in the wrong direction.

Party politics is the ruination of our Country. No representative can properly represent us, they are far TOO close to the big industries who are constantly inserting money in their pockets.

A solution is not available in the foreseeable future.

God is very angry with the way we 'represent' Him and He is angry at the things our Government is involved in.

Time is nearly up, all the signs are there for those who know the Bible and the words it contains.

The process of God's judgment is currently underway, it is high time to get things right with God.

The Anti-chirst is rapidly finalizing it's strategy and it is proceeding with great success.

Revelation 8:8 tells us about a horrible encounter we are about to face with a world changing impact of an asteroid.

PS: The word "blood" in the text is symbolic of the minerals in the asteroid mixing with the salt water and creating a redness to the ocean.

By the way, the Atlantic is 1/3 rd of the world's ocean surface, so we can rightly presume that the asteroid will strike in the Atlantic Ocean. All life on the shores of the Atlantic will be snuffed out, even for many many miles inland.

Get right with God, NOW!

Gracchi said...

Before I make my remarks I want to say that I'm not a Christian.

But anonymous- the text you cite is

And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; KJV

I don't know what the original Greek of this read- so I would be wary about putting too much influence on this reading. Furthermore I would remind you about Luke 12:40

Be ye also ready: for in an hour ye think not the Son of Man cometh

I would suggest that that passage implies that no Christian will be able to conceive and plan for the moment that Christ will arrive- if you beleive in Christianity- I'd suggest that passage leaves you in no doubt that Christ reserves that coming for his time not ours.

As for God's judgement I'm not so sure as you are that your judgement of God's judgement is theologically correct. But that's a matter for another conversation.

Thanks for commenting though.