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Free-Spending Republicans Risk the Destruction of Their Own Base

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On the surface, it’s easy to analyze this recently concluded election. The Republican Party ran the table with victories high and low. From the presidency to both houses of Congress; in several governor’s mansions and Statehouses as here in Indiana, Republicans enjoyed a November like few before.

New majorities have been borne of these victories, and with them come rare opportunities. Conservatives can look ahead to January, when Republicans can accomplish a great deal of business through new legislation and policies. It is a safe bet that the GOP will take advantage of the opportunity.

This is not breaking news to anyone. Countless pundits have spent much of the last month making the case for pity on the sad sack liberal, who has only anguish and trepidation for the near future. Liberals will helplessly look on as conservatives chart the course of Indiana and of the country. While certain that bad policy will rule the day for now, liberals can only dream about 2006 and 2008 and hope Democratic leadership crafts a winning plan.

This is the kind of pain that delights most conservatives. For now, conservatives are smiling.

But there is a group within the broad spectrum of conservatives that is gritting its clenched teeth behind a half-hearted smile. While excited for the possibilities Republican majorities bring, this group shares the anxiety facing liberals in anticipation of the first wave of new policy. This group consists of fiscal conservatives.

It was not a series of referendums on capping budgetary growth that swept George W. Bush to re-election. It was a series of referendums on gay marriage.

It was not a promise of lower spending to diminish Indiana’s $800 budget deficit that Mitch Daniels gave Hoosiers when campaigning for governor. It was… What was it? There must have been more to it than incumbent Joe Kernan’s negativity. Was it really sufficient that Daniels wasn’t a Democrat?

For most fiscal conservatives there is a precarious balance between three pressures. Fiscal conservatives trust Democrats to do one thing – to increase the size of government – so they can’t vote Democrat. Most fiscal conservatives couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Libertarian candidates for fear that Democrats might win. They wanted to vote Libertarian, but they just couldn’t do it yet, especially because the possibility of a Republican majority was imminent. Their trust in the GOP is waning, but fiscal conservatives were willing to give them one more shot.

This thinking is rooted in the past. It used to be that Republicans grew government, but at a much slower pace than Democrats. This still troubled fiscal conservatives, who wanted government to shrink, but as the Bush Administration has shown, Republicans actually grow government faster than Democrats. It used to be that Republicans said, “Only we can cut the size of government. Just give us the tools!” Now?

Well, now they actually have the tools. Fiscal conservatives want to see the chainsaws blazing and front end loaders scooping out pork, but are afraid they will only see the penknife and the tweezers, if they see any cutting at all.

This leaves fiscal conservatives with a daunting prospect. If there isn’t any cutting, but only public-sector growth, where should fiscal conservatives turn in 2006?

There isn’t even the slightest chance that disaffected fiscal conservatives will become Democrats. If their wishes are ignored, fiscal conservatives may finally part ways with the GOP and turn to the Libertarians.

The Republican Party’s largest base constituency is on the line. Since Ronald Reagan left office, fiscal conservatives have put up with a lot of disappointment. Is a 10 percent reduction in spending across the board too much to ask? Is it genuinely impossible to find the courage to find a few redundant offices and departments and to eliminate them when the power of the majority is on your side?

If Republicans won’t reduce spending this year, with majorities at home and in Washington, fiscal conservatives will know that Republicans lack the will and that it is time for them to find a new political home.

This item also found on my blog, Kole Hard Facts of Life.

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About Mike Kole

  • http://www.kolehardfacts.blogspot.com Mike Kole

    Hmm. I thought for sure that some of the Republicans here would comment. Or, is it that it is accepted that the fiscal conservatism the GOP once espoused is just a rhetorical tool, not to be taken literally?

  • http://none.com Bob A. Booey

    This is a very real phenomenon on the Hill and among GOP insiders, where deficit spending is costing Bush support. Bush’s economic playbook is right out of Reaganomics and he has no real interest in a balanced budget.

    In terms of electoral politics, this won’t make a big difference. The public generally wants a balanced budget and smaller deficits, yet they’ve never really been all that scared of the economic harm from deficits. Plus, they like their defense spending and their social programs too. And perhaps that’s why the deficit isn’t a bigger issue outside of wonk circles, because it simply won’t cost the GOP that many votes. Keep in mind that the Concord Coalition and the whole push for a balanced budget in the 1990s was largely based in the Northeast among fiscal/policy experts who prevailed upon Clinton and other elected officials. It wasn’t some grassroots social movement. Clinton was a technocrat wonk himself, who viewed his task as good management of the federal government’s machinery. Bush views himself as a crusader, a visionary, and small concerns about responsibility have never seem to bother him yet.

    People vote with their pockets, it’s true, and that’s why things like tax cuts and education spending will always trump the public’s concern about the government’s pockets.

    I laud your optimism, Mike, but I don’t think the deficit will be a big windfall for the Libertarians in 2006, especially for the Congressional midterms.

    That is all.

  • http://www.kolehardfacts.blogspot.com Mike Kole

    I got a two-sentence analysis of the election that sadly summed things up very nicely for me, in terms of the absurdity of the electorate:

    The Democrats mistakenly determined that the country had a deep concern about an increasingly expensive war and budget spiraling out of control.

    The Republicans correctly determined that the country had a deep concern about preventing gay couples from having abortions.

    Alas, I am off my rocker for thinking that voters might actually have an interest in arcana such as the deficit and the amount of spending in the budget.

  • http://www.kolehardfacts.blogspot.com Mike Kole

    Just to update the situation here in Indiana… New Governor Mitch Daniels, the first Republican in that office in 16 years, announced in his State of the State address that he recommends a temporary tax increase of 1% on those with household incomes of over $100,000. The budget will not be cut. Some spending will remain at 2004 levels, but most areas will see an increase.

    As I was saying…

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