Tea parties, libertarians, and moderates, oh my!
The conservative base of America is in a peculiar state of flux. Ever since nominating a candidate in 2008 that nauseated conservatives of all stripes, the Republican party is struggling to define itself as a big tent party while trying to keep everybody happy underneath the big top. It seems that the fabled "Reagan coalition" may be lost to the ages, a prospect that troubles many of those in the conservative movement. Is it possible for the Humpty Dumpty GOP to put itself together again? Maybe, maybe not.
Let's look at the factions that are vying for attention in the GOP today.
Tea Parties: Keeping taxes low and controlling government spending sounds good to most people, doesn't it? That appears to be the drumbeat of the Tea Party movement. So why do they pose a problem for the party of fiscal conservatism? It's a trust issue. Many in the Tea Party movement are disenchanted with both sides of the aisle. Some feel that only a new, pure third party is the answer to the acrimony in Washington. This challenges the GOP's fiscally conservative credentials and would thus inhibit the chances of a conservative defeating a liberal in a three-way election. Remember how Bill Clinton didn't take home 50% of the electorate but still managed to win in 1992? Vote splitting kills conservatives. That's not to say that Tea Party members should suck it up and get on board with a candidate they can't stand. After all, many Republicans have broken the trust of fiscal conservatives. They should be held accountable. But a third party isn't the answer.
Ron Paul/Campaign for Liberty: Little can diminish the spirit of those who follow Ron Paul. Lauded as the quasi-messiah of small government by those in the Campaign for Liberty, Ron Paul has electrified the libertarian wing of the conservative base. Although winning very few delegates in any of Republican primary contests back in 2008, his ardent fan base remains undeterred. However, as staunch as his army is, they are also his primary liability. A substantial number of his followers are affiliated with the 9/11 Truth movement, a group of conspiracy theorists who believe that the government was involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Another problem is that many of the non-truthers resort to obnoxious postings across the web (i.e. "GO RON PAUL!!" "GOD BLESS RON PAUL!" "RON PAUL IS THE ANSWER!!" "ONLY RON PAUL CAN SAVE US!") or are unwilling to compromise for any "lesser" candidate. Ron Paul is 74. At his age, the remainder of his career is limited. However, he did win the CPAC straw poll and is currently polling in dead heat with Barack Obama. Certainly, the man himself has very few detractors. And if his supporters can redirect their focus and clean up their act, they could prove to be highly valuable to the GOP. Perhaps his son Rand Paul might carry the torch.
David Frum: I remember enjoying David Frum's book The Right Man, a generally positive look at the early presidential career of George W. Bush. But that was then, this is now. Canadian-born Frum has used his credentials as an author and former Bush speechwriter to catapult himself into the conservative arena. But don't be fooled, he's not your average conservative Republican. In fact, he decried the Republicans' united opposition to ObamaCare. His blog site, FrumForum, appears to be interested in pushing the GOP to the center. But is moving to the center the right thing for the party who nominated a center-right candidate in 2008, only to fail miserably?
Sarah Palin/Mike Huckabee/Evangelicals: I like Sarah Palin. I used to like Mike Huckabee. But if both of them ran in the GOP primaries in 2012, it's very likely that they would split the same demographic: evangelicals. When it comes down to it, both Palin and Huckabee have likable personalities and are generally favored by people like themselves. Neither have a great deal of moderate or independent appeal. And both have baggage. Huckabee pardoned or commuted the sentences of 12 murderers, including Maurice Clemmons, who recently murdered four police officers in Washington state. Palin failed to shine in her Katie Couric interview (although in Palin's defense, Couric wasn't exactly playing nice). She also resigned halfway through her only term as governor of Alaska which, whatever her reasons may have been, was a poor political move. Perhaps these caveats are the reason that her poll numbers among independents are consistently low. Nonetheless, her popularity among conservatives is high and the palpable energy she brings to the party is undeniable. While Huckabee has said that he is leaning against running again, Palin has indicated that she is considering a run in 2012. It will be interesting to see which candidate will become the favorite among evangelicals if both decide to run.
Romney/Pawlenty/Dark Horse: There are some who still hold out hope for that candidate who has everything. Right on all the issues, looks, charisma, no distracting scandals. Some maintain that it's Mitt Romney, businessman and former governor of Massachusetts. Others say it's Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota. However, ObamaCare has passed, which some claim was modeled after Romney's health care system in Massachusetts. This could hurt his chances among diehard conservatives. Pawlenty has few detractors other than poor poll numbers and a lack of name recognition. But even still, some are hoping for a dark horse to come in and reshape the field. Who would that be? Some have suggest Bobby Jindal, John Thune, and Mike Pence. But it's hard to nail it down for sure. After all, Barack Obama was a state senator just three years before announcing his candidacy for President. Part of this particular demographic is waiting to be swayed.
Michael Steele: Then there's Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican party. In spite of the optimism surrounding the early part of his chairmanship, Steele has found himself eclipsed by other heavy hitters in the conservative movement like Rush Limbaugh, who some consider to be the de facto leader of the GOP. And the recent spending scandal has proven to be a distraction in the midst of what could be a sweeping success for the Republicans in November. However, a larger than expected victory in the mid-term elections could erase the cloud that currently surrounds his administration.
From a distance, the pieces of the puzzle shouldn't be too difficult to put back together. Most, if not all, of these factions can agree on fiscal conservatism, capitalist principles, low taxes, and smaller government. It's all a matter of holding elected Republicans accountable. We can't allow what happened in the early 2000s to happen again, when Republicans were intoxicated by spending just like liberal Democrats.
If the Democrats can unite environmentalists, unions, anti-war activists, and most progressives, the Republicans should have little difficulty bringing together fiscal and social conservatives and even some moderates and independents.
Perhaps the answer lies within a 2012 alliance between a social conservative and a fiscal conservative. Sarah Palin recently commented favorably on a possible team-up with Mitt Romney. A Palin/Huckabee type with a Romney/Pawlenty type could satisfy the thirst for united conservative front.
The key is for these groups to compromise their particular likes and dislikes in favor of their basic principles. If an evangelical doesn't like Mitt Romney, he or she should consider that Romney poses no real threat to family values. If a fiscal/economic conservative is nauseated by Sarah Palin, he or she should be comforted by the hope that she would surround herself with individuals who would pursue a fiscally conservative agenda.
But if the GOP fails to unite these groups, a loss is nearly guaranteed. United they stand, divided they fall.