For over a month now, there have been whispers that revolution is brewin’ in the GOP.
First, three very big names in the coalition – Richard Viguerie, the direct-mail guru and “funding father” of the conservative movement, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, and talk-radio host James Dobson of Focus on the Family – warned that they might start up a third party if Rudy Giuliani got the Republican nomination. Their concern is centrally the candidate’s claim that it’d be “OK” if the Supreme Court upheld Roe v. Wade and his support of taxpayer-funded abortion while as mayor of New York. So far, talk of a social-con third party has remained only talk.
Ironically, the candidate many think best suited to keep social-cons voting Republican, Mike Huckabee, has sparked a second rebellion. While the former Baptist minister took second place in the straw poll at the Family Research Council’s “Values Voter” conference, fiscal conservatives and the hard right wing of the GOP coalition are none too pleased with him. Rand Milton, of Phyllis Schlafly's national Eagle Forum, called governor Huck "a pro-life, pro-gun liberal." That is, he’s good on right to life issues but completely unprincipled on taxing and spending—even worse on immigration. Put simply, Huckabee’s a “compassionate conservative.”
The Club for Growth has piled on, creating an anti-Huckabee website, www.taxhikemike.com and making it clear that they find the man from Hope completely unacceptable.
The social-cons, the pro-growthers, and the hard Right should be applauded – they have clear objectives and principle, they know when they’re willing to bend and when they’re not, and they take their stand.
It is, however, rather depressing to see how rebellions have sprung up around these issues and not American foreign policy, how serious dissent within the movement is possible on abortion and spending but on the Iraq debacle, it’s strictly verboten.
And yet politically this doesn’t make much sense.
On the issue that Dobson, Perkins et al. most care about—right to life—the American public is famously wishy-washy. In 2002, 57% of Americans generally thought that abortion should be legal in most cases, though few supported partial birth abortion or the termination of a pregnancy after six months. Whether one wants to call this moral incoherence or nuance, the fact is that a third party based on the abortion issue could never command a broad majority; pro-lifers’ ability to wield power within the GOP has its limited.
With regard to the issue fiscal conservatives most care about – limited government – the American public is even more difficult to understand. The words “taxes,” “big government,” “welfare programs,” and like usually inspire fear and loathing, but Americans are remarkably unprincipled on these areas. A majority supports “universal” health care, and the recent debate over the SCHIP program, and countless ones over failing public schools in the inner cities, sadly remind us that politicians need only say “we must help the children!” for Americans’ hearts to collectively bleed.
Support for limited government should be at the heart of the conservative intellectual movement, but sadly it’s hard to make this the basis of a populist platform.
And then there’s the war.
With large majorities disapproving of Bush and his handling of the war and want all troops out within two years. If one wants to form a third-party band of rebels – or create a third force that would make the GOP come to heel – then there’s simply no better issue than the war.
Indeed, one would think that even pragmatist who foresee a terminal decline of the party would support such a rebellion. And yet, even those willing to make compromises on a host of issues, won’t even contemplate the notion that the GOP should be made to change its positions on foreign policy.
Certainly, those most supportive of the war have done their job – the flagship publications remain staunch and a host of new websites, like that of the pressure group Freedom’s Watch, have arisen replete with lots of flags and menacing bald eagles. But beyond this, we who oppose the Iraq war and are on the Right must admit that we’ve failed. Groups like the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy has not been able to apply sufficient pressure (the group's website does not appear to have been updated since mid-September(!?!)). Publications like The National Interest and The American Conservative have produced some excellent writing, but they've hardly made the Republican Party alter its course.
But change the GOP must – whether its current crop of favored intellectuals like it or not. Sadly, this change might only occur after a Götzendämmerung of an ’08 election.