Periodically I get heavily emotionally invested in a Republican campaign when there is a candidate that I think is truly different and better represents my brand of conservatism – Pat Buchanan ’92 and ’96, Ray McBerry ’10 (Governor of Georgia), Roy Moore ’06 and ’10 (Governor of Alabama) and Ron Paul ’08 and ’12 come to mind. (For the record, McBerry’s campaign imploded for reasons beyond an unreceptive electorate, but I’m not inclined to go into those details here.) I consider myself very much a realist about the ultimate electoral prospects of these candidates as I explain here, but it is one thing to be a realist on an intellectual level; it is another thing to come to terms with it on an emotional level. While I never believed Paul could win the nomination, there was part of me that thought/hoped Paul could really win Iowa. There was part of me that thought he could win or do very well in the Idaho caucus. There was part of me that hoped he would emerge as the last standing alternative to Romney. None of those things happened. While Paul has improved on his 2008 performance almost everywhere so far, there is clearly a ceiling to his support in GOP primaries, and that ceiling appears to be lower in my beloved South.
The reason I’m depressed, other than the fact that I’m in the process of swearing off that highly addictive drug known as Diet Coke (don’t let anyone tell you different), is because this primary season has brought home emotionally the direness of our situation. Let’s look at a few examples.
Romney comes rolling into South Carolina off a virtual tie in Iowa and a win in New Hampshire. So the Republican primary electorate of South Carolina, arguably the most conservative state in the Union, was going to stick it in the eye of the Establishment RINO front-runner Romney and give their support to a conservative alternative. So how did they do this? A healthy plurality voted for Newt Gingrich, that’s how. Newt Gingrich? Really?
Now I have long had an acute awareness of and visceral disdain for Gingrich because I am from Georgia and used to live in his district so I don’t expect everyone to be as familiar with Gingrich’s failings as a conservative as I am, but is it asking too much for them to have some discernment? Gingrich is a buffoonish pseudoconservative who has no grasp whatsoever of enumerated powers and represents in caricature everything that is wrong with modern “movement conservatism.”
And how did Ron Paul fair in South Carolina, this supposed bastion of conservatism? Paul had come in a competitive third with 21.43% in the prairie state of Iowa. He came in second in the Damn Yankee state of New Hampshire with 22.9%. But in the conservative firewall Southern state of South Carolina he came in dead last of the four remaining candidates with 13%. Should I be surprised? In 2008 South Carolina went for John McCain and basically handed him the nomination. In ’96 they pulled Bob Dole’s rear end out the fire by giving him a win over Pat Buchanan. Way to stick it in the eye of the Establishment there boys. And so you know I’m not just picking on South Carolina, on Super Tuesday my home state of Georgia gave a victory to it’s “native son” Newt Gingrich, a man whose ideological version of “conservatism” is as Yankeefied as it is possible to be. Ron Paul was fourth with 6.1%. (I have some thoughts on why Southerners vote this way, but that is for another essay.) It will be interesting to see how Paul does in Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday.
And so you know that I’m not just picking on my own South, lets look at Idaho, that bastion of Western rugged individualism, a state that is reportedly teaming with “anti-government extremists.” There was talk that Ron Paul might even win Idaho. What happened? Romney won with 61.6% of the vote, allegedly helped by the state’s large Mormon population. Paul came in third with 18.1% barely behind Santorum with 18.2%. This was actually worse than the 24% he garnered in 2008, and that was a primary.
In the rugged individualist state of Wyoming Romney won 39.0%. Paul was third with 20.8%. It will be interesting to see how Paul does in the Montana caucus.
Also contributing to my despair is the inexorable drift of the country and the populace to the “tolerant” (read anti-Christian) left on such issues as gay marriage as illustrated by the outrage over Kirk Cameron’s “anti-gay” remarks. This reflects the underlying de-Christianization of the culture, and we are deluding ourselves if we deny this.
To be clear, I am not criticizing Paul. If anything, I’m criticizing the voters, particularly GOP primary voters. So what is the point of this despairing rant then? I think our type of conservatives - traditionalist, paleo, constitutionalist, non-interventionist – need to face facts. We have limited electoral prospects for the indefinite future. Maybe not on certain issues like immigration, but on the package as a whole.
Now some of my third party friends will tell me this illustrates that the GOP is not reformable and that we are wasting our time trying, and I don’t necessarily disagree. I’m not sure the Republican Party is reformable either. But if we can’t get voters in the supposedly conservative party to vote essentially farther to the right, how do my third party friends think we are going to create a formidable party to challenge the Republicans based on the premise that the Republican Party is not far enough right? Where are the voters for this third party going to come from if not from people who already identify as conservative but who we think aren’t enough so? You could conceivably create a third party that is based on a different coalition and issues cluster that might be preferable, but that would involve trade offs. I think there might be room for a more economically populist party which would, for example, reject the corporatism masquerading as free market advocacy that currently characterizes the GOP, but it would also likely include advocacy of greater regulation, higher taxes on the rich, etc. as well.
Also, some of my friends will surely tell me that this illustrate that the current federal system is corrupt and not worth the effort of trying to reform, and I agree. The current system is corrupt and not reformable. But I don’t understand what plan arises from this realization. If we can’t get a majority of South Carolina’s self identified most conservative citizens (GOP primary voters) to vote for Ron Paul, how do you start a political movement to dismantle the Federal beast? Where are the supporters of this mass movement going to come from? 40.4% of them just voted for Newt “Moon Base” Gingrich!
So what is my take home point? First of all, no useful political reform is going to happen until we first have a revival of the Faith. That said, I don’t discourage people who are trying to drag the GOP to the right from continuing their efforts. I don’t discourage people who are so inclined to keep plugging away doing that hard and thankless task of trying to build a third party. Nor do I discourage people who believe the current federal system is broken beyond repair from doing what they can to dismantle it. My point is they need to do this with the realization that their efforts are unlikely to reap fruit for the indefinite future. They need to realize that at this point our efforts are primarily educational, not political. We must create a climate ripe for our reforms before we can expect our reforms to prevail.
And while I don’t discourage our candidates from pursuing elective office, they should do so under the realization that they are primarily message candidates. One practical application of this realization is that we might be better off spending more time on issues advocacy, rather than spending it supporting “our” candidates. Also we need to increase our focus on education intended to move the people to the right and focus less on jousting at windmills in the political arena. (Although I think there is something to be said for the educational value of message candidates.)
Personally, I am going to attempt to write more serious pieces aimed to educate, rather than following political horse races as much. I’m also going to try to do more persuading the public and less preaching to the choir.
I know this is heavy? Thoughts?