I get really annoyed every time some talking head or other media figure starts talking about “the civil war in the Republican Party”. It’s an almost constant meme that is used to try to scare Republicans while galvanizing Democrats. The reasons and focus of these “civil wars” changes from day to day; it can be about abortion, or taxes, or government spending, or social issues, or any of a number of other reasons. A quick Google search sheds light on the plethora of civil wars being fought within the party, even now. It’s all nonsense, of course, but maybe a Civil War is exactly what the Republican Party (and by extension America) needs. Our party has been sitting back with its feet on the desk for over twenty years, acting as if everything is business as usual and our country is A-okay.
How about a little history first? In 1988 we nominated George H.W. Bush, who once called Reaganomics “Voodoo Economics”. He lost in 1992 because of the economy, and in particular his broken promise of “No new taxes”. In 1996 we nominated Senator Bob Dole, a war hero yes, but a moderate Republican at best. He could have also been called a conservative Democrat. In 2000 we nominated the “Compassionate Conservative” George W. Bush, who would prove over the next 8 years to be exactly who he told us he was. This President Bush often gets attacked by the left as a “liar” but in truth he was very honest. He told us he was a Big Spending Republican and we picked him anyway. Twice. His eight years as President have effectively demolished the Republican Party and its standing among non-Republican voters. In 2008 we nominated Senator John McCain, a war hero yes, but a moderate Republican at best. (Déjà vu?) He actually agreed with a lot of what President Obama did in the first few months of his term. In 2012 we nominated Governor Mitt Romney, a man who was “conservative” enough to be elected Governor in Massachusetts! There isn’t a single issue that could label Governor Romney a conservative and yet, when he called himself a “severe Conservative”, we didn’t even giggle.
Are you convinced yet that something is very wrong? The way to fix what ails us is to finally fight the civil war that has been brewing within our party for the last 25 years. There are a few issues that will draw these dividing lines: military policy, spending (and taxes), and so called social issues.
When it comes to the purpose and use of our military forces, Republican policy has become almost indistinguishable from Democrat policy. The only proof you need is to re-watch the recent Presidential debates, and listen to what the two candidates say during the foreign policy portions of the debates. The most popular turn of phrase used during these portions of the debates? “On this we mostly agree”. When the two parties are arguing over the “strength” of the force, as opposed to whether or not force should be used, there is a problem. This is not a military debate after we’ve been attacked, but the simple use of force in another nation that has not attacked us. Some examples? Iraq, Libya, and Iran. Only in Syria have we seen a divergence on whether or not to use force, but even here the two parties are mostly in agreement about how to move forward. Rock legend Pete Townshend surprised everyone when he recently described himself as a “neocon” who “likes the idea of America as the world’s police force…”, he accidentally sums up neoconservatist foreign policy quite well. Does this kind of foreign policy sound conservative? Look at our party’s history; we don’t lead the country to war (usually). The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, was a leader of the anti-war members of Congress during the Mexican-American War. He thought President Polk was lying to the American people about our purpose for the war, and he was not shy in his condemnation of it. The only Republican president to lead us to war, prior to George H.W. Bush, was William McKinley during the Spanish-American War. Every conflict from 1901-1990 that America has been involved in was spearheaded by a Democrat President. Every one.
Over the eight years that President George W. Bush was President our economy was rolling along, thanks, in part, to cheap (and dangerous) lending practices. The eventual collapse of the markets and the staggering toll it has taken on us, however, was largely because of our government’s involvement in the economy. What should have been a hiccup in the cycle was a collapse because of massive government spending, regulation, and corruption. Both parties are to blame, both spend too much, both tax too much, and both regulate too much. The Republican Party must decide to either be the party of free markets or the party of crony capitalism. When the Democrats decry the lobbyists roll in government, they are RIGHT. They may be hypocrites, but they are right to condemn the money being spent buying and selling political power in the Republican Party. We need political leaders who will spurn the lobbyists, we need political leaders who will not send home “the bacon”, and we need political leaders who will cut taxes, curb regulations, and drastically decrease spending.
The last issue is likely the most divisive and the one I will gladly say I am most unsure about. Social issues cut to the core of who we are, not as a party, but as individuals. That is the very essence of what a “social issue” is. Social issues are usually the foundation of what a person believes in their soul, not just what logically progresses from their particular worldview. The disparate wings of the Republican Party run from conservative, to liberal, to libertarian, to moderate on social issues… and it could be the central reason for our continued struggles in this recent Presidential election. Can we be the party of freedom while dictating what a person can and cannot do with their own body? How can you be for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when you allow babies to be slaughtered by the millions through abortion practices? (Please note that I believe abortion to be murder and think it should be prosecuted as such. I also don’t consider abortion a “social issue” but a genocidal issue.) Why can an 18 year old man be sent to fight on the battlefields of Iraq but he cannot enjoy an adult beverage in a bar in the U.S.? These are hard issues that have multiple points of view – and we need to square them with our rhetoric. We continually describe ourselves as “the party of less government”, and yet we keep trying to force rules onto other people who have no desire to follow them. Let’s actually decide to be for less government.
There may be a Civil War brewing in the Republican Party but it should be one that we use for our betterment, not for our destruction. Let’s return to truly conservative principles: small government, more personal freedom (and responsibility), and the ability to pursue happiness without others trying to get in our way.