The Republican candidates cannot get away with simply paying lip service to the base during primary season. No, the base expects (and the candidates comply) an homage to their conservative principles from the Republican candidates. The candidates will literally say, “I am a conservative” or perhaps you have heard “I am the conservative in this race” and sometimes if they are feeling just frisky enough “They are no conservative”. In my discussions with other Republican voters I often hear similar sentiments in their support for a certain candidate or the angst for another candidate. I always ask “What makes them a conservative (or not a conservative)?” Responses usually range widely and sometimes I hear similar arguments for multiple candidates, it can be a frustrating exercise.
I thought we could discuss this using archetypes and example from pop culture. For example, I might say that former Vice President Dick Cheney is an example of a Neo-conservative because of his views on the size and scope of Government, and military intervention. What we must realize is that the Republican Party has several branches and no one candidate fits each wing perfectly, but to shout “RINO” and debase our candidates may be doing more of a disservice to ourselves than we realize.
The 1990s – 2000s saw the rise of the Neocon. A new type of Republican, these Republicans felt that the government could be a force for good and that a smaller government might not necessarily be a better government. Newt Gingrich led the charge and drafted the Party’s Contract with America, which coupled with President Bill Clinton’s early leftist policies helped lead the Republican Party in a crushing defeat of their Democrat counterparts. The problem is that by 2008 most Americans (Republicans included) realized that these “compassionate Conservatives” were spending way too much money, growing the government in ways many did not like, and reenergizing the Democrat Party. Among the candidates who best typifies Neo-conservatism? I think Newt Gingrich is probably our most likely candidate here.
Since the 1980s the base of our party has had a fervent and vocal block of voters that the media has called the “conservative evangelical” vote. Evangelicals were instrumental in the election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980 and have overwhelmingly supported Republican candidates in the years since. Today, we connect the Evangelical conservative with the “Values Voter” and this group of conservatives form and integral part of the party’s base – which is why we so often see the candidates working so hard to convince them that they share their values. What happens if they don’t? If a candidate doesn’t get the support of the Value Voter in the Republican Party, they simply cannot win. Just ask Gary Johnson or Jon Huntsman. The Values Voter asks candidates to support a conservative social agenda; fight extra rights for homosexuals, be pro-life, support the Christian church in the political arena, etc. All of these social causes must also be supported loudly and aggressively or a candidate’s sincerity may be questioned (hello Mr. Romney). The dream candidate of this wing of the Party is Governor Mike Huckabee, but who will the so-called “Religious Right” gravitate to in this primary? The likely candidate is Michelle Bachmann, though Rick Perry and Herman Cain also have cache with these voters.
The Populist conservative is what some might call a “new breed” of Republican, though we have had populists in the party before – though generally not described as conservative. The populist conservative seeks to play off the passions of an angered electorate who have seen their homes, jobs, and savings all devalued in the current economic climate. The populist conservative teaches that corrupt government and corrupt corporations are to blame for the destruction of the middle class inAmerica. They find resonance with the vast economic “middle” of our country and seek to not only “shrink” government but find ways to force the big moneyed corporations (and banks) out of their ability to influence our government. The leader of today’s populist conservatives is not necessarily a candidate for President, but Governor Sarah Palin does have like minded folks in the race like Herman Cain.
Our modern party also has a vibrant and proud selection of what we might call right leaning Libertarians. These are Republicans who value the conservative economic principles of our party but may eschew many of the conventional social conservative notions as well as voicing reticence in becoming involved in the problems of other nations, and would rarely call on our military for anything other our defense. Dr. Ron Paul is the iconic Republican-Libertarian politician, who desires a smaller and far less obtrusive government than the one we have. Gary Johnson may appeal to some of these voters, but for many of them he is simply too Libertarian.
I know what you are asking. We have covered four different groups within the Party and we still haven’t discussed the “frontrunner”, Mitt Romney, how come? Well, in my view it does not seem like Governor Romney is the preferred candidate of any one group of Republican voter. However, Governor Romney does have the support of one very important constituent; the “establishment”. As the establishment candidate, Governor Romney is the preferred “agreed upon” candidate of party leaders, movers and shakers. He has the looks, the gravitas, and the demeanor of a Presidential candidate; moreover, he has the money to make a President Obama victory very difficult. The candidates have been weighed and measured by the leaders of our Party and the candidate who “seems” most assured of victory (to them) is Governor Romney. He is the candidate of the political class, but former Speaker Newt Gingrich may have best categorized Governor Romney when he called him a “Rockefeller Republican”.
So, who is conservative? The Libertarians are most devoted to economic conservatism. The Evangelical Voters are most devoted to social conservatism. The Populists have the most momentum in our current political climate. The Neocons have the most recent experience with leading. However, the most likely group to lead this time around is the establishment… and the one thing I think we can all agree on is that the establishment is the least truly conservative group of the bunch. Why is this? The main concern of the establishment is power, and the way to power is through winning elections… values are secondary.