A Romney victory still seems the less likely outcome, but what would it mean for the GOP, the conservative movement, and temperamental and dissident conservatives if it happened? The most discouraging result will be that it would persuade most on the right that the last four to six years were just a brief detour and hold no more lessons for conservatives or Republicans. It is likely that the bad habits that marred Republican rule in the 2000s will resume, and the incentives to retain power will tend to trump any constitutional and fiscal objections to new legislation and increased spending. The identification of movement conservatism with the Republican Party is already almost complete, and regaining control of the Presidency after just four years out of power will finish the job.
While there will be a contingent of vocal, principled Republican members of the House that might rebel against a Romney administration’s excesses from time to time, unfortunately the instinct of members regardless of party is to fall in line behind the president of their party and defer to the executive. It is possible that Republican control of the White House and the House of Representatives might not produce the fiscally irresponsible policies that marked the early Bush years, but experience suggests that fiscal conservative rhetoric expires when a new Republican administration begins. There would likely continue to be Tea Party insurgent challenges against incumbent Republicans that break ranks too often (Lindsey Graham is doing his best to draw just such a challenge), but it is also likely that activists will lose some of their fervor once they do not have a Democratic administration to oppose.
Temperamental and dissident conservatives will have the opportunity to tap into rank-and-file distrust and dissatisfaction with Romney, who will almost certainly try to govern in a more “centrist” fashion than most conservatives want. The most important work that these conservatives will be able to do is to continue articulating their vision of respecting limits, husbanding resources, and breaking up concentrations of wealth and power. This is missing from contemporary movement conservatism, and it will be the ongoing task of temperamental conservatives to provide it.
If Romney should win, the need for intelligent, principled conservative arguments will be even greater. The American Conservative has been cultivating and promoting these ideas for ten years, and it needs your continued support to keep doing so. The current October issue includes the excellent commentary and reviews that readers have come to expect from the magazine, including Dan McCarthy’s essay on T.S. Eliot, modernism, and conservatism, Timothy Stanley’s review of John Randolph of Roanoke and Ted Galen Carpenter’s article on Congressional foreign policy hawks. TAC has an Election Special offer for subscribers. That includes a year of the magazine, including access to our online archives, for the price of just $10. If you don’t already subscribe, please consider doing so by going here.