After the first 2012 Republican presidential debate this month, newly appointed Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) director Christopher N. Malagisi observed:
Earth to Rep. Ron Paul… you are running for the Republican nomination for president, not the Libertarian or Democrat nomination. At various times throughout the Republican primary debate last evening, I had to remind myself I was actually watching a Republican debate. Without the interludes of Gov. Tim Pawlenty (and) Sen. Rick Santorum… you would think that Ron Paul (was) participating in a Democrat presidential primary debate, siding with Democrats on major social and defense policy initiatives.
Mr. Malagisi then explained the foundational mechanics of GOP politics that he believes Congressman Paul fails to comprehend:
The Republican Party as a whole though is based on five fundamental principles—individual freedom, limited government, free markets, a strong national defense, and preserving our traditional values and heritage… The conservative movement is a coalition made up of three disparate, yet amenable groups—classical liberals or libertarians, traditionalists, and anti-communists—or modernly referred to as fiscal, social, and defense conservatives. While each entity emphasizes different issues, they all work together in a political compact…
Malagisi concluded: “The modern Republican Party is based on the foundation of the conservative movement.”
Earth to Mr. Malagisi: The modern Republican Party is not based on the “foundation of the conservative movement” even as you’ve described it. And if there is a big-government trend within the GOP that would typically be more identified with Democratic or liberal philosophy, it more accurately belongs to the big-government Republican brand exemplified by conventional candidates like Pawlenty and Santorum.
Let us begin with Malagisi’s “five fundamental” Republican principles: “individual freedom, limited government, free markets, a strong national defense, and preserving our traditional values and heritage.” Today’s Republican Party, as defined by the last GOP administration, fails miserably on most of these fundamentals: The Bush administration attacked individual freedom and liberty (dismantling Fourth Amendment Constitutional protections via the Patriot Act), limited government was virtually non-existent (unprecedented empowerment of the Executive branch and an explosion of new departments and entitlements, doubling the national debt and overall size of government), free markets were literally mocked (The TARP and bank bailouts—“I have abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system,” said Bush), what constituted a “strong national defense” was at least arguable (In retrospect, was invading Iraq actual “defense” or an irrational offense?) and traditional values were more often used as a rhetorical electoral tool than vigorously pursued (it’s no coincidence that Bush’s first pick for the Supreme Court was Harriet Miers, a direct insult to the social conservatives who helped deliver Republicans the 2004 presidential election).
This anti-individual freedom, anti-limited government, anti-free market, hyper-interventionist and cosmetically socially conservative GOP was—and remains—the party of Republicans like Santorum and Pawlenty. Comparatively, Bill Clinton’s briefly balanced budget, support for the Defense of Marriage Act and willingness to intervene militarily in Kosovo and Somalia (interventions many Republicans opposed) puts that Democratic president in the same rightwing stratosphere as Bush, if judged by Malagisi’s stated Republican standards. In fact, if judging by the size of government alone, Clinton could be considered to the Right of Bush. How do Santorum or Pawlenty, in their records or rhetoric, differ significantly from Bush? Worse, how do any of these Republicans differ substantively from Bill Clinton?
In this light, let there be no illusions about which Republican candidates’ platforms more closely resemble a Democratic ticket, and let us recognize that the mushy, statist center of conventional American politics has long been bipartisan.
This brings us to the 2012 race’s most unconventional candidate. In citing Ron Paul’s opposition to the War on Drugs and our current foreign policy as somehow being liberal in nature, this would have surprised the late William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman, who agreed with Paul on the drug war. Conservatives as diverse as Pat Buchanan, Robert Novak, Tony Blankley, George Will and Grover Norquist have all taken Paulian foreign policy positions. In fact, many conservatives now question Obama’s war in Afghanistan and intervention in Libya, while the neoconservatives—who Malagisi subtextually implies define Republican foreign policy—now firmly side with a Democratic president.
Indeed, the very reason the GOP became the party of big government under Bush can be found in the collapse of Ronald Reagan’s “three legged stool” of “fiscal, social, and defense conservatives” which Malagisi also cites. Malagisi writes: “John McCain knew he had to win over enough people from each of the three main groups to win the Republican nomination.” Seriously? McCain joined the Democrats on supporting TARP, embryonic stem cell research and now sides with Obama on Libya. Again, which party’s nomination did McCain win in 2008?
The fiscally conservative stool leg was put on the back burner permanently during the Bush administration, precisely because so-called “defense” conservatives were elated with the most aggressive foreign policy in American history. Social conservatives were not only satisfied with Bush’s pro-life and anti-gay marriage rhetoric—they too were typically just as enthusiastic about policing the world and footing the bill. Notes The American Conservative’s Michael Brendan Dougherty: “The religious right is more convinced of American righteousness in the exercise of its military might than the neoconservatives are.”
With all the GOP’s attention paid to God and war, fiscal conservatism became an afterthought, if it was ever thought about at all—as defense and social conservatives gladly sawed off the libertarian leg of Reagan’s tri-pronged Republican coalition. The socially conservative Paul now dares to ask if federal solutions to moral depravity actually work in practice. Even though Buckley and Friedman asked the same question and drew the same conclusion as Paul, Malagisi believes this position makes Paul a liberal Democrat. More accurately, it makes the Congressman a constitutionalist in the mold of Thomas Jefferson.
Paul now also asks if what most Republicans reflexively call “national defense” is indeed that? To quote former CPAC boss and American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene’s view of Reagan’s foreign policy: “(Reagan) resorted to military force far less often than many of those who came before him or who have since occupied the Oval Office. . . . After the  assault on the Marine barracks in Lebanon, it was questioning the wisdom of U.S. involvement that led Reagan to withdraw our troops rather than dig in. He found no good strategic reason to give our regional enemies inviting U.S. targets. Can one imagine one of today’s neoconservative absolutists backing away from any fight anywhere?”
One can hardly imagine this. In questioning today’s conventional GOP politics, even Reagan would likely not measure up to Christopher Malagisi’s defense of the indefensibly statist Republican Party. Indeed, where Ron Paul is unconventionally Republican is typically where he is the most conservative. Conservatism necessarily requires reflection. Protecting the status quo necessarily requires deflection. And indeed, if today’s Tea Party has a primary purpose, it is to force the Republican Party to finally remind us what, exactly, makes them so different from the Democrats in the first place.