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Who’s a Republican?

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 [1983] 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.

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#1 Comment By Jason Southwell On May 16, 2011 @ 8:46 am

Just excellent. Well written and well done.

#2 Comment By cfountain72 On May 16, 2011 @ 8:52 am

Great article Jack. Welcome to Bizarro World. I wonder if Mr. Malagisi will let Ron Paul in the front door at the next CPAC meeting? Building on your thoughts, I wonder if, by 2008, M.r Malagisi can point to any example whereby any of those 5 points were strengthened after Bush’s regime.

Peace be with you.

#3 Comment By Brian On May 16, 2011 @ 9:04 am

Well done, Jack!

Stay on these double-talking Republicans. Bring them back to the values they supposedly espouse.

#4 Comment By Richard Head On May 16, 2011 @ 9:07 am

Tru dat.

#5 Comment By Jim Dooley On May 16, 2011 @ 9:14 am

“…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… each entity emphasizes different issues, they all work together in a political compact…”

The canker at the root of the mainstream Washington denominated Republican Party: stupidity about itself. Yet even stupidity fails to capture how the Pentagon’s decade long third and fourth world stints with a mop constitutes in any way defense, anti-communism, or, for that matter, conservatism. This ‘political compact’ is a marketing device. The sooner it goes into the fire, the sooner the Republican Party will get to confront itself as the incoherent mess that it is and maybe, just maybe, provide an alternative to the other Government Party.

#6 Comment By JP On May 16, 2011 @ 9:30 am

Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost. – John Adams

We must get Dr. Paul through the GOP nom, its the only way. Tell your friends, preach from the streets, he must get through.

I’ve already convinced most of my family who used to be Democrats to REGISTER AS REPUBLICANS in order to get him through to the Big Election. Please do the same!!!!

Freedom for ALL. Liberty given by God, NOT government.

#7 Comment By RepublicConstitution On May 16, 2011 @ 9:34 am

The Neo-Cons are anti-American trash that needs to be dumped back into the liberal movement from whence they first slithered.

The good Congressman from Texas, Dr. Ron Paul, is a paleoconservative who stands for the greatest of America ideals: Jeffersonian principles, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

It is high time that real conservatives wake up and dump the Romney’s, Palin’s, Bush’s, Gingrich’s, and other liars and warmongers.

#8 Comment By liberaltarian On May 16, 2011 @ 9:54 am

Good article as usual Mr. Hunter, except for the bit of Reagan worship (courtesy of a David Keene quote) near the end. If you look at a history of US military interventions you will see the absurdity of stating that Reagan “resorted to military force far less often than many of those who came before him or who have since occupied the Oval Office”. Here’s a link to a list of military interventions, though I strongly encourage anyone who doubts me to research the subject on their own.

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#9 Comment By bkusz On May 16, 2011 @ 9:58 am

Ron Paul 2012!

#10 Comment By Paul On May 16, 2011 @ 10:06 am

Now that all of Jack’s friends have finished the back slapping you should consider this:

1) American conservatives from both parties need a candidate! Not a White RINO, but a real conservative!

2) THE GOP is stained with NEOCON wars, economy and entitlement support

3) The youth vote and old people looking for truth and support know that the old guard for both parties does not give a flying hoot about reality, look at the state of America.

4) John McCain was a product of the GOP Top down or else management style, that got NON-Where.

5) Killing people to make money overseas is getting old and is not popular

6) Go talk to a returning Adult over 30 Veteran about the wars and you will get a eye opening discussion. Morale is low because the point of spear is very unhappy.

7) No GOP White haired person that spews NEOCON trash will get any BLUE Dogs or boarder line voters.

8 ) It is the economy stupid! In the modern age this means people are and can research everything every GOP candidate says and they all look bad except Ron Paul.

9) Pudits for hire are embarrassing the party, Frank Lutz is a distraction of lies that people see and distrust. FOX news is loosing ground because only the same old thinking that got all of us into the worse Ressession on record got us here!

10) Red-State thinking is NOW Dead-State thinking as it is small and narrow minded faction of thinking that promotes the same failed political concepts as Republican. People have observed that lies of 40 years and know a con job when they hear it

11) Locking up Drug users has only be the only way the GOP deals with Forced personal behavior. IT DOES NOT WORK! Dead withit and tell the Prison and police UNION the SHow is over time to cut the work force!

12) God loves us all and he will judge us all so drop the lifer debate is it a BS wedge issue! DROP it now and focus on the 99% problem not the BS wedge issue. God will sort it out!

Good luck Jack and friends !

#11 Comment By Chris Moore On May 16, 2011 @ 11:20 am

Ronald Reagan once famously quipped: I never left the Democratic Party, it left me.

Ron Paul’s version might go something like: “I never left the Republican Party, the neoconned wing of the Republican Party left me.”

For these defective, Big Government “conservatives” to attempt to lecture Constitutionalist Ron Paul on what it means to be a conservative, or what it means to preserve the constitution, or that his far more Reagan-esque foreign policy is somehow less conservative than their own international social-engineering brand is beyond absurd.

These Big Government Republican losers have utterly squandered American credit, moral authority, prestige, pride, and economic security in less than a generation.

It’s well past time for a change; W. Bush taught us everything we need to know about neoconned-conservative competence and its defective character.

Ron Paul is all about a reset to Reagan/Jeffersonian conservatism.

#12 Comment By Bob Vondruska On May 16, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

Yes indeed, another well thought-out article. Thank you once again Jack!
Hopefully, rational thinking people will not fall for the lies coming from these neocon fear-mongers like this Malagisi character.

Restore America Now! Ron Paul for President in 2012!!

#13 Comment By malcolm kyle On May 16, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

Like Ron Paul, it’s time for us all to stop being ignorant hypocrites and start being TRUE conservatives!

Pragmatic libertarians (minimal-statists) and “true” Conservatives agree that many, if not most, of society’s problems are caused by government usurping choices that could better be made by individuals and that government is just about the worst way of doing almost anything. Where libertarianism normally parts company with “fake” conservatism is over moral issues. But a true conservative would have no problem with agreeing, that what people do with their own bodies, and especially in the privacy of their own home, should be supremely their business, and that anything else would entail ignoring the basic tenet of limited government.

Fake-Conservatism on the other hand has much in common with socialism; Both Leftists and Fake-Conservatives appear to harbor the belief that nature does not exist and that any human can be anything he wants to be, or can for the “greater good”, be “re-educated” into being. Leftists therefore think little boys can be conditioned into preferring dolls over toy soldiers, and similarly Fake-conservatives believe that adults can be coerced into choosing alcohol over marijuana. A true conservative, just like a pragmatic libertarian, would immediately reject both ideas as nonsense.

If you support prohibition then you are NOT a conservative.
Conservative principles, quite clearly, ARE:

1) Limited, locally controlled government.
2) Individual liberty coupled with personal responsibility.
3) Free enterprise.
4) A strong national defense.
5) Fiscal responsibility.

Prohibition is actually an authoritarian War on the economy, the Constitution and all civic institutions of our great nation.

It’s all about the market and cost/benefit analysis. Whether any particular drug is good, bad, or otherwise is irrelevant! As long as there is demand for any mind altering substance, there will be supply; the end! The only affect prohibiting it has is to drive the price up, increase the costs and profits, and where there is illegal profit to be made criminals and terrorists thrive.

The cost of criminalizing citizens who are using substances no more harmful than similar things that are perfectly legal like alcohol and tobacco, is not only hypocritical and futile, but also simply not worth the incredible damage it does.

Afghani farmers produce approx. 93% of the world’s opium which is then, mostly, refined into street heroin then smuggled throughout Eastern and Western Europe.

Both the Taliban and the terrorists of al Qaeda derive their main income from the prohibition-inflated value of this very easily grown crop, which means that Prohibition is the “Goose that laid the golden egg” and the lifeblood of terrorists as well as drug cartels. Only those opposed, or willing to ignore this fact, want things the way they are.

A GLOBAL OVERVIEW OF NARCOTICS-FUNDED TERRORIST GROUPS
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#14 Comment By RON PAUL 2012 On May 16, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

Excellent, excellent article. Really brings to light what many many people are FINALLY starting to see about the neoconservative republicans. The Democratic party and the Republican party are the same wolf in a different sheeps clothing, and they are both holding hands and skipping merrily on the path to the ruin of our republic. Ron Paul is a founding father reincarnated and I will do everything in my power to get as many votes for him as possible and you all should do the same.

#15 Comment By Andy On May 16, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

I don’t see Ron Paul winning the primary but I suspect it’s likely that the Republican power brokers will try and get someone who appeals to Ron Paul supporters and to Paul himself to run on the ticket with Romney.

#16 Comment By Chick Dante On May 16, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

Money being the mother’s milk of politics, our political parties pander to those with the biggest supply – the Oligarchs. In an internal memo in 2005, Citigroup advised its investors that America had become a “plutonomy” – a plutocracy that controlled the economy. The rest is spin.

How else to explain conundrums like calling Mitch Daniels a “fiscal conservative” when , in fact, he helped waste the Clinton surplus as George W. Bush’s budget director? How else to explain the “liberalism” of Barack Obama who has expanded executive power, increaserd American military adventurism and diminished civil rights?

The old labels just don’t fit because they are distractions.

Meanwhile, the public is divided into armed camps. All of us are encouraged to take a side against the other. We are told what it means to be either Conservatives or liberal and then we must prove our bona fides. While we divide against each other, the Oligarchs divide the our nation’s wealth. The mortgage foreclosure crisis, in which massive public wealth was upstreamed to Wall Street titans, is proof of this. The real battle is not between conservatives and liberals but between Main Street and Wall Street. Unless you have bothered to notice, the latter is winning.

Democrats and Republicans enjoy real “trickle down” economics as Wall Street purchases the best government money will buy. The cycle is perpetuated as long as the public does not notice what is happening. Magazines, web sites, blogs, think tanks and pundits are paid (in some cases subsidized) to keep us entertained and distracted while the middle and working classes descend into serfdom.

Bernie Sanders is unique in his criticizing the plutocrats and oligarchs for what they are. Not even Ron Paul is as strident or as outspoken as Bernie. Both have the luxury of being from relatively safe districts. Alan Grayson was not as fortunate. The forces of money and greed have a way of getting exactly what they want in the American plutonomy.

No sense pandering to it.

#17 Comment By paul gottfried On May 16, 2011 @ 4:28 pm

Although I agree with Jack’s critical comments about the GOP, I’m not sure it was ever very much to write home about. It started out as the party of consolidated government, supported Reconstruction, then business deals between corporations and public administration, and afterwards backed Mr. Wilson’s crusade for democracy even more fanatically than the Democrats. Robert Taft was the exception in a party going from Thaddeus Stevens down to Robert Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney. The more I learn about the Republican Party the more aware I am that it more than the Democrats has been consistently the party of the centralized managerial state and a global democratic foreign policy.

#18 Comment By Ben, Okla. City On May 16, 2011 @ 7:05 pm

I’ve enjoyed reading the comments above. However, may I offer a different take on what constitutes a conservative, at least as far as I’m concerned:

1. A belief in transcendent order based on tradition or Natural Law.
2. An affection for the variety and mystery of human existence.
3.A society that recognizes natural distinctions among people and groups of people.
4. Property and freedom are closely related.
5. A faith in custom and convention, absent other useful guidance.
6. Innovation rooted in tradition and custom and a respect for prudence.

I’m borrowing heavily from the work of Gerry Russello, and by extension, Russell Kirk in the above formulations. I think the old “free enterprise, strong national defense, traditional values” is a little derivative of what I have laid out above, and thus subject to misunderstanding and misapplication in the hands of worldly and cynical politicians.

#19 Comment By Seth Owen On May 16, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

The problem with the “three-stool” analogy is that it ignores the wires holding the stool up and controlling its direction — corporate interests. (Corporate interests are not the same as “free enterprise” or “free markets,” by the way — corporations are not interested in a truly free market as any look at Wall Street and the banks will confirm)
For the most part the corporate interests are content to let the fiscal, social and war conservatives fight over the margins so long as the core constituency is served. (The war conservatives have an edge here because they have some overlap in interests with defense contractors)

#20 Comment By Georgiaboy61 On May 16, 2011 @ 11:33 pm

Interested readers may find the book, “The Next Conservatism” useful in thinking about conservatism and libertarianism versus leftism and neoconservatism. It was written by the late Paul Weyrich, shortly before his death, and coauthored by his friend and noted paleoconservative William Lind. Fans of Russell Kirk will find much to cheer in this slim, easily-readable volume.

#21 Comment By Professor On May 17, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

Excellent article.

#22 Comment By JPA On May 17, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

Great piece, Mr. Hunter. You’ve aptly described why I didn’t vote Republican the last 2 elections, and I don’t plan to the next unless Ron Paul is nominated, even though I’ve been a registered Republican for the past 32 years. Keep up the good work.

#23 Comment By daddysteve On May 18, 2011 @ 1:39 am

My how things have changed since 2008.

#24 Comment By Dale F. Doelling On May 18, 2011 @ 6:12 am

Here’s the deal. I will change my party affiliation to Republican in order to vote for Ron Paul in the primary. If he wins the Republican nomination, RON PAUL will get my vote. If he doesn’t, I will immediately change my party affiliation back to the Libertarian Party and vote for the Libertarian nominee. End of story.

#25 Comment By 4 poster On May 18, 2011 @ 7:04 am

The GOP’s role in our political duopoly is to tie up or divert conservative energies so that they don’t interfere with the plans of the larger institutional power party of which it is a part.

Look at the debt ceiling: the GOP leadership is going through the usual kabuki dance with Obama and the Democrats, but everybody knows how it ends. The GOP will agree to raise it having sternly exacted promises from the Democrats that will not be kept. It does tthis on virtually every conservative issue, from immigration to abortion to “gay marriage” to women in the armed forces, to “foreign entanglements”.

The only thing the GOP has done for real conservatives is to give the stupid ones the illusion of a dignified retreat.

#26 Pingback By The Republican establishment courts the left and repudiates the right. | Pick's Picks of the Day On June 7, 2011 @ 11:40 am

[…] a penetrating commentary for The American Conservative, “Who’s a Republican?”, Jack Hunter quotes CPAC director Christopher N. Malagasi on the conservative “tripod” that […]