Conservatism: What Next?
Gut check for my TAC colleagues, and for readers: What do you think the Obama win, and other results from tonight, tell us about where the GOP and the conservative movement should go, and where it will go?
I won’t hold anybody to what they say tonight. We have to get the full results and think about them. For now, tell me what your gut says. Here’s what I’m thinking:
1. As a social conservative, I am as pessimistic as I’ve ever been about the future of social conservatism in US politics. It’s not because of the maladroit campaigning of people like Mourdock and Akin. It’s because of the demographic changes that this year’s election appears to lock in. Social conservatism is concentrated among older voters, who are dying off, and being replaced by younger voters, who simply aren’t socially conservative, and aren’t likely to become socially conservative (at least not as socially conservative as older, expiring Americans are). I know liberals and media figures love to say that social conservatism is a loser’s game. I don’t think that’s quite true, at least not in the way that they mean. But I think it is true that going forward, it will be very hard for a presidential candidate to win nationally if he or she is heavily identified as a social conservative. We social conservatives are going to have to figure out how to deal with that. They’re not going to be able to tell us to go away, but we are in a weak position.
2. I wish I had faith that the Republican Party would, after its second presidential defeat in four years, will at last seriously rethink its ideology. The economy is in bad shape, and has been for the entire four years of Obama’s presidency. And still the Republicans couldn’t win! The Republican mind has not much changed since the Bush presidency ended with failure. How long can they keep it up? I was convinced that they would change after ’08, and was very wrong. Obviously a Romney loss makes it more likely that the GOP will have a moment of internal reckoning than if Romney had won. But the conservative movement is such a bubble…
3. Mark Shields said this evening, about the inadequacy of Romney’s candidacy, “The last thing you wanted is a private equity banker in these times.” True enough, but remember, he was the best of the plausible GOP field. Where will the party’s next leader come from? Chris Christie is the most plausible figure, I suppose. [UPDATE: Marco Rubio too, of course.] Once upon a time I would have said Bobby Jindal, my governor, but for better or for worse, I think it will be very hard for a candidate who is so heavily identified with social and religious conservatives to win nationally. The Republicans have got to find some economic populists — Main Street, not Wall Street people. Where are they?
4. There really has to be some way for Republicans to connect with Hispanic voters in a big way. I don’t like what that is likely to mean for immigration policy and affirmative action, but I fear that a GOP that remains principled and purist on these issues will continue to be marginalized nationally, as the country becomes a lot more Hispanic, and a lot more liberal.
5. What is the GOP’s economic policy? Can we please wake the hell up and realize that it’s not 1980 any longer, and “no new taxes” is not a policy?
Those are my gut feelings right now, as I prepare to sign off and head for bed. Remember, some of these are things I want to see happen, others are things that I don’t want to see happen, but that I’m pretty sure are inevitable, given the broader and deeper shifts in the country’s politics.
What do you think?