I sit here after the Republican catastrophe of 2008 and wonder what went wrong. The Republican Party has gone through many changes since I became interested in politics in the late ‘60s. The Republican and the Democratic parties were not that far apart at the time. While most would have pointed to economics as the biggest difference between the parties, Richard Nixon famously said “We are all Keynesians now.” How different could the parties have been if both were followers of economist John Maynard Keynes’ big government economic theories?
The Democratic Party started moving left in 1968. Their leftward shift has been relentless. Today ideas such as the redistribution of wealth, nationalization of health care, and removal of all abortion restrictions are not only accepted, but considered establishment Democratic thought. While conservatives are appalled at what has happened to the Democratic Party, the base of the Democratic Party believes in these ideas. For better or worse, the Democratic Party represents its members’ ideology.
The same cannot be said of today’s Republican Party.
A major shift in Republican thought took place with the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, who had different ideas about economics, foreign policy, defense, and social issues. It was dubbed Reaganism. For the first time in a generation, the Republican Party became the driving force in shaping government policy. After four years of what the press called “radical, right-wing, conservative government” Reagan was reelected in 1984, winning 49 of 50 states (and coming within a few thousand votes of winning all 50 states). It was the most lop-sided presidential victory in American history.
In 1988 George H. W. Bush ran on a platform of continuing Reagan’s policies. Bush tied himself so closely to Reagan that many called the 1988 election Reagan’s third election. Bush won in a landslide, winning 40 states including Democratic strongholds California and New Jersey.
After the election it became apparent that the man who had once called Reagan’s economic proposals “voodoo economics” was no Reaganite. Bush advocated a “kinder and gentler” conservatism (with its implied message that conservatism was somehow unkind and ungentle), and governed from the center rather than from the right as Reagan had. The result was a 1992 loss to Democrat Bill Clinton. Bush only managed to carry 18 states, less than half the amount he carried in 1988 running as a Reagan conservative.
In 1994, a band of rogue Republicans in the House of Representatives proposed The Contract with America; ten legislative proposals rooted in conservatism. Their leader, Newt Gingrich, was roundly criticized by the press as being a radical conservative (Newsweek’s cover headlined “How the Gingrinch Stole Christmas”). The result was a major Republican victory. For the first time in 40 years, the Republicans took control of both houses of congress.
Everything was set for a Republican presidential win in 1996. Conservatism was on the rise while President Clinton’s liberal policies had been unpopular. The Republicans nominated…Sen. Bob Dole. He had been one of the “cooler heads” in the senate that had blocked the enactment of many of TheContract With America’s propositions. Bob Dole was a moderate and proud of it. He badly lost an election Republicans should have won. Strangely, many Republican insiders seemed happier losing with a moderate Republican than winning with a conservative.
George W. Bush ran in 2000 as a “compassionate conservative” (another Republican running on an implied message that there is something wrong with plain-old conservatism). Despite reassurances from people like Karl Rove that Bush “really got Reagan and conservatism,” few Reagan supporters would recognize the economic and domestic policies Bush implemented. Watching the series of bailouts implemented by the Bush administration, I heard Nixon’s words echoing in my head—“We are all Keynesians now.”
When Bush accepted the Republican nomination in 2000 the Republicans held majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives. By the time Bush left office the Democrats held a filibuster-proof majority in the senate (60 Democrat vs. 40 Republican) and an enormous majority in the House (257 Democrat vs. 178 Republican).
In 2008 the Republicans nominated John McCain. The most far left Republican candidate since, well ever! There were rumors in 2004 that the Democratic nominee (John Kerry) was going to ask McCain to be the VP candidate on the Democratic ticket. Imagine if anyone had floated that idea about Newt Gingrich or Ronald Reagan! Who knows if the McCain VP rumor was true, but the fact that it was taken seriously shows how far to the left McCain had been in the past.
McCain lost to the most radically left presidential candidate in history (carrying only 22 states). Other than McCain’s spirited defense of the war in Iraq, it was difficult to pinpoint the differences between McCain and Obama on any major issue.
We’re already hearing calls that the Republican Party needs to move left. This is a recurring theme after every election, regardless of outcome. We expect Democrats to shift left (that’s what they are—a leftist party), but the Republican Party’s continual move to the left leaves conservatives without a party truly representing their views or trying to achieve conservative goals.
I’m going to post the entire book to Red State one chapter at a time. This book was written as a “next step” for the tea party movement. The approach is different from what we’ve done in the past (“out of the box” would be a gross understatement). But, given the recent election, the time is right for conservatives to take a hard look at their past approach to politics and try some “out of the box” strategies.
For those that would like to read ahead, the entire book is available online at TheConservativeHand.com or in print form at Amazon.com (and yes, I am the author, so no copyrights are being violated by my posting the book here).