by Paul Gottfried: Glenn
GOP columnists were already urging their fellow party-members
to nominate a centrist for the presidential race. Kim Strassel
(April 5, 2011) and Peggy Noonan (April 29, 2011) in Wall Street
Journal and Michael Barone and Jonah Goldberg in their syndicated
columns all warned against reaching too far right for a presidential
candidate. Noonan identified this practice with a "mood of
antic cultural pique" and a tendency "to annoy the mainstream
media" that came out of the Tea Party insurgency last year.
She pointed to McCain, Dole, the two Bush presidents, and Romney
as suitable candidates for a party that needs "the center
where most of the voters are." On May 18 Goldberg announced
that "already the conversation on the right is moving toward
the all-important question of electability — which candidate can
peel off the handful of independents needed to win an election
that will be a referendum on Obama and his record." He knows
his fellow "conservative voters" "barring a truly
fringe nominee" can be counted on to "vote against Obama,
no matter what."
Noonan and other Republican journalists were and are shoving their
party toward the center even before the primaries get underway.
Fortunately for them, the targets of their advice may already
be where they want. Republican voters have usually favored presidential
candidates who hug the "center." Unlike the Democrats,
who in 2008 happily reached leftward to nominate and win with
"the candidate of hope," Republicans try hard to avoid
happy with lackluster moderates like Jerry Ford, Robert Dole,
and George H.W. Bush and perhaps they will soon be nominating
that ultimate waffler Mitt Romney, who as governor of Massachusetts
moved from the social and economic left to the center right, when
he decided to seek the presidency in 2007. Once Romney sews up
his party's nomination, he'll be expected to move a bit to the
left, in order to pick up independents and perhaps a few stray
black, Jewish and Hispanic voters from the Democrats. Stephen
Baldwin, who is gathering information for a book The Manufactured
Candidate, has argued that Romney holds no "coherent
worldview" except for shameless flipping on issues to advance
his career. Black Republican columnist Deroy Murdock complained
as early as February 2007 that Romney is so "fine a thespian"
that" no one knows where the performer ends and the character
in fact be an exaggeration. In foreign policy Romney is a paradigmatic
neoconservative who in his recent Iowa debate stated that "democracy
is not defined by a vote. There has to be the underpinnings of
education, health care…." According to the former governor's
website, his foreign policy will not only expand NATO and build
closer alliances with Israel and Russia's neighbors (thereby ringing
Russia with enemies), but also "promote and defend democracy
throughout the world." Here we have the makings of another
George W. Bush in Barbie Doll form. Note a major complaint against
Obama from Republican strategists Dick Morris and Karl Rove is
that he won't play by their rules. Obama won from the left and
continues to rule from there. This president won't be a "centrist,"
that is to say, a Republican president.
All of this
is even truer of Romney's latest rival Newt, who true to his centrist
credit was instrumental in giving us the Martin Luther King festival
and getting Confederate symbols removed from public places in
Georgia. Gingrich in his centrist inclinations also pushed for
sanctions against apartheid South Africa and has been even more
strident than W in calling for a liberal internationalist foreign
policy, built around cooperation with the Israeli government.
With due respect for Israel and its oppressive security problems,
does Gingrich really have to begin every discussion of the Middle
East with the phrase "our fellow democracy Israel"?
Even a Republican
leader now widely identified as a world-historical president,
Ronald Reagan, played by the Morris-Rove rules. On the positive
side, Reagan avoided tax increases and reduced marginal tax rates;
and he helped topple the "evil empire" by placing military
and financial pressures on the Soviets. But he failed, or perhaps
didn't even try, to abolish major departments of government; and
while Reagan didn't support quotas and set-asides, his attorney
general's office prosecuted more cases of discrimination in the
private sector than any other administration had done until then.
In 1987 Reagan supported an amnesty bill for illegals that opened
the door to many of the problems that Congress is now (more or
less) addressing. Undoubtedly Reagan nominated (or tried to nominate
in the case of Robert Bork) far more conservative federal judges
than his Democratic successor. But a survey of his record also
shows that he brought others on board.
the Republican hangers-on who went to Washington supposedly to
rid us of bureaucracy but who stayed on to become big-government
conservatives. The Reagan-appointees would also include the neoconservatives,
who during the Reagan years acquired a powerful foothold in the
foreign policy establishment as well as in the department of education,
national endowment for democracy, and national endowment for the
humanities. The current attempts to depict Reagan as a "conservative"
version of Wilson or FDR border on the ridiculous. At home Reagan
was a transactional not transformational president, aside from
the cataclysmic effects of his incorporation of neoconservative
ideologues into his administration.
In 1994 the
Reps focused on critical reductions in government and won both
houses of Congress, but in 1996 they ran for president a centrist
looking leftward, Bob Dole. Two achievements that candidate Dole
boasted of having brought about, with encouragement from centrist
Republican president George H. W. Bush, were the American with
Disabilities Act and a 1991 Civil Rights Act, which reopened the
door to racial quotas. Dole's endorsement of the latter bill was
appropriate, seeing that another centrist Republican Richard Nixon
had introduced racial set-asides with his Philadelphia Plan in
1969. This may be a rule in American politics: Each time a Republican
presidential candidate goes begging for minority votes, he loses
a higher percentage of them than the centrist Republican presidential
candidate who preceded him.
But why do
Republicans expect their standard-bearers to display this center-mindedness?
The answer most often given stresses strategic necessity. Although
Republicans (allegedly, since there is no evidence of this) would
like to run principled "conservatives" in presidential
elections, the votes simply aren't there. Elections are decided
where Dick Morris, Karl Rove and Peggy Noonan indicate they are,
somewhere in the center and among independent voters.
aren't likely to win by running low-octane Democrats. The more
they imitate the opposition even while attacking it, the more
likely it is they will drive the vital center of political debate
toward the left. GOP candidates have been pursuing what is generally
a no-win strategy for decades, by trying to sound like Democrats
while throwing mud at the opposition. Equally silly has been their
tendency to blame the other party for doing what Republican administrations
have been doing almost as frenetically, engaging in massive deficit
spending, monetizing wars and giving away lots of patronage. Listening
to Fox-News and Republican politicians, one gets the impression
that all runaway federal spending began the day Obama took office.
Parties that market such moonshine, while offering little in the
way of significant change are not likely to look believable. That
may be why even with Obama in trouble, the Republicans have not
been gaining in popularity.
two compelling reasons that the Republicans keep trotting out
faceless moderates (usually turned leftward once the primaries
are over). First of all, being Republican is a sociological more
than ideological choice. The party is predominantly white Protestant;
and according to the Pew survey, 81% of the Republican votes cast
in the 2010 election came from churched white Protestants. On
a good day a GOP candidate may be able to peel off 40 to 45 percent
of the Catholic vote, 15 to 20 percent of the Jewish vote, 30
to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote and about 3 to 5 percent of
the black vote. But this doesn't change the recruiting problem.
Only 5% of Hispanics and only 2% of blacks identify themselves
as Republicans, and despite their often over-the-top Zionist rhetoric
and neoconservative advisors, Republicans rarely pick up as much
as 20% of the Jewish vote.
has aimed at expanding this base, and the logical next step would
be to work for increased Republican support among white Catholics.
(Republicans obtained a majority of their votes in 2010). While
some effort has gone toward this end by appealing to anti-abortion
Catholics, more energy seems to be directed toward roping in black
and Hispanic voters. This has taken the forms of waffling on illegal
immigration, except in the case of Gingrich who openly supports
amnestying illegals, and making public apologies for past expressions
of white Protestant prejudice. Republican voters can generally
live with these maneuverings. They are mostly people who hope
to keep things as they are. They rarely undo (or expect their
elected officials to undo) what the Dems have done, and their
politicians pride themselves on managing the federal welfare state
in a fiscally responsible way. Unlike the protesting minorities
in the Democratic Party, Republicans were not inclined to manifest
outrage before the Tea Party surfaced. They were delighted with
the Bush-status quo before Obama and Obamacare came along, and
they are still celebrating our government even in its present
disarray as a shining and exportable example of "exceptionalism."
also want minorities to like them and the city on a hill their
ancestors settled. And so they probably expect their leaders to
be like George W. Bush, who on a visit to Senegal on July 8, 2003
condemned the transatlantic slave trade as "one of the greatest
crimes in history." Needless to say, this terrible crime
was not associated in any way with non-Westerners, whether African
tribal chiefs or Arab slave-traders. Bush was placing the blame
on the West, more specifically on white Americans. In his memoirs
Bush noted that his most bitter presidential experience was having
the radical black intellectual Cornell West call him a "racist."
This kind of remark may be more hurtful for Republicans, whose
desperate wooing of the blacks has been unsuccessful, than for
Democrats, who can assume overwhelming black support. Moreover,
presidential candidate McCain made a point of reproaching Southerners
who fly Confederate flags, for upsetting black Americans. McCain
could do this without having to worry about offending Southern
white sensibilities. White Protestants who fancy Confederate battle
flags will likely vote Republican no matter what.
who think their party has been about cutting back government are
grossly mistaken. The GOP has only rarely been a friend of decentralized
government or to limited, cautious intervention abroad. In the
1860s the party was for consolidated government and defeating
the rebellious South; then Republicans gave us Reconstruction
together with cozy deals between industrialists and the state.
They were later the party of imperial expansion; and under TR,
the Republicans became the promoters of a federal managerial state,
even before the Democrats turned in this direction under Wilson.
There was never a war until the 1930s that most Republican congressmen
didn't welcome; and the Spanish-American War and the War to End
All Wars were more popular among Republicans than they were among
Democrats. The liberal interventionist Council on Foreign Relations,
created in 1919, boasted such Republican founders as Elihu Root,
Herbert Hoover and Henry Cabot Lodge.
If some Republicans
later protested the New Deal and were reluctant to get involved
in the Second World War, such attitudes have not been the rule.
Republicans have usually embraced both big government and foreign
adventures and were ahead of the curve on women's right when Democrats
were still arguing for a single-family wage for the male breadwinner.
Indeed down to the time of Woodrow Wilson's presidency, the Democrats
were generally perceived as the more conservative party, that
is, the one that supported states' rights and commanded the loyalties
of fervently Catholic ethnics and the defeated South. What opposition
there was to an interventionist foreign policy came typically
from the Democratic side, represented by such heroic figures as
William Jennings Bryan.
It is no
surprise therefore that the Republicans today are crusading for
democracy abroad. Discounting such constitutionally-minded leaders
as Calvin Coolidge, the Republican opponents of European intervention
before the Second World War and the anti-interventionists who
survived briefly into the postwar era, the Republicans have a
fairly consistent history of crusading for democracy. Bush II,
McCain, Romney, and Gingrich are all in the Republican interventionist
mold. Those who talk about the GOP's going back to its small-government
and isolationist past don't have much to look back to.
factor for understanding why the GOP shuns rightwing presidential
candidates is its present priorities. While the last Republican
president did little to cut government expenses and made only
scattered concessions to the Religious Right's moral positions
(mostly in Supreme Court appointments not always freely made),
Bush was frenetic about launching wars to bring American-style
democracy to other countries. The moral core of his administration
could be found in the memorable speeches he made about a global
democratic crusade, orations that we owe to David Frum and Michael
Gerson. Such tropes reflect the vision of the heavily neoconservative
GOP media, although for the advocates first things must come first.
They have to attack Obama's wasteful spending in order to capture
the presidency. Then they'll be able to stop Obama's timid approach
to foreign relations and address the continuing threat of an undemocratic
"axis of evil." Can anyone think of a leading Republican
presidential candidate, except for Ron Paul, who doesn't march
in lockstep on foreign policy with Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol,
and the Wall Street Journal editorial page?
In a penetrating
commentary for Amcon Online (May 18) "Has the Republican
Party Left Reagan?" Jack Hunter quotes CPAC director Christopher
N. Malagasi on the conservative "tripod" that Republican
presidential candidates are believed to represent. Supposedly
presidential candidate John McCain embraced all three legs of
this tripod, because he was a fiscally responsible social traditionalist
who favored "national defense." This three-pronged conservative
world view, according to Malagasi, was putatively the legacy of
Ronald Reagan, and it is one that GOP presidents and presidential
candidates have continued to uphold. Therefore an isolationist
like Ron Paul is not truly "conservative" but a "liberal
Democrat" because he rejects the third, and perhaps most
vital, of the three legs.
no trouble shredding these assertions, first by showing that most
Republican presidential candidates, and certainly the last Republican
occupant of the White House, have not been conservatives at all,
with due respect to misleading media labels. Republicans have
allowed the "conservative" brand to be identified with
a neoconservative foreign policy — not national defense, which
Paul does not oppose. Adopting neoconservative rhetoric and policies
and complaining about high federal budgets when the Dems are in
power is what currently defines a "conservative" presidential
candidate. Those who meet the foreign policy standard often get
a pass on other things. Thus we saw Religious Right hero Bill
Bennett support the pro-abortion- and gay rights advocate Joe
Lieberman for president, because Lieberman was good on Middle
Eastern affairs. Republican Evangelist Pat Robertson not only
had kind words for Lieberman but in 2008 also backed for president
another socially liberal Zionist and war hawk Rudy Giuliani. Obviously
not all legs in the tripod are of equal importance, particularly
with the neocons supplying the funding for "conservative"
up the question about what if any opposition will confront the
neocon-Republican establishment as it tries to put one of its
friends into the presidency in 2012. One group this establishment
will not in any way have to fear is the Old Right. What there
was of this opposition when the neocons were getting into the
driver's seat has been either coopted or professionally destroyed.
And there is no chance that those who were removed from public
view will be achieving belated prominence, seeing that most of
its leaders are already senior citizens.
But the libertarians
are another story. They are better funded and more of a media
presence than the hapless paleos; and their presidential standard-bearer
Ron Paul has already recruited multitudes to work in his campaigns
and vote for him. Paul is not likely to gain the presidency but
he can run as a spoiler against a Dole-like candidate in 2012.
This 74-year old congressman can help keep Obama in the White
House, if he siphons off enough votes as a third party candidate.
conservatives, who appeal to social traditions and inherited hierarchies
and unlike the neocons advocating a neo-Wilsonian, Zionist foreign
policy, libertarians take a relatively value-free position by
opposing America's centralized public administration. They view
an aggressive missionary foreign policy as an extension of a constitutionally
questionable government that has seized power at home. They therefore
wish to avoid military commitments abroad while reducing the scope
of government to a few constitutionally allowable tasks. Usually
these tasks are negatively stated, for example, staying out of
the affairs of other countries, not monetizing our debts, abolishing
the Federal Reserve, and not allowing the federal government to
go on infringing on the constitutionally delegated power of the
not true that libertarian political figures avoid taking stands
on social issues. Ron Paul and Chuck Baldwin are devout Protestants,
who strongly oppose abortion. What such libertarians stress is
that moral questions should be settled by state legislature, not
legislated by federal bureaucrats, and least of all by the Supreme
Court. While libertarians of the Right, like Paul, hold no brief
for homosexuality and the taking of mind-altering drugs, they
also believe that the federal government has exceeded its constitutional
powers by interfering in such matters. Further, the state's attempts
to ban drug-use, libertarians argue, has allowed police power
to be used against property and other rights without solving the
problem it was meant to remove.
Paul's candidacy has picked up support from lifestyle liberals
as well as from small-government conservatives. Although neoconservatives
launched attacks on Paul during the 2008 campaign, accusing him
of being a disguised racist and fanatical anti-Zionist (Paul opposes
giving foreign aid to Israel or to any other country) the accusations
didn't stick. Unlike the neocon smears against the Old Right,
which worked all too well, these attacks seem to go nowhere. Paul
enjoys credibility even on the left, as someone who opposes military
adventures and wants to legalize drugs. The libertarian problem
is not about to go away for establishment Republicans or for their
neoconservative PR-network. Although libertarians in the short
run may not be able to keep Republicans from nominating a presidential
candidate, they will continue to put pressure on the party, from
without as well as from within. And let us remember that they
are not entirely dependent on Republican votes. Libertarians can
reach out effectively without promising government programs and
without abjectly apologizing to Democratic minority-voters.
Gottfried [send him mail]
is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown
College and author of Multiculturalism
and the Politics of Guilt, The
Strange Death of Marxism,
in America: Making Sense of the American Right, and Encounters:
My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers.
His latest book, Leo
Strauss and the American Conservative Movement: A Critical Appraisal,
was just published by Cambridge University Press.