Chris Christie won a resounding victory this week in deep blue New Jersey. Ken Cuccinelli lost a perhaps surprisingly close race for the governorship in fading red Virginia. The pundits are taking two messages from these outcomes:
- In order for Republicans to have any chance of re-taking control of the federal government, their candidates must be more of the moderate variety rather than a Tea Party right winger.
- Obamacare remains hugely unpopular with the electorate and it may well provide the lynchpin for a successful GOP election strategy in 2014, and perhaps even 2016.
I have no qualms with the second message. Speaking of lynchpins, Obamacare plays exactly that role in the Progressive playbook for fundamentally transforming America – the goal enunciated by our quasi-socialist president upon assuming office. And while the good people of America have been hoodwinked and brainwashed by the century-long progressive onslaught that has afflicted the United States, they have apparently not totally succumbed to the siren call of socialism to which Obama beckons them. Less than 50% of the population has any understanding of the radical changes (away from freedom and toward statism) that have been imposed on the American people. But more than 50% does understand that Obamacare will not only drastically undercut the quality of their health care – about which they are largely satisfied, but it represents a blatant and unwarranted intrusion on their freedom and individual rights.
On the other hand, I am highly skeptical about the first message. I wish that I knew more about the fundamental philosophical principles that animate the rotund fellow who just pulled off the miraculous feat in the Garden State. From what I can see, he is tough, blunt, talented and enormously self-confident. In certain matters – for example, individual rights vs. the power of government and spending/fiscal affairs – he appears to be quite conservative. But I have no strong feel for his stance on foreign affairs, the struggle against radical Islam, environmental and energy matters, the role of religion in American life, American Exceptionalism, Dodd-Frank or the Federal Reserve, popular culture, affirmative action and a score of other matters that would provide a clue as to whether he might be the second coming of Reagan or just another Bush.
However, the pundosphere has already decided the issue. He is a moderate! That is, he is cut from the same cloth as Romney, McCain, both Bushes (it was a myth that Bush Jr was really conservative), Dole and a slew of other GOP stars over the least half century whom I would characterize as follows. You’re thinking I am going to recite the epithet RINO. Well more precisely, I would say that the GOP has been, and may still be, dominated by those who have made their peace with the radical changes the Progressives have perpetrated on American society: massive entitlement programs that enhance government power at the expense of the individual; centrally controlled government schools that teach a distorted view of American society and history; a coarse culture that denigrates religion, emphasizes multiculturalism and loosens morals; and that the warts in American history (slavery, maltreatment of American Indians, internment of Japanese-Americans) cancel out any benefits that the unique American experiment has bestowed upon its people, and makes problematic America’s professed outreach to the world as a beacon of freedom.
Moderates in the GOP, while accepting these changes to American society as irreversible, differentiate themselves from liberal Democrats by asserting their ability to: (i) ameliorate some of the more egregious features of the liberal agenda and (ii) do a much better job of administering the welfare state. There is little of a true conservative vision based on the founding ideals of our nation, and little allegiance to the thoughts of the geniuses who originated and developed that vision: Burke, Jefferson, Madison, de Tocqueville, Hayek, Buckley, Friedman, for example.
Since William McKinley was dispatched, we have had two conservative Administrations – Harding/Coolidge and Reagan. In that 113 year span, we have had eight Democratic Administrations – ranging from casually left to extremely hard left in flavor and five mushy Republican Administrations of the moderate variety. However, since Reagan left office, we have seen Republican presidential candidates of the moderate variety handed their lunches. (One can argue that both Bushes escaped that fate because they were mistakenly assayed as conservative.) So in light of the resounding defeats of Dole, McCain and Romney, how does it make sense to nominate yet another of that variety?
My final point is that it may not matter. The Dems have perfected their election strategy. Whoever the GOP nominates in 2016 will be portrayed as a cruel, unfair, reactionary, Tea Party bigot. It worked against Romney and it worked against Cuccinelli in Virginia. They didn’t really unleash it against Christie because there was no point – his popularity insulated him. But make no mistake; in 2016, should Christie get the nod, the Dems will paint him as a crazed, business-biased, right-wing fanatical nut job who will confiscate Sandra Fluke’s contraceptives, crush the poor, discriminate against women and minorities, and start World War III. They tried to do likewise to Reagan. They failed because he was such a manifestly decent person. Romney was equally decent (maybe more so), but it wasn’t good enough. We need a true conservative who – like Reagan – is so genuinely likeable that he is immune from the liberal attempt to portray him as a heartless villain. Is Christie that person?
This essay also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative