Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More on Realignment and the Scrambling GOP

Conservative columnist David Brooks wrote a good summary of the battle within the GOP in today's edition of the New York Times.

According to Brooks, there are currently two camps within the Republican Party - the "Traditionalists" and the "Reformists." Brooks says the Traditionalists are the typical right-wing hard-liners including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, the Club for Growth, the Federalist Society, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Family Research Council.

The Traditionalists believe that the reason for recent GOP defeats is because the Party has not been conservative enough. They blame big-government policies of George W. Bush and East Coast conservatives who are now losing their offices for a reason. They argue for all of the typical neo-conservative points of view.

The Reformists, on the other hand, believe that the Republican Party has to modernize because the conservative hard-liners are making Americans become disillusioned with the highly ideological GOP. They want to address middle-class economic anxiety and global warming rather than abortion, gay marriage, and consistent calls for tax cuts as the only means to solve the nation's problems. They want the new GOP to be similarly modeled after what David Cameron is doing with the Tories in the UK.

But despite the fact that the Reformists might have the better argument as to where to take the Republican Party, the Traditionalists will have the upper-hand for some time.

"[First] Congressional Republicans are predominantly Traditionalists. Republicans from the coasts and the upper Midwest are largely gone. Among the remaining members, the popular view is that Republicans have been losing because they haven't been conservative enough.

Second, Traditionalists have the institutions. Over the past 40 years, the Conservative Old Guard has built up a movement of activist groups, donor networks, think tanks and publicity arms. The reformists, on the other hand, have no institutions.

There is not yet an effective Republican Leadership Council to nurture modernizing conservative ideas. There is no moderate Club for Growth, supporting centrist Republicans. The Public Interest, which used to publish an array of public policy ideas, has closed. Reformist Republican donors don't seem to exist. Any publication or think tank that headed in an explicitly reformist direction would be pummeled by its financial backers. National candidates who begin with reformist records — Giuliani, Romney or McCain — immediately tack right to be acceptable to the power base.

Finally, Traditionalists own the conservative mythology. Members of the conservative Old Guard see themselves as members of a small, heroic movement marching bravely from the Heartland into belly of the liberal elite. In this narrative, anybody who deviates toward the center, who departs from established doctrine, is a coward, and a sellout."

Brooks finishes by noting that the GOP will probably move further to the right in coming years. But the trend of realignment will hold true. As issues change and the Reformists - with their finger on the pulse of the issues - grow in number, the cycle will swing the Republicans back from a hard-right minority status into a new age of competition with the Democrats or even to a clear majority.

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