The current Republican field is a lot like trail mix: it’s full of fruits, nuts, and plain grains. Either they’re too unelectable (Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain), have policies too far out of the mainstream (Ron Paul and Gary Johnson) or are more boring than watching grass grow (Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty). With such unattractive candidates, many conservatives have given up hope for a 2012 victory and are shooting for a Chris Christie or Rand Paul in 2016. If the choice is between Obama and the likes of Mitt Romney, moving to Canada seems to be the new “last best hope.”
Watching the South Carolina Republican debate was painful — talking points as old as Richard Nixon’s worst speechwriter were recited with all the enthusiasm of Bob Dole’s concession speech. Now that Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump have bowed out and Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have jumped in, more Republican double-speak can be expected. On Sunday, Gingrich said, “Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan is right-wing social engineering,” and in the same breath endorsed Obama’s individual mandate before he came out against it again and signed a promise to repeal Obamacare. Many of these candidates are wearing rose-colored “American exceptionalism” glasses or are just too dishonest to ever stop pandering and tell it like it is.
Republican candidates must come to terms with reality. First, Ronald Reagan is dead, let him rest in peace. The Gipper may have been America’s finest post-WWII president, but what made Ronald Reagan great was that he did what was best to handle the problems of his day. He was certainly not an unwavering conservative, rarely attended church, expanded gun control and raised taxes; but his rhetoric was good and he was able to engineer a political landslide, which was enough for his dime-store imitators. Reagan inherited a different America than the one before us now. We can’t solve today’s problems by borrowing bullet-point slogans from bygone eras.
Republicans have 40 years of failed promises to the conservative movement, from ending abortion to overturning New Deal-era policies. Former liberal adventures in governing are now the cornerstones of American politics — even Obamacare’s individual mandate was defended by a mainline Republican candidate. And although Republicans won seven out of ten presidential elections between 1968 and 2004, regulations that benefit big business and distort the free market have been institutionalized, Roe remains the law of the land, our civil liberties are a shell of their former selves, our currency is worthless, and our debt has exploded. Republicans cling to an ideology that has put American workers in direct competition with the cheapest labor on Earth and has us borrowing money from Europe, the Middle East and Asia in order to defend Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Someone is benefiting from this ideology, but it’s not Americans and definitely not the conservative movement.
The Republican Party is no longer made up of just the “three-legged stool” of social, fiscal and national defense conservatives. This election cycle is a contest between the establishmentarians, populists, and libertarians. Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican nominee, helped resurrect a Republican Party in tatters; he set the agenda and revived the party’s soul for the next 30 years. George W. Bush said he “destroyed the free market to save the free market,” and while his plans for bailing out the banks may have been extraordinarily anti-conservative, it and the 2008 election cycle destroyed the Republican Party to save the Republican Party. It has given the GOP the opportunity to find its soul, and the winner of this upcoming primary, be it an establishmentarian, populist or libertarian, can set the tone for the party’s future much like Goldwater did in 1964.