President Obama’s contention that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is a “libertarian extremist” is just plain dumb. But Democrats are recognizing a real shift happening within the GOP, as Republicans are seriously re-examining what it means to be a conservative.
On government spending, there is more demand amongst Republicans for substantive cuts than at any time in recent memory. On war and civil liberties, the neoconservatives are slowly but surely losing their once-exclusive rights to defining what a conservative foreign policy looks like. Why? Because perpetual war costs a lot of money we simply don’t have; because true constitutionalists can’t simply ignore the Fourth Amendment; because a policy of undeclared wars with no end goal, no exit strategy or no strategy at all is glaringly stupid. Cruz wants Pentagon cuts, to get out of Afghanistan and to abolish the TSA. Perry’s “friend” Dewhurst does not.
Senator Marco Rubio, who The New York Times’ Ross Douthat calls “the great neoconservative hope,” has noticed this ideological shift in the Republican Party. As Rubio explained in a speech at the Brookings Institution in April: “When I arrived in the Senate, I found that the sides and debate had shifted, with liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans working together to advocate a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan and staying out of Libya. … Today in the Senate on foreign policy, the further you move to the right, the likelier you are to wind up on the left.”
Bush’s domestic policies were certainly on the left, yet were called “conservative” by many in the Republican Party at the time. Today, few conservatives would call Bush’s domestic policies conservative. This reassessment of what a conservative domestic policy should be — including examining what is truly right or left — also translates to foreign policy, where Rubio and a handful of neocon diehards are determined to keep Republican foreign policy the same as it was under Bush.
The establishment types who actually run the party don’t really care. Their idea of “conservatism” is simply whatever the last Republican brand was. They’re always playing catch-up. If being like Bush means they can win the next election, they’re all for it. If being like Ted Cruz and the tea party, or being more libertarian, means Republicans win, they’re all for that too.
The worst thing about the Republican establishment is that they stand for nothing. The best thing about the Republican establishment is that they stand for nothing.
The ideological factions battling within the GOP right now are the neoconservative old guard and a new, rising generation of constitutional conservatives exemplified by Cruz. This battle will undoubtedly continue. But for the first time in a long time, it looks like old-fashioned, limited-government conservatism could actually win.
Jack Hunter (also known by his radio moniker the “Southern Avenger”) is a frequent guest on Fox Business, Michael Savage’s nationally syndicated radio program “The Savage Nation” and a frequent guest host on The Mike Church Show on Sirius XM. Hunter is the co-author of “The Tea Party Goes to Washington” by Sen. Rand Paul, assisted Sen. Jim DeMint with his book “Now or Never: How to Save America from Economic Collapse” and writes the Paulitical Ticker blog for the Ron Paul 2012 Campaign.