Thursday, December 24, 2009
GOP at Fork-in-the-road: Return to Roots or Become Irrelevant
The "MeToo" Party dies a little:
For years now, I’ve been warning Republicans that conditions are ripe for a principled and activist third party to form on the right – where the Republicans have held a claim for the last 40 years and realistically been the sole occupant since Johnson vs. Goldwater. I’ve never suggested this with the notion that there should be a Conservative Party battling both the Democrats and the Republicans – I’m no fan of third parties, and believe strongly in the two-party system. But those commentators who complain that third parties just don’t work in American politics forget that the Republican Party itself began its existence as a third party. Its founders – the Black Republicans, as we here like to remind everyone they were called back then – understood that the second party of their day had made itself irrelevant by caving in to the Democrats on the most controversial issue in American history.
The leadership of the Whig Party, including Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, took advantage of the death of President Zachary Taylor to push through the Compromise of 1850. While generally popular, many people understood the compromise to be a capitulation by the Whigs to many demands of southern Democrats, including a strengthening of the Fugitive Slave Law. Northern abolitionists felt betrayed, causing their waning support for the Whigs to build into a rout for the them in the election of 1852. Emboldened by their victory, the Democrats passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, breaking decades worth of compromise on the slavery issue. Abolitionists and other defectors from the Whigs could not stand it anymore, and fled to form the Republican Party. Once the collapse of the Whigs became final, the United States still had a two-party system, but the name, strength, and ideology of one of the parties had been completely supplanted by another.
For the past few years, the incoherent message coming from the Republican establishment has made an all-too-familiar sound of “Me Too”. Big-government heath care may be associated with the Democrats today, but its greatest victory so far was a huge prescription drug benefit passed by a Republican president who wanted to be known as “a compassionate conservative”. Campaign finance reform that put a stranglehold on private speech and promoted funding limits was once just a Democratic dream, but it came true once it was championed by a Republican senator who identifies with progressivism. And just days ago, a pro-abortion, pro-group-rights Republican candidate pulled out of a race only to endorse her Democrat opponent over a conservative challenger.
That Democrat may have won his race against the upstart from the New York Conservative Party, but with the light of dawn that may well be the cap of the bad news for Democrats, and the beginning of the end for the “Me Too” Republican Party. Conservative Republicans won races for governor in New Jersey and Virginia, and after the revolt in NY23 (funded and supported by conservatives across the country) the national party has been put on notice that conservatives are done supporting liberals just for the sake of party unity. The loss of NY23 may be a disappointment for some, but a victory for the Conservative Party there might have sent the wrong message to conservatives – encouraging them to defect from a Republican Party far stronger than the Whigs were when the Republicans began their move to assume second-party status.
The Republican Party can still be the conservative party for America, but time is running out. The Republican establishment has to understand that the party itself needs a center to rally around, and the tendency of our recent leadership to bend to the left isn’t going to expand the Big Tent, it’s going to bring it crashing down.