Can Conservatives Unite and Recover?

Conservatives are understandably responding to their rejection in the past two elections by questioning what to do next. Peter Berkowitz argues that the path out of the political wilderness is for conservatives to unite around the concept of supporting the Constitution. In  principle this would be an admirable start, but it would necessitate a complete rejection of what the Republicans have done in recent years. It is the Republicans’ poor record on civil liberties, attempts to dismantle the restrictions on Executive Power established by the Founding Fathers, and a total disregard for a part of our heritage as crucial as separation of church and state, which have led to the rejection of the Republican Party.

Even many conservatives realize that the Republicans will have a hard time passing themselves off as a party which respects the Constitution. This rebuttal comes from The American Spectator:

I agree that conservatives should be united around the Constitution and I look forward to the longer version of Berkowitz’s article that will appear in Policy Review, but I’m afraid this op-ed piece does more to show that conservatives are not in fact united in support of a constitutionalist platform. Aside from the president’s judicial appointments, the Bush years will not exactly go down in history as the high water mark of constitutionalism in American politics.

The real problem for the Republicans can be seen as Berkowitz outlines the conflicting views of the social conservatives and the more libertarian-minded Republicans:

Some social conservatives point to the ballot initiatives this year in Arizona, California and Florida that rejected same-sex marriage as evidence that the country is and remains socially conservative, and that any deviation from the social conservative agenda is politically suicidal. They overlook that whereas in California’s 2000 ballot initiative 61% of voters rejected same-sex marriage, in 2008 only 52% of voters in the nation’s most populous state opposed the proposition. Indeed, most trend lines suggest that the public is steadily growing more accepting of same-sex marriage, with national polls indicating that opposition to it, also among conservatives, is weakest among young voters.

Meanwhile, more than a few libertarian-leaning conservatives are disgusted by Republican profligacy. They remain uncomfortable with or downright opposed to the Bush administration’s support in 2004 for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and its continuation of the Clinton administration’s moratorium on government funding of embryonic stem-cell research.

In addition, many are still angry about the Republican-led intervention by the federal government in the 2005 controversy over whether Terri Schiavo’s husband could lawfully remove the feeding tubes that were keeping his comatose wife alive. These libertarian conservatives entertain dreams of a coalition that jettisons social conservatives and joins forces with moderates and independents of libertarian persuasion.

But the purists in both camps ignore simple electoral math. Slice and dice citizens’ opinions and voting patterns in the 50 states as you like, neither social conservatives nor libertarian conservatives can get to 50% plus one without the aid of the other.

Berkowitz believes that the social conservatives and libertarians, along with the hawks, can form “a coalition of principle” rather than one of convenience. I disagree, seeing the Republicans as having a coalition of convenience with viewpoints which could not coexist indefinitely.

The views of both the social conservatives and the national security hawks in the Republican Party conflicted with the views of true libertarians (as opposed to the views of many conservatives who call themselves libertarians without supporting libertarian views). The true libertarians have been drifting away from the Republicans and increasingly voting Democratic.

This breakdown of the Republican coalition was foreshadowed by Barry Goldwater, who objected to the influence of the religious right in the GOP and considered himself a liberal in his later years. Social conservatism is virtually the opposite of libertarianism (despite those who concentrate on “economic liberty” while ignoring the big picture).

The real difference between social conservatives and those of us who object to their views is often not one of life style or actual actions. Many of us social liberals actually live quite conservative life styles (and many social conservatives do not live the life style they advocate). The real difference is whether one supports the power of government to impose their life style on others. The belief in the use of the power of the state to impose one’s life style choices on others makes social conservatism totally incompatible with  libertarianism. Of course with our imprecise political language we get contradictions like conservatives such as Ron Paul being called libertarian.

Besides the religious right, the other primary threat to both liberty and Constitutional law in recent years has come from those who support the “war on terror,” mistakenly believing that these policies enhance rather than undermine our national security. These have been the people who would most quickly ignore the Constitution in the name of national security. This, along with social conservatism, are the primary reasons most young and more educated voters have rejected the Republicans in the last two election cycles.

The dilemma that the Republicans face is that in order to be taken seriously again they must jettison the ideas of the religious right and the neoconservatives. Berkowitz is correct that at present there is no clear electoral majority for the minority of Republicans who would remain. However to remain with this mindset is to likely doom the Republicans, and the conservative movement, to increasingly become a southern regional phenomenon which is ridiculed by the rest of the country.

Attempts to preserve the current Republican coalition might bring about brief moments of electoral success but it is a losing proposition in the long term. Repudiating the religious right and the neoconservatives will guarantee that the Republican Party remains in the wilderness for the next several years, but there will be hope of coming out of it as a meaningful party. There is hope for a serious conservative movement to thrive, but not one dominated by the views of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Sarah Palin.

Making any predictions about the long term is risky in politics, including predictions that the more reasonable portions of the Republican Party cannot succeed in the future without the extremists. Imagine any predictions about the future when George Bush took office in 2001. Factors which led to both temporary electoral success for the GOP and later doom such as 9/11 and Katrina could not even have been taken into consideration.

The Democrats are dominant now, but this is largely due to unity because of widespread opposition to past Republican actions. The wide variety of people now supporting the Democratic Party will find it was easier to agree in opposing the Republicans than to agree on policy matters while in power. New issues will emerge and there will be prospects for a reasonable opposition party to grow and perhaps take power in the future. To do so will mean more than uniting around empty rhetoric of supporting the Constitution. It will also require understanding of why the Republicans were repudiated as opposed to repeating the same mistakes, or arguing they lost because the were not conservative enough.

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  1. 1
    Eric D. Rittberg says:

    Actually, libertarians are more upset with Bush for being a wimp in the War on Islamo-Fascism.  He’s used the term “Islamo-Fascist” a grand total of one single time.  He’s hopelessly tied down by political correctness, and great fear of the almighty liberal media. 

    He’s become essentially a “Democrat-lite” President.  There’s little Republican about him any more. 

    He was a great Governor of Texas.  But as President, he’s little better than a Democrat.

  2. 2
    Eric D. Rittberg says:

    The Right is more united today than it has even been.  You should have seen things under Reagan.  Conservatives absolutely hated Libertarians.  Nowadays, they roll out the red carpet for us. 

    Just the other day, it was announced that C-PAC will be welcoming Libertarians into the “Conservative Coalition” formally, for the very first time.  Years ago, they’d hardly even let us into their Conference.

    Even social conservatives are becomming more libertarian.  Gone is all the prudishness of the Reagan years.  Conservatives are the ones these days, at, Rightwing News, RS McCain, American Spectator, PJ Media and the like glorifying big-breasted women, chics in bikinis, and lambastating Muslim efforts to repress Western sexuality and boozing. 

    It’s almost a 180 degree turn around.  Nowadays, it’s the Liberals and the Feminists aligned with Radical Islamists, who’ve become the Social Prudes. 

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:


    If Bush only resorted to using the ridiculous term “Islamo-Fascist” once that is a point to his credit. Even Frank Luntz has pointed out why the Republican attempts to use this term was a mistake.

    Conservatives seem to like “libertarians” of your type primarily because you are far more conservative than libertarian.

    Social conservatives are hardly libertarian, but conservatives as seen on the web (due to the nature of the web) often are far less socially conservative than the people dominating the GOP in the real world.

    Liberals and Feminists are hardly aligned with Islamists–their views are totally opposed. Conservatives fundamentalists and radical Islamists have very similar views but are more likely to express hatred for each other since people with the mindset that their way is the only way are least likely to get along witih others who think that way.

  4. 4
    Eric D. Rittberg says:

    You know Ron, I gotta say that’s pretty goddamned insulting of you to call “Islamo-Fascism” a “ridiculous term”.

    And you wonder why we libertarians hold you Leftists in such contempt.  Instead of engaging us in discussion you resort to snide remarks like “Islamo-Fascism is a ridiculous term.”

    I think you owe me an apology. 

    I respect your views on your website.  You ought to show at least a little respect for mine. 

  5. 5
    Eric D. Rittberg says:

    I’m a “conservative”????  Yeah right! 

    I staunchly support legalized prostitution, gambling, Swingers’ rights, topless beaches, repealing seat belt laws, ending smoking bans, free speech in the extreme, no political correctness by either side, and am Pro-Choice on abortion, and you have the audacity to call me a “conservative.”  

    If I’m considered a “conservative” today, than that just proves me point: Conservatives are now completey accepting of  libertarian social issues, and have lost all their previous prudishness.  


  6. 6
    Eric D. Rittberg says:

    Liberals are most certainly aligned with Islamo-Fascists.

    On Dec. 25, the Hamas-controlled Parliament in Gaza reinstated Crucifixtion as a punhishment for violation of Sharia’ law.

    Have you seen this reported on ANY LIBERAL WEBSITE OR BLOG???

    Was it on CNN?  In the NY Times or WaPo? 

    Was it even mentioned at Liberal Values? 

    Nope!  The only ones reporting on this were Conservative blogs and news sites. 

    Amnesty International didn’t step forward to condemn Hamas.  ACLU, neither.  But golly gee, if one Republican executes a child killer by lethal injection they’ll be lined up at the prison gates protesting the “evil torture,” of convicted murderers. 

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:


    Islamo-fascism is a ridiculous term and those who use it demonstrate a profound ignorance of language, history, and politics. If that is insulting to you, so be it. Keep in mind that it was Frank Luntz, the guru of conservative use of language, who was pointing out how ridiculous a term it is.

    Such ignorance on your part can also be seen in your lack of  understanding of the difference between libertarianism and conservatism along with your absurd argument that liberals are aligned with “Islamo-Fascists.” Liberals oppose the repressive tactics of groups such as Hamas in general–as well as such acts which conservatives will ignore if from non-Muslim groups.

    It wasn’t mentioned at Liberal Values because I was busy that day and was hardly on line. If it wasn’t covered by either liberal media outlets such as the NY Times, or conservative outlets such as CNN and the Washington Post, it is hardly surprising that I didn’t see any coverage of this on a day when I was barely on line. Being unaware of one of many repugnant acts hardly means anyone is aligned with Islamo-Fascists.

    By the way, what are you still doing around here posting comments. During the presidential campaign you claimed that once Obama took office he would start rounding up everyone who disagrees with him and place them in concentration camps. If you really believed the nonsense you write, I would think you would be out of the country by now.

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