Advice For Republican Candidates

Former House majority leader Dick Armey has two pieces of advice for Republican candidates: don’t self- identify as a tea party candidate and stay off of MSNBC. This advice makes sense.Why would anyone in their right mind self-identify as a member of a band of people who have no understanding of the issues and limit their thought to simplistic bumper-sticker slogans? As for the second, it makes sense that Republican candidates avoid difficult interviews which would show they have no understanding of the issues and limit their thought to simplistic bumper-sticker slogans.

While the fundamentals work in favor of the Republicans in the upcoming off-year election, it is likely any gains will be a dead cat bounce unless Republicans take some additional action. Here’s some more advice I’d like to offer to them:

  • Don’t call yourself a supporter of small government and then support policies which increase the influence of the government in the lives of individuals.
  • Don’t call yourself fiscally conservative and then increase spending on credit while simultaneously cutting taxes for the ultra-wealthy.
  • Don’t run on national security credentials until you understand that going to war should be reserved as a last resort, and should not be done based upon lies.
  • Don’t talk about socialism unless you are really talking about socialists, and not centrist politicians such as Barack Obama.

The Problem With The Center

At first glance this op-ed by Martin O’Malley and Harold Ford might appear to be the Democratic response to the challenge I laid down in my previous post. I discussed the trend for affluent suburbs to vote Democratic, but questioned whether Democrats can keep those votes. Reading this op-ed, I come away with the feeling that O’Malley and Ford recognize that there is an opportunity for Democrats but don’t really understand what to do. The good point is that they realize that new people are voting Democratic, but there is no guarantee of continued support from independents and former Republicans after Bush is gone:

George W. Bush is handing us Democrats our Hoover moment. Independents, swing voters and even some Republicans who haven’t voted our way in more than a decade are willing to hear us out. With an ambitious common-sense agenda, the progressive center has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to win back the White House, expand its margins in Congress and build a political and governing majority that could last a generation.

A majority comes hard for Democrats. In the past 150 years, only three Democrats, one of whom was Franklin Roosevelt, have won the White House with a majority of the popular vote.

What’s more, political success built on the other party’s failure is fleeting. Jimmy Carter won a majority in the wake of Watergate, but his own shortcomings on national security and the economy took him from majority victor to landslide loser in four years. Repudiating the other side’s approach is only half the battle. Since neither side has a monopoly on truth, the hard part is knowing when to look beyond traditional orthodoxies to do what works.

Like FDR, we can build a lasting majority only by earning it — with ideas that demonstrate to the American people that if they entrust us with national leadership, we can deal effectively with the challenges our country faces and the challenges they face in their everyday lives.

The problem with the op-ed is that it doesn’t provide any meaningful recommendations. As Steve Benen wrote, “I have no idea what Ford and O’Malley hope to accomplish with this op-ed. It’s vague and filled with generalities, and it urges Dem candidates to keep doing what they’re doing. If there’s a point to their piece, it’s hiding well.”

The problem is that the DLC types see moving towards the center as the answer, but trying to split the differences between liberal and conservative positions does not necessarily give the right answer. As noted in the previous post, suburbanites voting Democratic oppose the war, oppose the Republican Party’s social conservativism, and support fiscal conservativism. I’ve also discussed similar trends among new Democratic voters in past posts on “Starbucks Republicans” and “South Park Republicans.”

The centrism of the DLC will not give these new voters good reason to support the Democrats. The DLC’s biggest error was in backing the Iraq war. Opposition to the war has now become the mainstream position. While the centrist Democrats urge moderation and compromise on social issues, doing this makes the Democrats less attractive to those who stopped voting Republican because of their backing of the policies of the religious right.

Thomas Frank got it backwards in What’s The Matter With Kansas? Frank argued that Democratic moderation on economic issues gave people less reason to vote for the Democrats for personal economic reasons, allowing them to vote Republican based on social issues. There may have been some truth to this in Kansas, but even in Kansas we are seeing moderates leaving the Republican Party to vote Democratic over issues such as teaching creationism in the schools.

In much of the rest of the country, economic versus social issues are viewed differently than in Thomas Franks’s Kansas. As the previous post discusses, many affluent suburbanites don’t see the Bush tax cuts as good enough reason to vote Republican due to opposition to Republican views on the war and social issues. Democratic moderation on economic policy makes this possible. We would not be voting Democratic if Democrats continued to support the high marginal rates present in the past. However, if the Democrats compromise on opposing the war or compromise on social issues in the hopes of receiving more votes in the center, there is no longer any reason to vote Democratic. If the Democrats don’t offer a clear difference from Republicans on the issues that matter, we might as well grab the Republican tax cuts.

For Democrats to develop a lasting majority, the secret is not simply going after the center. The trick is understanding what issues matter. There is a growing desire for a party which opposes the war, is socially liberal, and is centrist on economic matters. Democrats currently have the support of such voters which presents great opportunities for the future, but there is no guarantee they will keep them.

Boos For Richardson Demonstrate Division Between Bloggers and Others on Economic Policy

From accounts at The Fix and various other blogs, it sounds like Barack Obama and John Edwards have been received the best at YearlyKos. Hillary Clinton had problems with defending lobbyists and, in the event I find most interesting, Bill Richardson was booed for backing a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.

Scanning the liberal blogosphere the bloggers who comment seem pretty much unanimous in considering the balanced budget amendment a bad idea, while many people commenting supported the idea. This is consistent with a trend I’ve noticed that a large percentage of bloggers on the major liberal blogs have similar ideas on economic matters, while a significant number of individuals who read liberal blogs agree on areas such as the war and social issues but are more fiscally conservative. There are also many independent voters who hold this view, explaining why Richardson is improving in the polls primarily among independents who intend to vote in Democratic caucuses or primaries where this is allowed.

I am sympathetic to Richardson on this as, while I have qualms about the idea, a balanced budget amendment is not so awful an idea as to deserve the boos it generated. A balanced budget is generally desirable, but there are times, such as during a war, when deficit spending is necessary.  Proposals for a balanced budget typically allow deficit spending with a super majority, but those simply hearing a call for a balanced budget amendment on the stump generally are unaware of this. Even when they do discover this, it often makes the proposal sound more like a gimmick.

I would prefer to see Richardson speak of the benefits of a pay as you go policy, as he also does now and John Kerry did in 2004. Ideally voters will vote for candidates who show restraint in spending, seeing the benefits of Bill Clinton over a fiscally irresponsible president such as George Bush.

Richardson might be right that further restrictions are necessary against fiscally irresponsible presidents, which would apply to both George Bush who fought a war off the books, as well as to future presidents who adopt the irresponsible attitude of John Edwards of promising everything to everybody with no qualms about paying for it on credit. I wonder if the idea would at least receive less boos from a liberal audience if it was a call for a requirement for a super majority for deficit spending rather than using the politically charged terminology of a balanced budget amendment.

The boos are also consistent with the shifting views at Daily Kos. There is a diversity of viewpoints there, but there is also an element of group think at both Daily Kos and in the liberal blogosphere. Many of them respond the most to criticizing George Bush and the war, and the policies to replace Republican policies is a secondary concern. Back when Howard Dean was best identified with opposition to Bush, many at Daily Kos adopted Dean’s fiscally conservative views. John Edwards has been doing the most to attract support in the blogosphere this year, and now many have abandoned Dean’s views for Edwards’ populism. Kos has written about liberal/libertarian fusionism, which would imply some degree of fiscal conservativism, but he is much better at community organization than promoting a consistent political philosophy and this has had little impact at this site.

I hope that at very least the boos were for the balance budget amendment itself and not for the concept of fiscal responsibility and a balance budget whenever possible. Many liberal bloggers mistakingly see the 2006 elections as a mandate to back big government progressive economic policies. In reality, many voters backed the Democrats in opposing the war and some other Republican policies, and will support greater government involvement in health care out of necessity, but will return to voting Republican if they see a government which they perceive as dominated by “tax and spend liberals.”

Social Liberalism, Economic Conservativism, and Political Parties

Ezra Klein (here and here) and Matthew Yglesias are going back and forth discussing ideology and political parties, raising the question of whether the situation in the United States is typical of other places and times. Is it inevitable that one party would be conservative on social and economic issues while the other party would be liberal on both? Matthew argues that this is the trend internationally, while European blogger Michael P.F. van der Galiën provides evidence that perhaps this is not always the case. While not proving that this is universal, George Lakoff has provided a possible explanation for the association of economic and social issues in his division between the strict father and nurturing parent views.

Ezra and Matthew are largely looking at the possibility of a political party being socially conservative and liberal on economic matters–which could be the worst of all possible worlds as far as I’m concerned assuming they are using liberal in a big-government or populist manner. Kevin Drum rejects the opposite view finding that libertarianism “has never attracted a huge following.”

In coming to this conclusion, Kevin is confusing the most radical viewpoint for all possible viewpoints which might be characterized by being socially liberal and economically conservative. Extreme libertarianism will find a small following, but so would the other extreme of total government control over both economic and social issues.

The problem with extreme libertarianism comes from the placement of ideology over reality. Libertarian publications and think tanks produce a tremendous amount of work analyzing every possible problem, and every time they find that the free market will provide a better solution than government. Amazing how that works! In contrast, while I might prefer avoiding government where possible, and place the burden of proof on those who seek increased government activity, I, and presumably many others who are socially liberal and more economically conservative, would concede the need for government action in some areas rejected by hard core libertarians.

Talk of economic conservativism can also be confusing as this term is used in many ways. Among those who have described themselves as socially liberal and economically conservative are Jimmy Carter, Paul Tsongas, John Kerry and Howard Dean, while others who use this label are more conservative economically than these Democrats. Their economic conservativism is hardly the same as that advocated by current Republicans. We simply do not have good labels for the variety of political views which exist. In terms of purely economics, Republican views would be much better described as fascist than capitalist, but there are far too many negative associations with fascism for it to make a useful descriptive term in political discussion. This does, however, raise the point that many conservative pundits have no qualms about calling most Democrats socialists, regardless of the fact that Republicans are far closer to fascism as opposed to capitalism than many Democrats are to socialism.

I also wonder to what degree the limited combinations of views coming from the two American political parties is responsible for the low turn out in elections and poor approval ratings for both in many polls. This may also be driving the interest in third parties, as many wonder if a Ross Perot without the personal quirks would be preferable to the choices offered by the major parties. Shamanic recently addressed this at Newshoggers arguing that most of the platform of a hypothetical third party, including fiscal conservativism, is basically a Democratic platform.

It is actually not clear what the Democrats will represent as they move from the opposition party to governing party, and even less clear as to how they are perceived. There is still the inertia of the old New Deal coalition and special interest groups influencing the Democratic Party. There’s been a tremendous realignment as social issues, as well as views on the Iraq war, have replaced economic issues as the major differences between the parties. If the Democrats are seen primarily as the party of the poor and the welfare state which is hostile to business interests they risk returning to minority status, and a third party could be victorious if the Republicans remain controlled by those on the extreme right.

If Democrats are to become a majority party they will need to recognize the changing economic realities of an affluent society, and develop a platform which is inviting to the “Starbucks Republicans” and “South Park Republicans” who now reject the social conservativism of the Republicans. This tendency is seen more among bloggers, making Shamanic’s arguments more understandable even if others do not perceive the Democratic Party as she does. It remains to be seen whether the net roots will have a lasting effect on the Democratic Party, or if older interest groups will retain control.

It was much easier for Democrats to appear united when in the minority and in agreement in opposing Republican policies. Until recently, many current Democrats were actually former independents and moderate Republicans who can no longer support the extremism of the Republican leadership. Assuming predictions are correct that the Democrats will be the governing party as of 2008, there may be more division as to which course to take. We may see a return to the traditional conservative versus liberal divisions, or we may see a continuation of the realignment which has been occurring during the Bush years demonstrating to Ezra and Matthew that the old political divisions are not engraved in stone.

Realignment on Issues of Liberty Versus Authoritarianism

The previous post on the column by David Brooks leads back to a topic I’ve discussed many times here–the realignment of the political parties. As discussed earlier, the Republicans have abandoned previous ideas of freedom and small government. In recent years, especially as traditionally leftist economic policies have been abandoned, the left has increasingly been redefined as those who oppose the policies of the Bush administration including the war, suppression civil liberties, pandering to the religious right, and erosions of check and balances on government. Howard Dean is considered far left for his opposition to the war while his fiscal conservativism is no longer considered a defining characteristic. (See related post on Dean below the fold). The major predictor of one’s political party affiliation has become how frequently one attends church, with those attending multiple times a week being more likely to be Republicans and supporters of the agenda of the religious right.

Glenn Greenwald makes an argument similar to the argument I have been making on the realignment of the political parties. It comes as little surprise that he sees the party divisions similar as to how I do concerning his stress on civil liberties as well as the checks and balances in government. Greenwald also discusses David Brooks’ column and writes:

I have argued several times before that the radicalism of the Bush presidency and the neoconservatism on which it is based has resulted in a fundamental political re-alignment. As Brooks points out, the issues that shape our political spectrum and determine one’s political orientation have changed fundamentally — Brooks contrasts today’s predominant issues with those of the 1970s in order to demonstrate this shift, but the shift is just as drastic even when one compares today’s predominant political issues to those that drove the key political dispustes as recently as the 1990s.

There is one principal reason for this shift — the Bush presidency and the political movement that supports it is not driven by any of the abstract political principles traditionally associated with “liberalism” or “conservatism.” Whatever else one wants to say about the Bush presidency, it has nothing to do with limiting the size, scope and reach of the federal government. The exact opposite is true.

On every front, the Bush administration has ushered in vast expansions of federal power — often in the form of radical and new executive powers, unprecedented surveillance of American citizens, and increased intervention in every aspect of Americans’ private lives. To say that the Bush movement is hostile to the limited-government ends traditionally associated (accurately or not) with the storied Goldwater/Reagan ideology is a gross understatement…

As a result, to be considered “liberal” or “leftist” now means, more than anything else, to oppose that agenda. All of the people now deemed to be on the “left” — including many who have quite disparate views about the defining political disputes of the 1990s — have been able to work together with great unity because all energies of those “on the left” have been devoted not to any affirmative policy-making (because they have had, and still have, no power to do that), but merely towards teh goal of exposing the corruption and radicalism at the heart of this extremist right-wing movement and to push back — impose some modest limits — on what has been this radical movement’s virtually unlimited ability to install a political framework that one does not even recognize as “American.”

Related Posts:
Libertarian Democrats or Liberalism Reborn
Rangel Moves Democrats in Wrong Direction

Conservative Bloggers and the GOP Candidates

The Delusion of Republican Libertarians

Plus some related posts I wrote for Light Up The Darkness in 2005 are under the fold.
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Neoliberalism, Or Who Cares What David Brooks Says About Liberals?

While I discussed liberals today from the context of similarities to and differences from libertarians, the liberal blogosphere is spending the day discussing liberalism from the context of the ideas of David Brooks. I initially didn’t bother commenting on his column from yesterday, considering that David Brooks is hardly the one whose definitions of liberal groups are very meaningful, but it is getting harder to ignore this column with all the attention being paid to it. Brooks wrote:

On policy matters, the neoliberals were liberal but not too liberal. They rejected interest-group politics and were suspicious of brain-dead unions. They tended to be hawkish on foreign policy, positive about capitalism, reformist when it came to the welfare state, and urbane but not militant on feminism and other social issues.The neoliberal movement begat politicians like Paul Tsongas, Al Gore (the 1980s and ’90s version) and Bill Clinton. It also set the tone for mainstream American journalism. Today, you can’t swing an ax in a major American newsroom without hitting six people who used to work at The New Republic or The Washington Monthly. Influenced by their sensibility, many major news organizations became neoliberal institutions, whether they knew it or not…

Kevin Drum, who is actually older than most bloggers, says the difference is generational. Klein’s mind-set, he says, was formed in the 1970s and 1980s, but “like most lefty bloggers, I only started following politics in a serious way in the late ’90s.” Drum says he’s reacting to Ken Starr, the Florida ballot fight, the Bush tax cuts, the K Street Project and the war in Iraq.

Drum and his cohort don’t want a neoliberal movement that moderates and reforms. They want a Democratic Party that fights. Their tone is much more confrontational. They want to read articles that affirm their anger. They are also further to the left, driven there by Iraq on foreign policy matters and by wage stagnation on economic matters…

Over all, what’s happening is this: The left, which has the momentum, is growing more uniform and coming to look more like its old, pre-neoliberal self. The right is growing more fractious. And many of those who were semiaffiliated with one party or another are drifting off to independent-land. (The Economist, their magazine, now has over 500,000 American readers – more than all the major liberal magazines combined.)

Neoliberalism had a good, interesting run – while it lasted.

It is not that neoliberalism has vanished, but that the differences of opinion in the 1990’s differ from those of today. The neoliberal ideas such as rejecting interest group politics, support of a market economy, and fiscal responsibility have become the mainstream views among liberals.

The war has also redefined what is moderate versus more extreme liberalism, or at least it did until opposition to the war became the majority view in this country. The DLC lost influence among liberals for its support for the war, but many people initially associated with the DLC have moved on, while retaining other aspects of neoliberalism. Howard Dean, for example, was transformed from a moderate DLC Governor to someone viewed as more liberal due to his views on the war, but he still retains his fiscal conservativism.

Perhaps what Brooks really objects to is the change in attitude. Under Clinton Republicans controlled Congress and compromise appeared to be the best solution. However, Republicans showed no interest in compromise or bipartisan government. This leaves liberals as having no choice but to be more confrontational compared to the right.

More posts on David Brooks

Further discussion of this column from Matthew Yglesias, Kevin Drum, Steve Benen, Joe Klein, Ben Adler, Jonathan Cohn, and Ezra Klein.

Update: Still further discussion from Roger Smith (who linked back here at Huffington Post), Paul Glastis, and The American Street

Kerry Introduces Bills to Assist Small Business

If John Kerry does run in 2008 he needs to get his entire record out. While Republicans distorted rankings in 2004 to call him the most liberal Senate Democrat, suggesting a leftist ideology, Kerry’s support for small business, as well as fiscal conservativism, might help him obtain votes from centrists and socially liberal “Starbucks Republicans” in 2008. Last week Kerry introduced four bills to assist small business. The bills will improve the government’s Disaster Loan Program, reduce health care costs for small firms, reform the Alternative Minimum Tax, and expand entrepreneurship opportunities in minority communities.

Victory in Suburbia

Back in the days when the Democrats were a minority party lacking any politcal clout (i.e. last month) I often warned that if they ever hoped to become a national party again Democrats would need to improve their support among the affluent. In a society which is fairly affluent, despite too many being left behind, a party which is seen to represent only the interests of the have-nots is doomed to failure. Most voters are either reasonably well off or have hopes of future success and affluence, and have little interest in a party which ignores their interests. Before the election I noted many hopes for success, including increased Democratic support in the suburbs and among groups such as the Starbucks Republicans and South Park Republicans. USA Today notes the increased success for Democrats in the suburbs:

Democrats made large gains in suburbia in this month’s elections, pushing Republican turf to the outer edges of major population centers in a trend that could signal trouble for the GOP, an analysis shows.

Democrats carried nearly 60% of the U.S. House vote in inner suburbs in the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, up from about 53% in 2002, according to the analysis by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.

They received nearly 55% of the vote in the next ring of “mature” 20- and 30-year-old suburbs, with 45% going to Republicans and third-party candidates. In 2002, the last midterm election, Democrats received 50% of the vote there.

“Republicans are getting pushed to the fringes of the metropolis,” said sociologist Robert Lang, director of the institute. “They simply have to be more competitive in more suburbs,” he said, to win statewide and presidential races.

There are many reasons for this victory. The article notes that, “Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin said Republican appeal is waning in the inner suburbs, due in part to socially conservative positions, while Democrats are getting better at reaching suburban voters.” Social issues were a major factor, but the change in the perception of Democrats on economic matters is also important. Democratic leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean have stressed their desire for fiscal conservativism and to avoid big government programs perceived as far left. The 2006 elections were largely a repudiation of Republican policies, with victory coming from a coalition of both those who support traditional Democratic goals and those who might not but see Democrats as the only alternative to years of Republican failures. To keep their new majority coalition, especially with the old New Deal coalition long gone, Democrats must continue to consider the views of suburbanites, including small businessmen and professionals.

Addendum: I should also point out that any argument, including the one I made above, can be taken to absurd extremes. This was seen in Thomas Edsall’s recent op-ed in the New York Times. While he is right to a degree in warning Democrats against governing from the old left, it appears that by the time you ignore all the constituencies that Edsall discards there’s not much remaining. The trick isn’t to discard old constituencies but to find ways to promote the shared goals of many groups. There are dangers for continuing to stand for out-dated ideas, but there is also a danger in not standing for anything.

Libertarians as Swing Voters

The Cato Institute has a report on the libertarian vote, which they consider to be the new swing vote, accounting for about 13% of voters. Libertarians voted more heavily Republican in the past, but have become disillusioned with Republicans due to the war, their record on civil liberties, social issues, and possibly due to their support for corporate welfare. They note that libertarians supported Bush over Gore by 72% to 20% but Bush’s margin dropped to 59% to 38% when Bush faced John Kerry.

While the Cato Institute attributes this shift towards Democrats in 2004 as opposition to Bush’s policies, they may be underestimating support for Kerry’s positions. The Cato Institute greatly misunderstands Kerry’s positions and misses his libertarian leanings on some positions. They ignored Kerry’s opposition to going to war, and confused Kerry’s vote for the IWR as support for going to war as opposed to authorization of the use of force as a last resort if we were proven to be threatened by WMD. (Kerry’s actual position on Iraq was discussed here). They ignore Kerry’s strong support for civil liberties due to his vote for the Patriot Act, which is also misleading. All but one Senate Democrat voted for the Patriot Act not out of support for the act but as part of a compromise to have sunset provisions added.

They also confuse Kerry’s personal opposition to gay marriage (while supporting civil unions which provide all the benefits of marriage) for his political actions, with Kerry consistently opposing restrictions on gay marriage. During the campaign, Bill Clinton advised Kerry to support the amendments opposing gay marriage in the states where they were on the ballot, advising this would increase his support in those states. Kerry refused to compromise his principles in this manner. They ignore Kerry’s history of strong support for small business and balanced budgets. They use support for private accounts in Social Security as one of their litmus tests, but this is not necessarily a libertarian position. Both the present program and a government sponsored private savings account system would remain a government program, so it comes down to a choice between two government programs, not a choice between a government and a non-government program. Moving to private accounts leaves the problem of funding benefits for current retirees if those currently working shift their money into private accounts, necessitating increased taxation or deficit spending which would be contrary to libertarian goals. (Private accounts would have been much more realistic if Bush had not squandered the budget surplus left by Bill Clinton).

The Cato Institute might be motivated to exaggerate their political significance, but the move by Democrats towards support for civil liberties and liberal social issues, accompanied by support for fiscal conservativism, has benefits beyond the libertarian vote. This is also the formula to attract many suburban voters, Western voters, Starbucks Republicans, and South Park Refugees. The trend towards more libertarian views among Democrats can also be seen in Kos’s adovcacy of Libertarian Dems.

Republicans have often benefited politically by their rhetoric supporting freedom and capitalism, but their actual policies have been quite different from their rhetoric. A party which interferes in the intimate details of individual’s lives to the degree advocated by the Republicans is hardly the party of individual liberty. The crony capitalism practiced by the Republicans to transfer wealth to the large corporations which support them and to the ultra-wealthy has no relationship to the views of Adam Smith. Democrats have a clear advantage in support for civil liberties and opposition to the war, and even on economic issues are often closer to libertarian views once you get past the Republican rhetoric.

John Tierney on Republicans Abandoning Principles

The Republican Party has campaigned as the party of small government and freedom while promoting big government and authoritarianism in power. John Tierney notes that Republicans have abandoned their principles and wonder if the party can be saved:

Republicans in Washington did not abandon their principles lightly. When they embraced “compassionate conservatism,” when they started spending like Democrats, most of them didn’t claim to suddenly love big government.

No, they were just being practical. The party’s strategists explained that the small-government mantra didn’t cut it with voters anymore. Forget eliminating the Department of Education — double its budget and expand its power. Stop complaining about middle-class entitlements — create a new one for prescription drugs. Instead of obsessing about government waste, bring home the bacon.

But as long as we’re being practical, what do Republicans have to show for their largess? Passing the drug benefit and the No Child Left Behind Act gave them a slight boost in the polls on those issues, but not for long. When voters this year were asked in a New York Times/CBS News Poll which party they trusted to handle education and prescription drugs, the Republicans scored even worse than they did before those bills had been passed.

Meanwhile, they’ve developed a new problem: holding the party together. As Ryan Sager argues in his new book, “The Elephant in the Room,” the G.O.P. is sacrificing its future by breaking up the coalition that brought it to power.

A half-century ago, during the Republicans’ days in the wilderness, a National Review columnist named Frank Meyer championed a strategy that came to be known as fusionism. He appealed to traditionalist conservatives to work with libertarians. It wasn’t an easy sell. The traditionalists wanted to rescue America from decadence, while the libertarians just wanted be left alone to pursue their own happiness — which often sounded to the traditionalists like decadence.

Traditionalists may have worked with libertarians for political gain, but have generally ignored the influence of libertarians in power. By giving up principles, Republicans have given a little to many groups, but overall are pleasing much fewer people. There is considerable potential for Democrats to increase support among those who support liberal social issues along with fiscal conservativism. Tierney suggests that politicians look west:

The practical panderer should look West — not to the Coast, which is reliably blue, but to the purple states in the interior. Sager notes that a swing of just 70,000 votes in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico would have cost Bush the last election, and that he lost ground in the Southwest between 2000 and 2004.

The interior West is growing quickly, thanks to refugees from California seeking affordable housing. These Westerners have been voting Republican in presidential elections, but have also gone for Democratic governors. They tend to be economic conservatives and cultural liberals. They’ve legalized medical marijuana in Nevada, Colorado and Montana. They’re more tolerant of homosexuality than Southerners are, and less likely to be religious.

They’re suspicious of moralists and of any command from Washington, whether it’s a gun-control law or an educational mandate. In Colorado and Utah, they’ve exempted themselves from No Child Left Behind.

They’re small-government conservatives who would have felt at home in the old fusionist G.O.P. But now they’re up for grabs, just like the party’s principles.