This is an issue that should concern all those who are fervent conservatives, and it’s one we must now confront as we near the end of the primary season of 2016. In this election cycle, the predictable outcome seems more inevitable than ever, but one can’t ignore how the current GOP front-runner has at times scorned conservatism. Much like the long-established practice of the blue-blood Republicans, what has happened in this election is that conservatism has become increasingly isolated from the remainder of the Republican party, and from the electorate at large. This isn’t a pleasant reality for conservatives, but it is nevertheless true. So long as we permit this to occur, we will never see the sort of electoral outcomes we would prefer, never mind the the realization of substantive policy results for which we’ve been fierce advocates. We have some terrible choices before us, but in advance of us making them, we must come to understand how we’ve arrived in our current predicament. If we’re ever to return this nation to a constitutional path, we must do first by adhering to it ourselves, and we must be willing to accept our own role in our political misfortunes. The truth is somewhat difficult to accept, but there it lies, nevertheless, awaiting the summoning our courage to confront it. Conservatism is increasingly marginalized precisely because we have permitted its dilution and diminution through the acceptance of too many compromises of principles, and too many instances in which we were willing to form an ideological “big tent.” There’s nothing wrong with building temporary alliances with others, but if conservatism doesn’t stake out its ideological limits, and defend its ideological boundaries, it will continue to be marginalized within the broader general electorate.
When George W. Bush ran for the office of President of the United States in 2000, not a few Texans had significant concerns. Many who had observed his performance here in Texas took the time to try to warn the party at large that he was not really a conservative. Bush tried to ply conservatives with a new formulation, calling himself a “compassionate conservative.” There were a few problems with this that some of us at the time recognized, and one of them was in the implicit denigration of conservatism generally: Conservatism is compassionate. We need no such adjectives. We need no such descriptors. We need no such modifiers on what conservatism offers to its adherents. Conservatism is the most compassionate ideology in existence, but by accepting the adjective offered by George W. Bush, we made what was tantamount to an admission that conservatism wasn’t inherently compassionate.
What conservatives across the nation soon discovered was the fact that “compassionate conservatism” meant “big-government Republican.” On issue after issue, from defense, to security, to education, to Medicare, or bank bail-outs, there was no issue in which the answer of George W. Bush would be anything other than the expansion of government and the increase of our national debt at the expense of generations as yet unborn. It is true that Obama has essentially doubled the national debt, but we must in all honesty admit that the same can be said of George W. Bush. The Bush “compassion” came at the expense of conservatism, and at the expense of our generations of Americans as yet unborn. Nevertheless, we permitted Bush to fly the flag of a highly adulterated “conservatism” without respect to what the long-run affects on our movement would be. Most of the conservative media spent much of the eight years of the Bush presidency, and much time well beyond their end, defending the ludicrous policies and positions of a conservative who wasn’t.
We’re seeing some of the same thing in the current election year. Donald Trump talks about “common-sense” conservatism. I have exactly as many problems with this adjective tacked as a prefix to conservatism as I did to the term “compassionate.” In fact, over time, there are or have been “Tea Party conservatives,” “reform conservatives,” “constitutional conservatives,” and “moderate conservatives,” but I think all these adjectives placed in series with “conservatism” simply dilute the meaning. These modifiers also act as a disguise for that which is not conservatism. Herein lies the problem for we conservatives, because I believe conservatism is inherently compassionate, wholly common-sense in its construction, and entirely committed to constitutional principles. In other words, to attach any prefix to “conservatism” is to dilute and pollute the concept, or strictly to permit the purveyor to pose as a conservative while not adhering to all or part of the broader concept of conservatism.
The other effect of these bastardized versions of “conservatism” is that when people traveling under those phony banners continue to assert their hyphenated-conservatism, the natural result is that conservatism takes the blame for all the failures of those folk who are not conservative. For an example, consider again the “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush, this time in the context of the creation of the Transportation Security Administration(TSA,) and how he created a huge bureaucracy that increased the costs of government, but now, one-and-one-half decades later, we have another costly bureaucracy that fails to meet the security testing thrown at it just as badly or in many cases in worse fashion than the airlines-owned or airport-owned security that the TSA replaced. Again, another big-government solution that has failed, cost untold billions of dollars, and conservatives and conservatism are now permanently saddled with the blame, in large measure because a putative “conservative” enacted it.
This is the problem with letting others define “conservatism,” or letting non-conservatives decide who is or who isn’t a conservative. “Conservatism” has become so generic and muddied at this point that it’s nearly impossible for us to in the first instance, exclude those who are not actual conservatives, and in the second instance, disclaim ownership of statist programs and policies enacted in the name of conservatism. This is a gargantuan problem we face, and it helps explain why Donald Trump can make the point that “conservatives haven’t accomplished anything,” or that “conservatives are part of the problem.” I think it’s time to heed the warning made explicit by this entire fiasco: We must make distinct our principles from the tawdry mix of self-contradictory, expediency-based lack of principle in the broader Republican party.
I don’t pretend to know the solution in this matter, but it’s one we conservatives must address. We’re being marginalized by virtue of a popular media meme, one that gains through our own passive associations with big-government Republicans, permitting them to shelter among us, gain our support, or in some cases, enjoy our defense of conservatism when they undertake less-than-conservative policies and programs. This happens at all levels of government, but nowhere is it more damning and punishing than at the federal level. Let us review briefly: In the aftermath of the 1998 mid-terms, the anti-Newt forces prevailed and essentially pushed him out of leadership. Since that date, the Republican party, in various times controlling the House, the Senate, or the Presidency(and for some period, all three) have accomplished virtually nothing, but have frequently contributed to the statist cause. The litany of issues and instances in which the Republican party has effectively aided and abetted Democrats in ruining our republic is gargantuan both in number and in consequence. We can no longer, not even once more, permit this to happen in the name of, or under the cover of another misappropriation of the title “conservatism.”