The GOP's Disputed Soul

As the 2012 Republican National Convention begins, a declining party's core values remain in flux

On the eve of a 2012 Republican National Convention that will coronate Mitt Romney as presidential nominee, the GOP's third-place finisher in the delegate count held a counter-rally at the Florida Sun Dome that exposed many of the party's considerable fault lines.

Whereas Romney wants to jack up military spending and take a more forceful approach to Syria and Iran than President Barack Obama, multiple speakers at the rally, especially featured attraction Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), embraced the "blowback" theory of international affairs and called for immediate imperial withdrawal. Hearty cheers from the low-thousands crowd greeted stage mentions of raw milk, industrial hemp, and imprisoned Army leaker Bradley Manning, topics we can assume will not be coming up at the RNC this week. At one point, a video montage showed snippets from such revered conservatives as Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santorum, and Rudy Giuliani; each was lustily booed.

The divisions will be less vociferous (and eccentric) inside the Convention Center this week, but the attempted display of anti-Obama unity will be balancing on an edifice of unresolved discord between the party's competing factions. After three years of grassroots revulsion at big government, Republicans have a standard-bearer who defends the Department of Education instead of targeting it for elimination, who leads the charge against the federal health insurance mandate from the awkward position of having invented it at the state level, and who promises to reform Medicare out of one side of his mouth while bashing proposed Medicare cuts (even those proposed by running-mate Rep. Paul Ryan [R-Wisc.]) out the other.

The Republican Party was famously described by Ronald Reagan as a "three-legged stool" comprised of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and national security conservatives. Rather than representing the triumph of any of those groups, Romney is a consensus electability candidate who dabbles in all three with varying levels of conviction.

If, like Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman argued persuasively in a March 2012 cover story, Romney can be seen as the "consultant's consultant," repackaging GOP ideas in a way to make them maximally saleable first to Republicans and now to the rest of America, then the ideological center of gravity within the GOP matters all that more. President Obama, after all, campaigned against the individual mandate and against piling up more federal debt, but his party helped tug him leftward.

This week will be about more than watching the Weather Channel for Hurricane Isaac updates; it will also represent a chance to take the temperature of the contemporary GOP. If the schedule is anything to go by, the readings will be mixed indeed—on Wednesday night, for example, delegates will be greeted in rapid order by a video of Ron Paul, then Senate Minority Leader and longtime establishment hack Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), then the man McConnell tried desperately to prevent winning the GOP senatorial primary in Kentucky (Sen. Rand Paul), then after another speaker a man who stands for most everything Ron Paul abhors (Sen. John McCain [R-Arizona]). You can count on one hand, maybe even one finger, the core beliefs those four men share.

The Ron Paul insurgency in particular presents a conundrum to the GOP. Even though some establishmentarian types would love to wash their hands of him, and the liberty movement's future without its anti-charismatic leader is unclear, Republicans just can't afford to lose Paul's 11 percent share of the primary vote.

That's because despite 43 months of Democratic mismanagement of economic policy, the Republican Party, amazingly, is still losing market share. A recent analysis by the centrist Third Way think tank found that in eight swing states (including Florida), GOP registration is down 79,000 (or 0.7 percent), while the ranks of registered independents have grown by 487,000 (6.4 percent). Voters clearly don't like what President Obama has been selling—swing state Democratic registration is down 800,000, or 5.2 percent. But they have steadfastly refused to endorse the Republican alternative.

So the party that hasn't figured out what it believes cannot afford to alienate any of its members who disagree strongly with one another. Though you will hear a lot this week about Republican unity against President Obama, that masks an ideological peace that at best is fragile, unattractive, and unsatisfying. 

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Worst. Poem. Yet.

    Both parties have long had their factions. The Christian Right versus the small government, libertarian parts of the Republican party, and the rank and file union salt-of-the-earths versus the urban progressives in the Democrat Party. And, of course, there are wonderful subdivisions and lesser voting blocs in each. The only thing that holds either party together is the rival threat.

  • T o n y||

    Just read an article that put it well: the Republican party consists of Social darwinism minus the libertarianism and theocracy minus the concern for the less fortunate.

  • Randian||

    I don't like the Tony that just phones it in like this.

  • T o n y||

    But I quite enjoy the person called "Randian" who knee-jerks to defending the GOP, a party rotten to the core with proto-fascist tendencies and only the merest lip service to fiscal minimalism. Ayn Rand was a middling thinker but even she could see through the GOP's bullshit, and would certainly reject any kind of pragmatic alliance just because they want to lower billionaires' taxes.

  • tarran||

    Ayn Rand was a middling thinker but even she could see through the GOP's bullshit

    Tony, Ayn Rand supported Richard Nixon.

    I appreciate your desire to wound her supporters, but you're just making shit up ... again.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Ah yes, Randian, the eternal defender of the GOP.

    If you can't find facts, just make them up? Is that how it works?

    May fly when you're picking up rent boys who are paid to agree with you, but not around here compadre.

  • Randian||

    But I quite enjoy the person called "Randian" who knee-jerks to defending the GOP

    This is kind of phoning it in I am talking about.

    If I wanted to hear tired clichés about the GOP, I would go to ThinkProgress or Twitter or Facebook or something. I don't need a little version of those morons here, thank you very much.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Says the pussy who knee-jerks to defend the Socialism Lite Party.

    Fuck you, Tony.

  • Randian||

    I have to say that the ratio of people who just Make Up Anything is getting disturbingly high here on H&R.

    Do you not see me in this very thread mocking John for constantly trying to bring us into the GOP fold?

    It really is a few scroll-flips away, if you are in the mood to actually read what's written and not manufacture outrage and facts just because.

  • Randian||

    I am starting to suspect Mr. FIFY's comment was not for me.

    Apologies all around.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Sorry, dude, but I thought the "Fuck you, Tony" at the end would have made it clear.

    No worries, though.

  • Randian||

    I am not the smartest person in the world, I'll admit to that.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    You're smarter than Tony, even though he went to college. Take heart with that, Randian.

    Also, you're not a member of the GOP, either. Which is also smart.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    I did shoulda oughta have phrased that post above a little better, though. My bad.

    Off to work. Have fun storming the castle!

  • Mr. FIFY||

    "and only the merest lip service to fiscal minimalism"

    Yeah, the GOP sucks on that issue. However, your party refuses to lube us up before they practice the 180-degree opposite of "fiscal minimalism".

  • ||

    Tony: Such a world-class cock he makes you miss joe.

  • Calidissident||

    I love how, despite decades of evidence to the contrary, Tony actually thinks Republicans want to cut social spending

  • Drake||

    If they did, I would still be a Republican.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    A social darwinist theocracy? You mean those people with "EVOLVE" fish bumper stickers are Republicans?

  • ||

    You mean those people with "EVOLVE" fish bumper stickers are Republicans?

    Some might be.

  • Mumu Bobby||

    You have to decide which is the greater threat: social conservatism or liberal economics. My gay brother would rather have some douche bags hating on him then have his home value crash and his economic prospects darken. But he's gay so what does he know.

  • Cyto||

    That's always been my theory. If the state tries to ban private behavior it is bad, but good luck to them making it stick. If they confiscate your money, there's no getting it back.

    I'd rather they stayed out of my life completely, but if you have to choose, let them pass ineffectual bans on romance novels, lesbian sleepovers and extra-marital hummers rather than confiscating 3/4 of your wealth and spreading it around to the "less fortunate". History has shown that we'll more-or-less get away with ignoring the former, while attempting to get around the latter version of state excess has always lead to prison.

  • ||

    They're disputing over its soul? Didn't they sell it to the Devil at the crossroads at midnight?

  • Whiterun Guard||

    I thought they sold it to Millhouse for 5 bux.

  • Zeb||

    No, I think they are disputing over whether or not is has a soul.

  • tarran||

    The problem is the party establishment gets rich off of ripping off the tax-payers.

    The Republican party establishment wants big government. They want corporatism. They would rather lose to the Democrats than to weaken the plum extortion racket that they and the Democrats have set up.

  • Christina||

    The Republican Party was famously described by Ronald Reagan as a "three-legged stool" comprised of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and national security conservatives.

    And yet it's always the fiscal conservatives that get the short shrift. Here in Virginia all Republican candidates for public office must be socons or they are just plain shut out of the party. So Virginia has a plethora of Republicans who are willing to forgo fiscal sanity just to make sure gays can't get married. Fuck 'em. I'm voting Libertarian (again) and if Obama takes Virginia (again) I will just laugh and laugh.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    The funny thing is EITHER side could win handily if they weren't just so retarded. If the left gave a tiny bit of lip service or (*gasp*) action to actually securing civil liberties (real ones, not 'gay marriage') they would win the same way the right would win if they gave up on the whole GAYZ AND DRUGZ platform.

    But neither side has ever had to do that before, so they'll just continue to eke out wins over the other side until the whole thing collapses.

  • John||

    So you would commit to leftist economic policies in return for a little bit of lip service on civil liberties?

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Where did I say I would?

  • John||

    If the left gave a tiny bit of lip service or (*gasp*) action to actually securing civil liberties (real ones, not 'gay marriage') they would win

    There. And if you are saying you wouldn't but everyone or a majority would, what reason is there to think that? If you wouldn't, why would they?

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Because virtually no one agrees with me anyway? The number of people that self-examine their beliefs is tiny, and of the ones that do, and even smaller percentage think like I do. Certainly not enough to sway an election.

    However the number of people who would be suckered into voting for X version of the State Industry is very large, and would be gripped easily were either side to sacrifice their sacred cows.

    Here's how I look at the math. Percents are of voters, not peoplez. And it adds up to more than 100%, because, well it's self explanatory.

    35% will vote Dem no matter what.
    35% will vote Rep no matter what.
    24% are the 'independents' who will vote for whichever candidate they 'like' or will save the world. This will typically split one way or the other.
    3% will vote randomly
    3% will vote actually independently
    10% WOULD vote for one side or the other if they could be convinced that either the Dems actually gave a shit about civil rights OR that the Reps actually gave a shit about fiscal conservatism.

    That 10% would easily sway any election in the past 40 years.

  • John||

    I think you way over estimate the 10%. Sure 10% care about civil rights. But they don't care about that over everything else. The number of single issue civil rights voters is more like 1%.

  • John||

    That being said, the problem is not the parties. The problem is the 10%. See my example of feminists influence on the Dems below. Why do the feminists have such influence on the Dems? Because they are fanatical single issue voters who are willing to give a lot of money to candidates.

    The day Libertarians get an Emily's list, is the day someone might start paying attention to them.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    I think it is around an equivalent of 10% (or at least enough to sway) that are basically anti-SOCON issue republicans or pro-CR democrats. And they'd come out and vote IF either party came off their sacred cow. But it's a moot point.

    And you're definitely right about the feminist influence, and that will never be corrected until the system breaks down. Too many people have too much invested, and their jobs are too easy.

  • Mr. Soul||

    your model is intriguing. I would argue the first two categories are 35% will vote AGAINST Rs no matter what, 35% will vote AGAINST Ds no matter what.

  • Drax the Destroyer||

    I'd be shocked if somehow recalcitrant Libertarians cost Romney the shit-fuck state that is Virginia. He's either going to win it by tens of thousands or lose it by tens of thousands. The margin would have to be on the order of 1000 votes before Libertarians should begin considering the possibility of one day thinking about feeling bad about "letting" a Shit Sandwich lose to a giant period-blood stained Douche. And even then, they shouldn't care. The GOP would have failed to rally them for the same reasons the other fuck-stains failed to rally them. Fuck both those mother fuckers.

  • John||

    That is just it Drax, most people are not pro liberty the way libertarians are. And worse still, Libertarians are so shut out of popular culture and influence. I don't know that there are any more radial feminists than there are Libertarians. My guess is that there are fewer. Yet, feminists damn near own the Democratic Party. Why? Because feminists are all over the academy and the media and Hollywood and other things that shape the culture.

  • John||

    Think about this Drax. Imagine if Libertarians had the influence over either of the parties on the drug war that feminists have over the Dems on abortion? Sure a majority of the people support the drug war. But a majority of the people don't support abortion on demand. Yet, the Democrats will die on that hill before anything else.

  • Drax the Destroyer||

    More reasons why I want the majority of people to stay the hell out of my business. Thankfully, booze will calm my misanthropic heart and bring me mercifully to an early grave.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Take it from a former College Republican: On fiscal conservatism, God's Own Party is a mystery cult. Once you get into it to any great extent, the grand poobahs will explicitly disavow any concern for fiscal conservatism and admit that they're lying to the rubes about it. They get away with it so much because the left takes the attitude of "We hate Republicans, and we hate fiscal conservatism, so they must be linked."

  • The Late P Brooks||

    the Republican party consists of Social darwinism minus the libertarianism and theocracy minus the concern for the less fortunate.

    Good old Robert Reich. He's the go-to guy when Krugabe has the day off.

  • tarran||

    Why does anybody read anything Robert Reich says? The man is wrong 75% of the time! And when he's right, it's on something that is so bleeding obvious that he's falling into lockstep with other, better thinkers.

  • Marshall Gill||

    That is absurd tarran! There is NO WAY that the the hobbit known as Robert Reich is right 25% of the time. It is unpossible.

  • Randian||

    Yeah I thought that was a pretty generous score too.

  • tarran||

    Well, I am being charitable and trying to give the man the benefit of the doubt.

    Plus it's not like I've done a rigorous survey - I'm just oging off the number of times I've heard him Goebeling on NPR or had his stuff forwarded to me by well meaning friends on facebook.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    The man is wrong 75% of the time! And when he's right, it's on something that is so bleeding obvious that he's falling into lockstep with other, better thinkers.

    How many pundits can you name that don't fit that description?

  • Zeb||

    It's a fair cop.

  • Randian||

    Krugman. He's wrong 100% of the time.

  • ||

    Actually, my observation is that when Krugman talks dispassionatly about economics he's often right. But, the fact is he hasn't done that in years and now he's just repeating tired New Deal nostrums.

    Like most liberals shills, even when he's right he's right for the wrong reasons.

  • Randian||

    I should have said that when Kurgabe is pundit-izing he's 100% wrong.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    They would rather lose to the Democrats than to weaken the plum extortion racket that they and the Democrats have set up.

    Exactly. They're good either way.

    The rubes? They're just props.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    The proles serve their purpose.

  • BarryD||

    More like a 3-legged horse than a 3-legged stool...

    OTOH the Democratic Party also makes one think of stool, though not the kind with legs.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Like the stone pillar kind you find in upscale gastro-pubs?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Take it from a former College Republican: On fiscal conservatism, God's Own Party is a mystery cult.

    Something tells me I love a Man in a Uniform would be appropriate theme music.

  • John||

    The establishments of both parties are not so much pro government as they are pro survival and live in a bubble. If they actually thought that they could win by shrinking government, they would do it. The problem is that they have convinced themselves that the only way to get ahead and win elections is by "doing stuff". Basically the media and the general culture in Washington makes shrinking government something that reasonable people just do not think about.

  • Mike M.||

    Sadly, the fact that libertarians and true small government proponents can't seem to pull numbers greater than the low single digits is pretty strong evidence that there's not a groundswell of support in the country for shrinking government. At least not yet.

  • John||

    And Libertarians don't help their cause. Imagine if feminists or blacks had their own third party. No one would give a shit what they say then either. In contrast, both groups vote and give big money, so one party has to listen to them.

  • Randian||

    This is the part of the program where John tries to convince libertarians to vote GOP just this one time.

    Let's watch.

  • John||

    It could just easily be the Dems. Depends on what you consider most important. But if Libertarians started giving big money to Dem candidates and flexing the kind of muscle in the Democratic party that feminists do, why couldn't they get the Dems to change their position on the drug war and civil liberties?

  • ||

    No, they couldn't. Libertarians don't claim to have any free stuff to promise anyone.

  • John||

    Cash and votes are free stuff.

  • John||

    I really didn't think it had to be explained that which party doesn't matter. But I forget how tiresome and stupid you are sometimes.

  • Randian||

    But I forget how tiresome and stupid you are sometimes.

    Projection – It's Not Just For Movies Anymore

  • John||

    You only make the same stupid point on every thread. Nothing tiresome about screaming TEAM RED on every subject is there?

  • Randian||

    Nothing tiresome about screaming TEAM RED on every subject is there?

    Ha ha ha. A lack of self-awareness is extraordinarily entertaining.

  • John||

    And nothing tiresome about screaming lack of self awareness on every thread either.

  • Randian||

    I only see one party here flailing and practically on the verge of tears that someone won't Just This Once support The Party.

    And it's not me.

  • John||

    So saying that Libertarians need to form an Emily's list and start taking over the Democratic Party makes me a GOP shill?

    I know you are an objectivitst Randian, so I always lower the bar a bit when judging you. But Jesus H. Christ that is a little stupid don't you think?

  • Randian||

    It's your urging that we be co-opted that rankles, John.

    You and your party are threatened by libertarian ideals, so you are looking for ways to neuter them.

  • John||

    yeah Randian. If I really cared about Libertarians I would urge them to form a third party and get 3% every election.

    Do you even read the stuff you post?

  • John||

    And long term the Libertarians natural home is more likely to be with the Dems than the Republicans. The Democratic economic model is dying. It is only a matter of time before everyone but a few dead enders realizes that. So where will the debates be in 20 years? More than likely about things like national security and civil liberties. And those are things where the debate is going to be between Conservatives and Libertarians and eventually after they wake up from their bout of fiscal insanity liberals.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    John, I never in my life will consider the Democrat Party to be my "natural home".

    Nor would I ever join the GOP.

    If I had no choice but Team Red or Team Blue come election time, I'd just vote issues and not vote for candidates. Fuck that shit, I'm not going to give in to either enemy.

  • John||

    But being a third party means everyone ignores you. You either have to get your third party big enough to kill one of the other two so you are a major party (how is that working out) or you have to flex enough muscle in one of the major parties to get them to listen to you.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    IOW, I have to either help my third party grow - which I've been doing for years - or give in and sell out to one of the Teams.

    Fuck that shit.

  • John||

    And here is the other problem FIFY. Even if you do get it to grow, the only way to grow it is by convincing people and making compromises. And that tends to make it into things you never intended it to be. You can be big or you can be pure. But you can't be both.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    So, we're fucked. Either we have Team Blue calling all the shots, or we have Team Red lording it over us.

    Given those options, I'll go down swinging and extending both middle fingers.

  • John||

    Yeah probably so FIFY. But at the same time, the example of feminists and gays is really interesting. They are both small groups with what are minority or fringe views just like Libertarians. Yet, they are so successful at pushing their agenda.

    I would think Libertarians might want to look at how they do it and reconsider things.

  • Zeb||

    Either that or say what you believe and get on with your life. There is more to life than being relevant in elections.

  • John||

    True Zeb.

    When is the last time a radical feminist won an election? Yet, they seem to have all of this influence on how things work.

    Perhaps there is more to life than losing on principle too.

  • Cyberbuff||

    Romney, about to receive the nomination to head the American Taliban...with 37 States now with Voter Suppression Laws...how very Un American...GOP....the party of THUGS!!!

  • Mr. Soul||

    you put your finger on America's thug problem alright. Nothin' a little community organizing cant fix.

  • ||

    I am a conservative christian and I will be voting for Gary Johnson because Mitt Romney is neither conservative nor christian. Voting for the lesser of two evils has accomplished nothing. It is time to vote based on doing the right thing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGFAph3lWqw

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    And blah blah blah. I wonder if they'll rip into the National Socialist Demagogy and Patronage Party when they meet in Charlotte. Bound to be plenty of those liberaltarians to defect to Paul or Gary Johnston, sure thing. If we got a functioning libertarian coalition out of an Obama victory, it might be worth risking another four years of that creep, assuming that it would last four years before it collapsed due to infighting. But even that's a pipe dream. Gary Johnston doesn't have a hope of getting the 5% that Browne said he would get, but hey, the LP might do better than the Greens. Paulites who abandon the GOP in order to make their presence felt will be playing into the hands of the Republican establishment that they hate so much.

  • jason||

    It's for sure that GDP is the main agenda in these elections and president Obama have to give some answers regarding this.

  • Ardelle||

    Though you will hear a lot this week about Republican unity against President Obama, that masks an ideological peace that at best is fragile, unattractive, and unsatisfying.

  • NihilistZerO||

    After reading the comments thread I can only say that infiltrating the GOP is the only chance for libertarianism to grow in influence. As much as the GOP pays lip service to fiscal issues, it produces even less for the social cons at the federal level. And most of those laws get struck down anyway. As small as it is the GOP has a Liberty Caucus. Team Blue has no real equivalent. Rand Paul is a US senator. Given time and libertarians working to infiltrate the GOP primaries, you could see his equivalent in places like New Hampshire, Nevada maybe even Texas f things broke right. Four libertarian senators is enough to move the debate as never before.

    So the question is what's more likely, four Rand Pauls in the senate or the Libertarian Party replacing the GOP? If you support libertarian principles, I think fighting for the option that's most realistic is the best use of your energies.

    Just my opinion of course :-)

  • Sonderegger||

    nd that in eight swing states (including Florida), GOP registration is down 79,000 (or 0.7 percent), while the ranks of registered independents have http://onlinesellmax.tumblr.com/ grown by 487,000 (6.4 percent). Voters clearly don't like what President Obama has been selling—swing state Democratic registration is down 800,000, or 5.2 percent. But they have steadfastly refused to endorse the Republican alternative.

  • ||

    industrial hemp, and imprisoned Army leaker Bradley http://www.airmaxsalle.com/hom.....-c-54.html Manning, topics we can assume will not be coming up at the RNC this week. At one point, a video montage showed snippets from such revered conservatives as Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santorum, and Rudy Giuliani; each was lustily booed.

  • Saladin||

    A Romney-Ryan administration will guarantee many more unwanted brown babies -- many of whom will be armed by age 14. Be careful what you wish for!

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