Over the weekend at the Wash Post, George Will says that the GOP needs to channel its inner libertarian. The Republicans need to pick a new type of presidential candidate, he says,
…one who tilts toward the libertarian side of the Republican Party's fusion of social and laissez-faire conservatism. Most voters already favor less punitive immigration policies than the ones angrily advocated by clenched-fist Republicans unwilling to acknowledge that immigrating — risking uncertainty for personal and family betterment — is an entrepreneurial act. The speed with which civil unions and same-sex marriage have become debatable topics and even mainstream policies is astonishing. As is conservatives' failure to recognize this: They need not endorse such policies, but neither need they despise those, such as young people, who favor them. And it is strange for conservatives to turn a stony face toward any reconsideration of drug policies, particularly concerning marijuana, which confirm conservatism's warnings about government persistence in the teeth of evidence.
Meanwhile, over at The Daily Beast, former Bush speechwriter (best known for the "Axis of Evil" turn of phrase) David Frum writes that while gays "should be able to live unafraid and unashamed" and that "using birth control does not make a woman a slut," it's libertarians who have caused the GOP to stop being the party of the middle class. The "mindset" that led to Mitt Romney's dismissal of 47 percent of Americans as looters and moochers, Frum argues, "originated in the party's libertarian wing." Meanwhile, it's the social cons and economic populists such as Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum who are the key to the party's future:
It has been the social conservatives who have been most alert to the economic travails of the middle class. The only 2012 candidate willing to acknowledge the facts about America's poor upward mobility was Rick Santorum. In 2008, it was Mike Huckabee who noted the stagnation of middle-class incomes. And among journalists, people like Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, Rod Dreher and Ramesh Ponnuru have been much more accurate in their assessments than, say, Larry Kudlow or the fellows of the American Enterprise Institute.
I like David Frum and have learned a lot from his writing over the years, but I don't understand this thinking at all.
For starters, both Rick Santorum and folks at AEI (such as Charles Murray) tend to agree that upward mobility is pretty much over. In this, they are flatly wrong, which is no small sticking point. As Brookings' Scott Winship has documented, economic mobility has not slowed in the past several decades (for more on that, go here).
When it comes to most social issues – from gay marriage to drug legalization to immigration – the Republicans are in fact well out of step with American majorities. And while conservatives may track pretty well with many Americans' attitudes about how they want to live their personal lives, it's clear that Rick Santorum in particular is precisely the sort of guy Americans have in mind when a majority says the government shouldn't promote traditional values.
Frum's hostility to libertarianism is long-lived – he wrote a piece in The Weekly Standard denouncing "the libertarian temptation" back in 1997 – and he plainly prefers a moderate conservatism that blends aspects of national greatness communitarianism with large entitlement programs. Clearly Mitt Romney didn't resonate with "the middle class" but it wasn't because he was too libertarian on either social or economic issues. Romney checked all the social con boxes (anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-drugs, anti-Mexican, etc.) but he didn't warm the hearts of Tea Partyers or night-watchman-state libertarians either.
Romney didn't just fail to articulate a plausible economic program that would rekindle growth in America; he failed to really hammer home just how bad Obama's handling of the economy has been – and how the president's mindless interventions actually exacerbated the problems they were supposed to address. You can blame Romney's loss on a lot of things, but the least convincing of all is libertarianism.