Conservatives at a Dead End?
Election day has finally arrived and to true conservatives the final outcome will probably be nothing more than a mixed blessing at best. First and foremost Mitt Romney is hardly a rock ribbed conservative, not if you base your assessment of him on his political track record. He has migrated politically from a Northeastern liberal Republican to a faux “severe conservative” and then back to the center as the political winds have necessitated. Just look at his political maneuvering in the post primary run up to today. He may have disavowed the “Etch-a-Sketch” comments of Eric Fehnstrom but he has surely followed just that strategy, even to the point of largely agreeing with the foreign policies of Barack Obama as evidenced in the third presidential debate. In short there’s little reason to believe that Mitt Romney is anything but a shrewd political charlatan.
For conservatives whatever happens tonight there will still be several nagging questions to address. For one, what became of the “conservative counterrevolution of 2010”? In the wake of the widespread Republican by-election victories we were treated to all manner of editorials and op-eds, both written and on talk radio and Fox News about how America had seen through and rejected the “Socialism” of Barack Obama, returning to a more conservative political mindset. I however always believed that 2010 represented more of a protest vote than anything significant in the way of a fundamental shift in the political paradigm. Support for the notion that 2010 amounts to a protest vote rather than a fundamental shift in the American political landscape can be seen in the decline in popularity of the Tea Party Movement, the increased frustration on the part of the public with Republican Party obstruction in Congress and the increasing numbers of Republicans who have distanced themselves from Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge. Neither does Norquist’s idea that “all that we need is a Republican president with enough digits to sign what’s put before him” appear to resonate very well with the voting public. While more people identify as conservatives than identify as liberals, the net number of those who identify as conservatives is roughly around one third of the American public. If conservative thoughts had really taken hold you would see the numbers of people identifying as conservatives being north of 50% and the presidential race would look a lot different than it does today. Likewise the conservative attacks on Obama’s handling of the economy and posture as a world leader have failed to register with a majority of Americans. If they had Mitt Romney would be ahead by at least 6 to 10 percentage points rather than trailing within the statistical margin of error.
The myth that America is a “center right country” has been faithfully kept alive in the warrens of conservative media but as the polling numbers show on the day of the election, there’s no reason to believe that that idea has anymore validity today than in did in 2008 when Dick Morris claimed the same thing on the weekend before the election saying that: “Republicans were coming home and John McCain would win the election.” If there was anything in the way of a true conservative counterrevolution then where were the true conservative leaders during the Republican primary process? Out of the length and breadth of the conservative movement not a single viable candidate arose to challenge Barack Obama, instead Mitt Romney merely waited out the self destruction of one flawed conservative challenger after another till he was the last man standing. Quoting political commentator Steve Bogden: “Normally, you have a competitive primary. This year, it was an ongoing audition for whoever was going to be the anti-Romney. Almost everybody had their surge, but there were no credible challengers. Cain? Gingrich? Santorum? Romney didn’t have to ‘win’ this year. He just waited for everyone else to lose.”
If Mitt Romney is lucky enough to win tonight it will be a squeaker and being the shrewd politician that he is he will continue to drift around the center no matter the tone of his rehtoric. He’ll have no other choice if he hopes to be reelected in 2016 and that bodes ill for conservatives who will be hoping that he pushes their agenda forward. I seriously doubt that Romney would ever subscribe to Grover Norquist’s notion that he should be a rubber stamp for a Tea Party Congress. I doubt that Romney sees Norquist and his anti-tax movement as anything more than a political sideshow to the big show of governing. If Barack Obama is lucky enough to win this evening I fully expect to see the usual crisis of confidence reemerge among conservatives when they beat each other up over the idea that “every time we nominate a candidate who moves to the center we lose.” The great irony of this debate is that if they did nominate a far right conservative, and why didn’t they, they would lose anyway. Like the Romney-Ryan economic plan the math just doesn’t add up for conservatives. For all of the bluff and bluster that one hears on Fox, Limbaugh, and across the entire spectrum of right-wing media about the American people being fundamentally conservative it just ain’t so. If it were true we wouldn’t be in essentially a dead heat and Romney would be way out in front. However in spite of four years of a visceral anti-Obama diatribe on the right, a lackluster economy and a threatening world scene there just aren’t enough conservative votes out there to make it happen.
Steven J. Gulitti