The future of the US Republicans

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Brian Doherty of Reason thinks that the key to a Republican renaissance is to realize that President Bush’s policies were wrong, not just poorly executed. I’m with Doherty. While Bush always came across as a likeable guy, there are few positive things I can say about his presidency. His administration presided over the fastest increase in federal spending since LBJ. They created a massive new entitlement programme (the prescription drug benefit). They further nationalized education (No Child Left Behind). Their ill-conceived foreign policy cost lives and trashed the American brand. Flagrant abuses of liberal principle – Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture, extraordinary rendition, etc – undermined the USA’s moral credibility. They extended executive power, wielded it incompetently, and rode roughshod over the constitution in the process. It’s a hardly a sparkling record for a ‘conservative’ administration.

Clearly, then, change is needed – but kind of a change will it be?

Well, David Boaz of Cato breaks the party down into four different factions. First, there’s the evangelical/populist wing of the party. For them it’s all about telling people what to do – they are socially conservative, but are not inclined towards small government (Mike Huckabee’s a good example). Then you’ve got the national greatness conservatives, who are keen to demonstrate American might overseas, and want to instil a certain set of values in their citizens at home. They may be ‘conservative’ but they’ve got no ideological attachment to liberty or small government (John McCain probably falls into this camp). Thirdly, there are the business conservatives – people like Mitt Romney, who want government to be pro-business but are relaxed about extending the state (into healthcare, for example) so long as it’s done in a business-friendly way. The final group are small government conservatives and libertarians (like Governor Mark Sanford or Ron Paul) who really do care about freedom and are committed to rolling back the state.

Obviously, I’d like it if the Republicans shifted decisively in favour that fourth group, but a successful political movement will probably need to be a broad church, touching on elements of each. My guess is that the party will continue to be socially-conservative, but will emphasize states’ rights and federalism. It will be patriotic and security conscious, but will adopt a more modest and ‘realist’ approach to foreign relations. And it will shift decisively in favour of limited government and fiscal responsibility (a reaction to the Obama administration’s excesses, as much as anything else) without becoming truly libertarian. Time will tell if I’m right.