AN ELECTION UNLIKE MANY OTHERS. I'm not pleased with a Presidential campaign that seems to have begun immediately after the votes were counted in November, 2004, but perhaps the nominees are less clearly defined going into the primary season than has recently been the case. Last Thursday, I attended a Cato Policy Perspectives presentation and lunch in Chicago that included Robert Novak parsing the presidential races. He noted that by this time in almost all of the previous campaigns, the Republican Party establishment had reached consensus on a nominee to be offered to the primaries and caucuses in such a way that The People could ratify the Bull Elephants' selection, whether that selection was electable (Ronald Reagan) or sacrificial (Bob Dole). In this cycle, there is no such selection, in part because the most likely selectee, Senator McCain, has been too willing to taunt the Bull Elephants. Mr Novak also noted that the Republicans are in a position long familiar to the Democrats: the coalition includes individuals unlikely to vote for the opposing candidate but who cannot be allowed to put their own candidate forward. He suggests that Arkansas's Governor Huckabee, with appeal to the Religious Right, has the potential to be a Republican George McGovern.

There are other signs of fracture in the Republican coalition. Ferroequinologist and long-time guru of traditional conservatism Paul Weyrich observes,

"We have dissipated our influence," he says in the run-up to the first nominating contest in Iowa on Jan. 3.

Activists have gone every which way in a field that lacks an unblemished consensus conservative, and at a time when debate over the future of conservatism is in full roar.

Weyrich's is a familiar and distinctive voice in that debate, a voice of pronounced cultural traditionalism, old-fashioned aversion to internationalism, and deep ambivalence about the Bush presidency now nearing its end.

"President Bush has essentially split the conservative movement," says Weyrich, referring in particular to the war in Iraq and Bush's expansive, democracy-promoting foreign policy vision, anathema to that perhaps dormant segment of the right that remains rooted in what Weyrich calls a "traditional (Robert) Taft conservatism" that frowns on imperial "adventurism" and foreign entanglements.

Add that to other conservative complaints with Bush over immigration and federal spending, and you have a movement debating its future along fault lines old and new: Audacious "big government" conservatism vs. Jeffersonian small government conservatism. Neo-conservatives vs. noninterventionists. Libertarians vs. moralists. Wall Street vs. Main Street.

Mr Weyrich appears to view those fractures as undesirable, in that they impede the realization of his vision. At the conference, Mr Novak noted that the Framers' design was for government to be fractured, so that no faction, no matter how sensible its proposals might seem, can secure lasting power, no doubt to the relief of those in factions who would not see those proposals as sensible.

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