Conservative Voices Are Changing – Schism or Convergence for Republicans?


Many conservatives and conservative elements of the Republican Party have been a voice of anger since the 2008 election loss to Obama and the Democrats.

Yet something has changed just over the last month (September 2009) in the tone of some conservative and Republican leaders.

Republicans across the spectrum are not yet holding hands. Some conservatives, whether or not they claim to back any political party, seem to be pausing for reflection.

There is some sense emerging among conservatives that they need a different path. Conservatives are a very independent bunch that can fall into many different belief categories, nonetheless there is a new tone present that is beginning to appear across the spectrum of conservative shareholders.

Only hints are emerging at this point as to why the change in tone. However, I would attribute this new attitude to four factors.

  • September’s TEA Party – while the TEA Parties were certainly successful in providing a platform for many different views to emerge, the rally in Washington DC was both anti-climatic and troubling for a good number of TEA Party supporters. The MensDailyNews ran an article entitled “Tea Party March Hijacked at the Podium” (3) and noted the September 13th event in Washington DC as “An epic political event; of, by, but as it turned out not so much for The People.” Republican speakers came in for blistering critique for trying to turn the event into a 2010 get-out-the-vote commercial.
  • Townhall Backlash – President Obama and the Democrats, as well as many Republicans, took immense grief from the public over the summer wanting to know where they stood on various issues. Yet by summer’s end President Obama’s popularity was actually rising with a key group of Americans: Caucasian voters earning more than $75,000/year. While townhall speakers looked to survive the summer, Democratic and liberal strategists saw the potential for a backlash (4) against an audience that many Americans would come to view as angry conservatives, and largely angry Republicans. By summer’s end support for President Obama and his brand of health care had stabilized and support rose enough to keep both him and health care above the 50% support mark in the polls.
  • Resurgence of Centrist and Moderate Republicans – A significant number of conservatives throughout the spring and summer of 2009 called for purging of non-conservative Republicans from the party. By September talk of purges changed as some conservatives were now calling  to “… take the necessary steps to expel from their midst the rabble that believe in nutty conspiracies” and to “… cast off those intellectual dead weights who stir up irrational fear.” Centrists and moderate Republicans had meanwhile become energized, with a fair number of new blogs appearing and candidates such as Florida’s Crist and Texas’ Kay Bailey Hutchison stepping into the fray, and John McCain quietly building a 2010 roster of Republican candidates to run in 2010 races across the USA.
  • Obama’s Popularity Rising – perhaps the biggest challenge for conservatives is that President Obama seems to have withstood just about every political name and smear imaginable and yet his own personal popularity is back on the rise. Independents, so important to both major political parties, gave a huge boost of support to Obama in early October with Obama’s job approval rising 9 points and the percentage of independents who said they disapproved dropping 16 points. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s favorable numbers went up 7 points since August 2009 (6).

Conservative Tone Change

W. James Antle III, an associate editor of The American Spectator, writing in the upcoming November edition of The American Conservative (1) notes:

“The country desperately needs a conservatism that is more intellectually sober and a Republican Party that engages with the country’s most pressing problems rather than reliving its Reagan-era glories.” Antle deems Bush and McCain Republicans as Reform Republicans and warns strongly that these reformists “are the very last pundits Republicans should heed.”  No marshmellows and kumbayaa songs around this campfire yet, but there is an important action call there to rethink conservative tactics.

Another view from an outspoken conservative, Reihan Salam, New America Foundation (2):

“Right now, the GOP needs to show that it stands for something specific – it needs a new “contract” that specifically spells out what it is for rather than what it is against (e.g. any change). From some, you’d think that the only thing that will save the country from its dissolution will be the utter failure of the president’s every decision. That may be good enough for 25% of the country but I don’t see how that’s a path that will gain support from a solid majority of Americans.”

Louisiana’s rising conservative star and governor Bobby Jindal wrote in an Op-Ed piece in this week’s Washington Post (7):

“Republicans have to join the battle of ideas…. Republicans must shift gears. Conservatives should seize the mantle of reform and lead. Conservatives either genuinely believe that conservative principles will work to solve real-world problems such as health care or they don’t.”

Sources:
1 – W. James Antle III, Deformed Conservatism, The American Conservative, November 2009 edition: http://www.amconmag.com/article/2009/nov/01/00018/

2 – Reihan Salam, Surviving Obama. A free-wheeling conversation about the Republican future, Washington Post, October 7, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2009/10/05/DI2009100502509.html

3 – Roger F. Gay, Tea Party March Hijacked at the Podium, MensNewsDaily.com: http://mensnewsdaily.com/2009/09/13/tea-party-march-hijacked-at-the-podium/

4 – Rachel Weiner, Dems See Backlash In Town Hall Protests, The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/05/dems-see-backlash-in-town_n_252181.html

5 – Beth Fouhy, Obama’s Job Approval Rises in AP Poll, AP, October 7, 2009:
http://news.aol.com/article/president-barack-obamas-job-approval/581625

6 – Rasmussen Poll, 57% View Pelosi Unfavorably, But That’s An Improvement, http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/mood_of_america/congressional_favorability_ratings

7 – Bobby Jindal, The Conservative Case for Reform, Monday, October 5, 2009, Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/04/AR2009100402003.html

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Conservative Voices Are Changing – Schism or Convergence for Republicans?

  1. Joseph A. Cummins

    This has been the ongoing dialogue since the election. I believe real Conservatives deserted the Republican Party during the Bush years, and what this item reveals is the “up-for-grabs” stuggle for the heart and soul of what is left of the Republican Party. This article says to me: “Gee, if only the Republican Party was more like the Democratic Party, all would be just swell.”

  2. wdgoldenic

    There is indeed a battle going on for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

    I believe that the party will split at some time between 2010 and 2012. Centrists and moderates in the tradition of Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Nixon will reform the new Republican Party. Traditional conservatives will also stay with the party.

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