What is conservatism? If you ask 10 self-proclaimed conservatives, you’ll get 10 definitions. Some of them will be similar. Most will be diverse from one another and that’s just at the surface. It gets worse once we start defining fiscal conservatism, social conservatism, or any of the other labels associated with groups of issues.
The way that the majority of Republican politicians contribute to conservatism through their actions should not be how we define the term. The GOP has co-opted the word during campaign speeches and in defense of some of their activities, but it’s been done in a way that moves the target. Unfortunately, most Republican voters can now be classified into one or more of four categories:
- Establishment Backers: These are the party faithful who move their perspectives to align with the GOP of the moment. They define the “conservatism du jour” based upon the needs to perpetuate and increase their power.
- The Misled: At some point, a good chunk of Republicans find themselves in this group for a time. We hear a politician who inspires us with visions of Reagan, Coolidge, and Lincoln. Then, we see them in action and they’re more like Boehner, Dole, and McConnell.
- The Misguided: To some extent, nearly all true conservative finds themselves in the realm of the misguided. For example, they know that we need to cut spending, but they’re willing to support or at least accept compromise to spend a little more this time so we can fight harder next time. Unfortunately, next time always seems to be the same.
- Populists: This is a broad category. It doesn’t just encompass what we’ve seen driving the Donald Trump candidacy. It’s hard to tell how long this category has been as powerful as it currently is since it’s one that can hide in the shadows of a party without being seen until the right candidate rears his or her ugly head. One thing is certain: it’s a result of the leftward lurch that the country has been experiencing since the 60s.
I’ve read many headlines saying something to the effect of “Trump is the symptom, not the disease.” Don’t Google them; all of the ones that I’ve read have been bogus liberal perspectives about how the Republican party has always been evil and racist and that Trump is only acting as a vehicle to let out the beast. The sentiment that Trump’s nomination is the result of an ongoing challenge facing the Republican party is correct, though not because Republicans are evil. The GOP has pushed our perspectives of what conservatism is. This is the disease. Many Americans have no idea what it means to be conservative anymore.
It isn’t just the liberals who are making this happen. Even “conservative” sites like Breitbart and Drudge have pushed the liberal concepts aligned with big government as ideas that the Republicans can support. They rail on the moderate Establishment types like Paul Ryan, but they also go after true conservatives in an effort to demonize them for the sake of their populist agenda. As was revealed on The Hill, Breitbart was active in derailing Ted Cruz’s truly conservative Presidential bid.
Bannon, who was hired this week as the new Chief Executive Officer for the Donald Trump campaign, allegedly urged his reporters to go after Cruz several times during the campaign.
At one moment leading up to the Iowa Caucuses, Bannon “was told that a radio advertisement would be landing in Iowa aimed at hurting Cruz with evangelical voters.”
“Bannon was excited by the story,” writes Jonathan Swan for The Hill. He believed it could “spell the end of Cruz’s candidacy. He told his reporters to chase the story hard, though their efforts turned up nothing new.”
This isn’t new, but it’s time to make it stop. To do this, we have to make three choices
To redefine the term or embrace a different one
Let’s start with the most difficult of the questions and work our way down. Since we embarked on the journey of building a new conservative party, several people have reached out to me and brought up the problem that we’re discussing here. Is “conservatism” really the right banner to fly at this point? Has the term been so abused and misused by the GOP that it can no longer be salvaged?
At this point, I’m not sure. I ask the readers to chime in. If we’re to use a different term to describe the values that we want to defend and the policies we want to promote, what term would that be? If we’re going to stick with conservatism, one thing must happen: we must decisively rip the term away from the Republican party through a full-blown campaign. That’s not to say that there are no Republican politicians who are conservatives, but there’s a reason that the Freedom Caucus is such a small block of the House. There’s a reason that there are only six Senators with a Liberty Score over 80% on Conservative Review. We would need to boldly and loudly highlight just how liberal the Republican Party has become. We must do so with limited compromise; no more excuses about how beneficial Big Sugar subsidies are or why it’s okay to approve outrageous budgets when we don’t have the money to spend.
Again, I’m not sure how to proceed on this one. It’s not something that should be decided by any one person. If you believe we need to retake conservatism, please explain why in the comment section below. If you believe that we need to embrace a new term to help define us, then please comment with ideas of what would replace the word “conservatism.”
To rebuild the GOP or start anew
This choice is a little easier to make. The Tea Party was able to make some great gains within the GOP, but many of those gains are being erased right before our eyes. A combination of Establishment power-retention and Trump’s populist surge has changed the momentum. Conservatives are losing primaries from top to bottom.
An argument can be made that we can double down on our efforts this time around and affect real change, but we’ve heard that one already. How did Albert Einstein define insanity?
Another argument can be made that there are already third parties available that espouse the proper conservative perspectives. In the modern digital age, it will be easier to reach a tipping point through a new party than by trying to revive the efforts of other parties that haven’t been successful for decades. We’re already seeing a groundswell of online support and it’s getting more impressive by the hour.
It’s time to have a party that can actually win and that stays true to the Constitution tenets and American values that made this country exceptional. It’s time for a new party. If you haven’t joined the movement, do so now by filling out the form below.
To work from the top down or the bottom up
This is the easiest of the three choices to make. We cannot go to politicians and ask them to lead this movement. We need to build this from the bottom up through the grassroots and by empowering party members with real skin in the game. That’s not to say we won’t support current politicians. We simply need to build strength at the foundation. Then, we can select current politicians or promote new ones who will be able to bring our values to the halls of government on our behalf.
Now is a time of choosing. For too long we have sat angrily, but passively, as the Democrats and Republicans push their agendas further and further to the left. We’re at the boiling point. It’s time to make it a tipping point that will translate into true action.