The Conservative Minority
I feel like I’m beating a dead horse on the issue, but the continued high pitched battle between conservative Republicans who have rallied around conservative-come-lately Mitt Romney in hopes of defeating Teddy Kennedy’s Good Friend John McCain remains the most interesting story this election cycle.
Conservatives Love Romney
The most recent Rasmussen poll shows that “Romney leads by sixteen percentage points among conservatives while McCain has a two-to-one advantage among moderate Primary Voters.” Of course, Rasmussen shows Romney and McCain tied nationally, whereas Gallup and Fox show McCain leading by 20 and 28 points, respectively. Even Michelle Malkin acknowledges that the poll is “the anomaly.”
Still, that Romney is outpolling McCain among self-identified conservatives is a consistent trend. We’ve seen it time and again in the exit polls.
John Hinderaker asserts that, “as the primary season draws to a close, most conservatives are coalescing around Mitt Romney.” Bill Quick believes we are now engaged in “the War for the GOP” with the “GOP establishment attempting to remake the party in its preferred liberal-conservative image – an image in which the ‘conservative’ part is mostly window dressing for the suckers.
Republicans Voting for McCain, Not Romney
Yet, for reasons Eric Kleefeld lays out nicely, McCain is likely to emerge Tuesday night as the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination. AllahPundit, who strongly prefers Romney but maintains a realistic outlook, concurs.
So, we have two countervailing trends:
- Conservatives prefer Romney over McCain, hands down
- McCain is winning Republican primaries against Romney
This, incidentally, despite Romney having outspent McCain by ridiculous margins in television advertising.
What is one to conclude from this?
Perhaps “conservatives” are now a minority, even among Republican primary voters? If so, given that there are virtually no conservatives remaining in the Democratic Party these days and that voters who aren’t aligned with either party are almost by definition non-ideological, that would mean that conservatives are a small minority, indeed, among the American electorate.
Alternatively, perhaps the definition of “conservative” has become so narrow and esoteric that it’s become virtually meaningless?
When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 and again in 1984, he did it by putting together a coalition of small government conservatives, social conservatives, and anti-communists. He famously engendered the support of blue collar folks who were dubbed “Reagan Democrats.” Most of that group simply became Reagan Republicans.
Has the country gotten that much less conservative since then?
In some ways, yes. We’re much more tolerant on lifestyle issues, notably the role of women and acceptance of homosexuality, than we were a generation ago. Abortion has now been legal for 35 years, not a mere seven. We’re also much further removed from the days of the military draft, which means fewer of our menfolk have served.
But, fundamentally, we’re the same country we were in 1980. We’re still the most religious country in the developed world and probably the most patriotic. We’re more citified and more homogenized than we were but we still cling to the John Wayne rugged individualist mythos to a large degree.
The conservative majority has become a Conservative minority.
The Conservative Movement has morphed from a handful of intellectual true believers trying to shape the debate into something approaching a civil religion with loyalty tests and a clericy that has the power to excommunicate.
John McCain was part of the 1980 wave that rolled into Congress on Ronald Reagan’s coattails. Indeed, McCain was among those Reagan was honored to stand with at 1974’s CPAC convention. But someone with an 82 percent lifetime ACU rating is considered a traitor to the cause. Much better, apparently, to flip 180 degrees on election eve and spout the right Party Line talking points.
As I wrote last year from CPAC, when throngs of so-called conservatives lined up for Ann Coulter’s autograph moments after she referred to John Edwards as a “faggot,” “Somehow, I can’t imagine Ronald Reagan being pleased.” Yet, the modern Conservative Moment seems to be dominated by the shrill nonsense of Coulter and Jonah Goldberg[*] and Michael Savage and Neil Boortz. In short, the Conservative Movement is no longer particularly “conservative” at all.
[*] UPDATE: See Goldberg, Coulter, and Savage for a follow-up to this point.