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Who Destroyed the Republican Party?

Ronald Reagan Photo - Why Destroyed Republican Party? Billy Hollis joins Rush Limbaugh, Peggy Noonan, and other conservative commenters in trying to figure out who is responsible for destroying the Republican Party and which of the potential nominees would destroy it even more.

He thinks that nominating Mike Huckabee would likely lead to “a loss of Goldwater-McGovern proportions.” I’m inclined to agree, especially if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee; I think it would be closer if Hillary Clinton is his opponent. At any rate, Huckabee isn’t going to be the nominee.

John McCain might, though, and that scares the hell out of Hollis:

Nominating McCain signifies the end of the GOP as it’s been envisioned by many since the Reagan years, and only a serious rebuilding effort or a dramatic realignment of political parties will bring back any significant emphasis on freedom, the free market, individual responsibility, and the other principles most of the folks who come around here believe in.

But there’s no point in blaming McCain. He’s just following the pattern laid down by the Bush pair. Talk a good game, pander, arrange “grand compromises” which inevitably lead to expansion of government, and get your place in the history book. Limited government principles? Who needs ‘em?

And the GOP faithful are still out there attempting to scare folks with “What? Any Republican is better than Hillary! If you small-government types know what’s good for you, you’ll get behind the GOP nominee, whoever it is. Otherwise, it will be a disaster!”

Well, it will be a disaster – for the political insiders and those whose life revolves around winning. The Democrats already suffered through theirs. In 1994, the entire Democratic political establishment was shell shocked when the GOP took Congress, by a big margin. The GOP has not yet faced their own disaster, mostly because they’ve been blessed with stupid enemies.

But I think it’s coming, sooner or later. Sooner, if McCain or Huckabee are the standard bearer. Later, if the GOP squeezes out one more victory, but just can’t internalize the need to stop selling the spending, stop the earmarks, and get serious about their core small-government principles.

You would think that their most successful president of the last century showed them the template they need to succeed, and that they would therefore adopt it. Apparently not. As the old saw goes, they might do the right thing – after they’ve exhausted all other possibilities.

First off, McCain is the fiercest opponent of earmarks and runaway spending in the field by a rather wide margin. He’s the guy who opposed the Bush tax cuts, for example, because they weren’t offset by cuts in discretionary spending.

More importantly, though, I reject the idea that McCain — or Bushes 41 and 43, for that matter — are amoral politicians who simply tack in whichever direction the polls tell them to go. Hell, McCain’s positions on immigration, campaign finance, taxes, global warming, torture and a variety of other hot button issues would certainly seem to provide plenty of evidence for that. Rather, he’s an 82 percent conservative (if you take the American Conservative Union’s rating system as the proper measure) who simply disagrees with the Movement on some issues.

We have only two political parties in this country and even its leaders don’t agree with everything in the platform. Every deviation from the Holy Writ isn’t apostasy; it’s life under the big tent.

Ronald Reagan last ran for president 24 years ago. A lot has changed since then — partly thanks to his policies. We’re not fighting the commies any more. We don’t have marginal tax rates of 70 percent. It’s now been 35 years since Roe v. Wade rather than 11. It stands to reason, then, that the policy prescriptions of 1980 are going to need some updating.

And, frankly, Reagan’s record — as opposed to his rhetoric — isn’t exactly what those who pine for the Good Ole Days seem to think it was. Reagan did virtually nothing to advance the socially conservative agenda he talked about. He appointed Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, two moderate swing votes, to the Supreme Court to go along with Antonin Scalia, his lone conservative appointee*. And he signed the biggest illegal immigrant amnesty bill in the country’s history. He allowed spending to skyrocket under his administration, leaving the country saddled with historic debt.

It’s 2008, not 1980. Most women work outside the home. There hasn’t been a military draft in more than a generation. There are significantly more than three television channels. We’ve completed the shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. Our political climate has, understandably, changed a little. Goodness, there’s a serious chance that a woman or a black man will be our next president; that was the stuff of stand-up comedy routines in Reagan’s day.

The campaigns of Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul, Tommy Thompson, and Fred Thompson never got off the ground. If you thought they’d be great presidents, you were virtually alone. Sorry for your loss but it’s time to move on.

The president represents 300 million-odd Americans and is selected through a grueling process that ensures he’s vetted by widely varying constituencies. The primary process runs potential nominees through a gauntlet and then the general election requires appealing to pluralities in enough states to get at least half of the votes in the Electoral College.

Not surprisingly, this means it’s pretty rare for a truly ideological candidate to win the thing. Most Americans aren’t particularly ideological, for one thing, and different parts of the country have very different concerns. So, yes, pragmatism and compromise tends to win the day. That’s not very exciting, to be sure, and it can be frustrating for those of us who have very strong ideas about government. But that’s life.

Unless something very odd happens, the winners of the Romney-McCain and Obama-Clinton fights will emerge to duke it out during the summer and fall. Nobody on that list inspires me to do cartwheels. Nonetheless, I’ll pick from among them and live with the outcome.

____________
*Well, he did appoint Robert Bork. Kennedy was actually his third choice for that seat after Bork was, well, Borked, and Douglas Ginsburg was found to be an active dope smoker.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    Bushes 41 and 43, for that matter — are amoral politicians who simply tack in whichever direction the polls tell them to go.

    Bush 43 may have not tacked in the direction of the polls, but his enthusiasm for torture seems pretty amoral.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    Bush 43 may have not tacked in the direction of the polls, but his enthusiasm for torture seems pretty amoral.

    He’s prioritizing security — or the illusion of same — over human rights. I disagree with him, and have from the beginning, but I at least understand why he’d go in the opposite direction. Where to draw the line is a tough one, I think, although in some cases we’re not even close to this side of the line.

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  3. yetanotherjohn says:

    The idea that you would want the other party to win because your party isn’t pure enough is about as petty of internal party politics as you can get.

    Bottom line is if you think there is a better policy, you promote that policy. Some policies are going to be easier to promote in the democratic party and others will be easier to promote in the republican party. Unless you are in the wrong party, if your idea of political nirvana isn’t getting the response you want, perhaps the issue isn’t the party but flaws in your ideas or your lack of persuasiveness.

    On any issue that Rush, Peggy or Billy can bring up to ding any leading republican candidate, can they honestly argue that the democrat would be better? I don’t think so. And so the logical next step is to the half loaf you feel is being offered as better than no loaf. Then start the debate within the party to persuade the party that next time we need to prioritize your pet policies more.

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  4. Jan Broucinek says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

    Those wishing to buy candidate advertising should send inquiries to otb@blogads.com

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  5. The Reagan Primary…

    THE REAGAN PRIMARY….James Joyner answers the insurgents on the right who think John McCain would spell the end of the Republican Party that Reagan built:Ronald Reagan last ran for president 24 years ago. A lot has changed since then &#151……

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  6. Devils Advocate says:

    The Bush clones will not bring a victory to the republican party come November. Warfare/welfare will be their undoing. Republicans don’t seem to get it that enough is enough.

    It will be a defeat from which the republican party will not recover from for several election cycles. For the sins of the party promoting the new world order.

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  7. Geore says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

    Those wishing to buy candidate advertising should send inquiries to otb@blogads.com

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  8. About every four years the same stories pop up about whether the _________ Party can survive after the election. Yawn.

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  9. [...] It looks like now that the neo-cons have had their little pout-fest over losing Thompson, they are preparing to pinch their noses and vote for McCain. [...]

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  10. Michael says:

    He’s prioritizing security — or the illusion of same — over human rights.

    You presume so, others among us don’t have quite as much confidence in his decency.

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  11. glasnost says:

    Great post, James.

    Why does Billy Hollis think Mike Huckabee would be a disaster of etc. proportions? Because Huckabee dares to challenge certain types of conventional Republican wisdom – with his economic populism and hints of religion-coated ordinary-man-hood.

    Ditto for John McCain. These guys are, by Republican standards, the canaries in the coal mines, signaling to their party “y’all have a problem and need to disinvest from some of your prior ideas. They don’t sell.”

    The agents of change are always hated the most by the diehards.

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  12. floyd says:

    One obvious point that is largely overlooked …
    The party could be destroyed and WIN!… Think Giuliani. or even Bush 43.
    A good example; NASCAR appears to be bigger than ever, but NASCAR is dead, something else is using the name.

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  13. James Joyner says:

    A good example; NASCAR appears to be bigger than ever, but NASCAR is dead, something else is using the name.

    Sports, political parties, and all manner of other organisms evolve over time. That’s a feature, not a bug.

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  14. Rich says:

    The first republican president believed in gov’t financed internal improvements, high tariffs and suspended habeas corpus. Would Rush and his ilk criticize Lincoln as not being a great president?

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  15. Jeffrey says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

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  16. davod says:

    Juan Hernandez has joined the McCain campaign. No, he is not the guy from Columbia with the donkey.

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  17. Steve Plunk says:

    I keep hearing the party is dead but the ones declaring it as such don’t have that right. It may be dead to them but it’s not dead to millions of others. It is still a better choice than the alternative.

    YAJ and Charles Austin both made excellent points and look to be more in tune with the populace than the high priced help calling for immediate burial. I would guess those naysayers are more angry they haven’t been listened to than any real concern over the party.

    Those making predictions are on a fools errand.

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  18. spencer says:

    Rich — at the time of the civil war Rush Limbaugh and his ilk would have been democrats. At that time the Republicans were the liberal party.

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  19. Bithead says:

    Sports, political parties, and all manner of other organisms evolve over time. That’s a feature, not a bug.

    I suppose that would be true, if you consider McCain an improvement over an actual conservative.

    And how would it be if the Democrats found their leading candidates didn’t tow the LIBERAL line? Wuld that also be considered evolution, do you suppose?

    Personaly, I’m still trying to figure out if electing the RINO will cause the country less damage than sitting this election out, and letting the morons put Obama or worse, Clinton in office, and then facing the cleanup operation… assuming we still had a country to clean up.

    But there’s the issue.

    I said at the time and still maintain that had Al Gore been in office in 2000, we would have ceased to be a country. Gore would have been hiding under a desk at ‘The Mountain”.

    Both McCain and Romney at least have a basic understanding of why cutting and running would be a bad thing, though I have serious issues with McCain’s position on torture, and his vain and petty attacks on Rumsfeld. But at least the country would respond more or less properly to an attack against us, as Bush did…. whereas the Demorcats have all stated flatly they’d cut and run at the first chance. Not good.

    That plays into this next election in the same way: Assuming we, on the basis of national security, shut up and dutifully vote for the Republican who acts like a Democrat on domestic issues… which we would be doing in both the cases of McCain and to a lesser degree, Romney, how would we ever convince the RNC to come up with an actual conservative in the next election?

    At some point, the price must be paid for moving us so far off the principles of the Republicans.
    The time for that price to be paid may or may not be this cycle.

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  20. Grewgills says:

    I said at the time and still maintain that had Al Gore been in office in 2000, we would have ceased to be a country.

    That is perhaps the dumbest thing I have seen you post here.

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  21. anjin-san says:

    I said at the time and still maintain that had Al Gore been in office in 2000, we would have ceased to be a country. Gore would have been hiding under a desk at ‘The Mountain”.

    Well, Bit never did seem to be too deeply rooted in reality.

    Let’s review Bush’s manly performance on 9.11. When the commander in chief was told America was under attack, he spent another 10 minutes on “my pet goat”. When he awoke from his stupor, he proceeded to hop around America’s hinterland on Air Force One like a scared rabbit.

    Yea, let’s trash Gore for events that only took place in Bit’s somewhat limited imagination.

    As for the decline of the GOP, there is a lot of blame to spread around, but the majority of it falls squarely on Bush’s shoulders…

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  22. ds says:

    A McCain presidency could save the GOP from itself.

    1. McCain is the only candidate who could unite the country in the fight against Islamic extremism. The vast majority of Democrats respect his views on foreign policy even when they disagree with him.

    2. In spite of his willingness to work with liberals on a variety of issues, McCain is not going to give in on spending restraint. Look at the guy’s career. Budget restraint is the core of what he’s all about. McCain’s not bullsh*tting when he says that he will wield the veto pen.

    3. McCain will give the GOP a window to restore its credibility on its two CORE ISSUES: fiscal responsibility and national security.

    If the Republican party doesn’t have these two issues, it HAS NOTHING!

    Now, I disagree with McCain on many issues, but he is DEAD-ON when it comes to the two big ones.

    For Rush Limbaugh and others to claim that the Republican party would be abandoning its principles by nominating McCain is ABSURD. The GOP already abandoned its principles during the K-street / Big Government Bush Administration.

    McCain is actually the BEST chance for the GOP to regain its principles and its political footing.

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  23. ken says:

    It’s 2008, not 1980…. Our political climate has, understandably, changed a little. Goodness, there’s a serious chance that a woman or a black man will be our next president; that was the stuff of stand-up comedy routines in Reagan’s day.

    You know I never thought I’d live to see the day when America was really ready to accept a woman or black man as our president. I’m still getting use to the idea. Pretty awesome times we live in, I’d say. Pretty awesome.

    I plan to pick up several Hillary and Barack campaign buttons and stick them away for my grandchilden. This is a historic moment in our countries progress and we should all remember it.

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  24. anjin-san says:

    Actually, Chuck Hegel was the GOPs best chance, but he is just not slimy enough for the modern GOP.

    I have my issues with McCain, but he is clearly the class of the current GOP contenders…

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  25. Richie Rich says:

    You are joking! McCain said many times that he opposed Bush’s tax cuts because they were a boon for “the rich.” He only said much later it was because they weren’t offset by spending cuts (which frankly is nonsense anyway because the truth is that these tax cuts INCREASED revenue dramatically, thus negating any need for spending cuts)…

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  26. bains says:

    On any issue that Rush, Peggy or Billy can bring up to ding any leading republican candidate, can they honestly argue that the democrat would be better?

    That is not the argument y.a.John. It is that as far as we can tell, based upon prior history and rhetoric, the difference on key issues is minimal.

    With McCain (and here I agree with our host, Huckabee has very little chance, thus he is ignored) I have very little faith that he will listen to his base. In fact, I think he is more motivated by his real constituency – the MSM.

    As worrisome as McCain/Kennedy I was, its illiberal genesis is even more so. A major bill worked out behind closed doors – excluding the very Congress that was needed to pass it – and placed for vote in less that 24 hours after initial airing? Gang of 14? Spin that all you want, Roberts and Alito would have still been approved, but a whole host of lesser court nominees would not have been thrown under the bus.

    Tax cuts, McCain/Feingold, coercive interrogation, anthropogenic global warming, the list goes on.

    On several key issues, McCain’s position is indistinguishable from the left, on several key issues, McCain’s positions arrogantly ignore/refute the views of his ‘base’. On only two key issues that he is pretty damn good.

    But rhetoric aside, Hillary is smart enough to shift on prosecuting the war against jihadism once elected. And there are enough blue-dogs around that can shame the GOP on spending. In other words, I’d rather outright oppose Hillary than pretend to support the Maverick.

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  27. bains says:

    These guys are, by Republican [my wishful] standards, the canaries in the coal mines, signaling to their party “y’all have a problem and need to disinvest from some of your prior ideas. They don’t sell.”

    You’re right ‘nost, they don’t sell… to a die-heart lib. Only McCain is planning upon die-heart libs voting for him. Hence some of his positions.

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  28. yetanotherjohn says:

    bains,

    You have a lot more faith in Clinton than I do.

    Do you really think she would appoint as conservative of judges (at all levels) than McCain?

    Are you so sure she wouldn’t go back to the 90′s Clinton administration view of soldiers (read up on how some of the generals were treated by the Clinton staff).

    Are you so sure that we won’t go back to the Clinton view that terrorism is a police matter, not the subject of a war?

    Would you really rather have Clinton at the helm if Iran nuked Israel, North Korea nuked/invaded South Korea, Red China invaded Taiwan, etc.

    Do you really think Clinton would be a better spending watchdog than McCain?

    The list goes on. Is McCain the perfect example of a modern conservative? No, but he is a lot better than Clinton.

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  29. Matt says:

    Richie Rich : I would love to see you back your claims up with hard data cause there’s plenty of data proving you wrong (including the gov’t itself).

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  30. DL says:

    Bithead said,

    “…how would we ever convince the RNC to come up with an actual conservative in the next election?

    At some point, the price must be paid for moving us so far off the principles of the Republicans.
    The time for that price to be paid may or may not be this cycle.

    I say,

    Voting for a RINO merely enables and encourages them to do more of the same to conservatives. Any chances of getting them back to being conservatives would be about the same as the chances of the country returning to mass chastity after it tolerated the sexual revolution!

    The GOP is sadly in need of a twelve step program – Big Tent RINO worship, is like handing needles to addicts and expecting a cure.

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  31. superdestroyer says:

    To answer the question of who destroyed the Republican party, the answers are Bush, Hastert, and Frist. That most people probably do not even remember Hastert demonstrates the limited ability of the Republican Party. Given the chance to shrink the government Hastert and Frist put earmarks, pork, and personal entitlement ahead of fiscal constraint.

    Also, they failed to control the government. They should have hard the career bureaucrats in front of Congressional Committees and forced them to answer the hard question about the continued failures of the government. Instead, they let the Patrick Henry college and Regent University graduates in the Bush Administration commit one stupid mistake after another.

    Look at how Bush, Hastert, and Frist failed to do anything that could be describe as conservative put instead grew the government and went down the road to creating a police state.

    The stupidity of the immigration reform was the last straw in demonstrating the stupidity of the modern Republican Party.

    However, in the long run, there will be no recovery for the Republicans because the Hispanic and black populations are growing so much faster than the white population, there will come a time in the near future when the Republicans will be incapable of getting a majority in most elections.

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  32. Dave Schuler says:

    A lot of the blogospheric Republicans seem to have some mighty powerful misconceptions about Ronald Reagan. As you noted in the post, James, he wasn’t a social conservative.

    He also wasn’t a fiscal conservative or, despite the rhetoric, a small government conservative. In my view he was an anti-Communist who believed in a more federal system or “devolution” as it’s sometimes called.

    Real small government conservatives have never had any real influence in the Republican Party at the national level. Nostalgizing Ronald Reagan doesn’t change that.

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  33. bains says:

    You have a lot more faith in Clinton than I do.

    No, yaJohn, I just have such little faith in McCain.

    Judges – I see McCain appointing people such as O’Conner and Kennedy – people that would earn him his coveted NYTimes praise.

    Military – Sure McCain would treat them better, but a President Rodham-Clinton would do with them what her advisor’s recommend – she can conveniently blame Bush for the mess she would find herself in.

    Furthermore, any outright aggression by any party you listed, not only justifies Bush’s foreign policy, but galvanizes world support against a belligerent. The concern I have regards a mosquito tactic such as Iran seems to be deploying presently. To this, I don’t think any likely candidate will respond appropriately.

    Spending – No, Clinton would not be as good a watchdog as McCain. But we’ve got to take Congress into account. That is why I mentioned blue-dogs. Just as with her husband, a President Rodham-Clinton would force a vigilance (one that has been lacking under Bush) upon Congress.

    But ultimately, both McCain and Clinton cause me to fear for the health of the nation – I do not trust either to subjugate their egos to do what is best. As such, I’d rather an open fight against Clinton rather than pretend support of McCain.

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  34. [...] OTB: Who Destroyed the Republican Party? [...]

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  35. Jim S says:

    Who destroyed (or is destroying if you prefer) the Republican Party? bains, Bithead, DL, Richie Rich, steve plunk and all the others like them and the ones who agree with them in positions of power in the Republican Party are part of the problem. The other part is the real world that they ignore so assiduously.

    As James Joyner noted, the real world has changed tremendously since Reagan was first elected. He didn’t even go into globalization and off-shoring but they exist and they affect people and their attitudes. You think people don’t notice when they call Yahoo support, AT&T support, Dell or their bank and it’s obvious the person they’re talking to isn’t in the U.S.? You think they don’t notice that the people in the back at McDonald’s don’t speak a word of English? It has changed even more from the ’50s and those earlier decades that so many conservatives like to point out as exemplars of what America ought to be like. In the current real world even highly skilled people who lose their jobs can take far longer to find a job than their unemployment benefits last. But the Republicans always blame the person and increasing the amount of unemployment benefits and the length of time they are received are anathema to them. Much of the time if a job is lost businesses have very exacting criteria for openings they want to fill and those exacting standards serve primarily as an excuse to offshore, use an H-1B visa or make the pay lower for an “unqualified” candidate. When people do find a job often it is at a lower salary than their previous one and there’s another consumer who isn’t going to be fueling the economy nearly as much as they used to. Many people know this and others sense it at some level. When Republican candidates tell them it just isn’t so or that nothing should be done so the free market can take care of it it’s often another vote lost.

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  36. bains says:

    The other part is the real world that they ignore so assiduously.

    Oh really?

    I happen to be registered GOP only that I can vote in my state’s primary. I am neo-libertarian… or classical liberal. In 1980, I voted for Jon Anderson.

    What I reject, assiduously, is partisans telling me that I have to view life, the world, through their biased prism.

    …and those earlier decades that so many conservatives like to point out as exemplars of what America ought to be like.

    Everybody points out past times that fit within their prism as the ‘best of times’. They also flatly ignore all those aspects that are particularly unsavory to their preferred narrative. Such is life.

    When people do find a job often it is at a lower salary than their previous one…

    No better example of the ‘progressive’ mindset. Sorry pal, but the only thing that ought to guarantee one a higher pay is ones own ability. I’m sure in antiquity the former successful hunter was afforded respect, and due consulting fees if his services proved fruitful sure, but his previous stature, and likely failing body did not earn him higher ‘pay’. My how the left tries to pretend the free market does not exist.

    When Republican candidates tell them it just isn’t so or that nothing should be done so the free market can take care of it it’s often another vote lost.

    That may be true. But I’d submit that when hell has gone in a handbasket, Global warming or even fascist evil American Christian benign jihadist takeover, the surviviors will reconstitute civilization first on confiscatory threat (ala Dems) and then upon free market ideals. The later will always triumph.

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  37. jukeboxgrad says:

    bains: “free market ideals”

    Wake me up when you see the GOP promoting “free market ideals.” Crony capitalism and corporate welfare are not congruent with “free market ideals.”

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  38. Steve Plunk says:

    Jim S,

    I would respectfully disagree.

    I, for one, am not calling for another Reagan or waxing nostalgically for them olden days. I am a small business owner who aligns with the Republican party because it is closer to what I see as a correct way to govern. Is it perfect? No, it is not. Is it better than the Democrats? I think so.

    As far as being ignorant of the real world of which you speak I would heartily disagree. I am part owner of a small trucking company and am acutely aware of jobs, unemployment, fuel costs, immigration and outsourcing. These are not the doing of the Republican party but are changes we could have expected with global trade, an ever intrusive government and the anti-business regulatory atmosphere. Why hassle with regulations here when you can outsource?

    So back to the original question, who destroyed the Republican party? No one, it’s not dead and far from it. It is going through changes and adjusting to the new realities you speak of and adjusting quite nicely. Since we basically have a split government how anyone can call it dead is beyond me.

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  39. Huckabee is the only candidate that uses this campaign to start a critical debate on the Bush legacy. That is why people like Peter Wehner attack him. He is the ax at the foundation of their power and they know it. It’s good Huckabee made sure we now know the real Bush. The guy that used Christians to get to power and then spit on them and start wars. It’s time Peter Wehner and his buddies get kicked out. We need to get of the arrogant bunkermentality he displays all the time.

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  40. Bob A says:

    Rush trying to find out who destroyed the GOP is akin to OJ trying to find his wifes murderer. I used to listen to Rush, but IMO.. have concluded he and everything he stands for is fascist. I believe the media has much to do with the GOP implosion, telling us what and what not a conservative Republican should be. Many viewers think Fox is a conservative station, but their bias towards Giuliani tells me they haven’t a clue about conservatives..Rudy is a liberal. By definition, Ron Paul is truly the most conservative candidate running for the office, yet he is treated like a leper.

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