The GOP: A party in distress
"The natural cure for an ill-administration, in a popular or representative constitution, is a change of men." --Alexander Hamilton
The '08 Republican contenders assembled again this week for another "debate."
For the same reason that most of you did not watch the second debate, I will not recap it, except to say that the Rudy McRomney amalgam candidate -- Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney -- are still ensconced as the leading contenders, with no significant opposition from the rest of the field.
Like the faux debate two weeks ago, the latest deliberation re-established that the embodiment of 20th-century conservatism was, and remains, Ronald Wilson Reagan, whose name was invoked repeatedly. The current contest is to determine which candidate can best fill Reagan's boots, though it's already clear that no single candidate on the "A Team" can muster The Gipper's vision, charisma or character.
So where does this leave conservatives?
Waiting for a candidate with the qualities of Ronald Reagan of course, but a candidate who is also a contender in his own right.
We do not need a Reagan wannabe. We need a leader who understands Reagan's place in history, but who can restore the nation's focus on what is good and right -- timeless conservative principles. We need an advocate for individual liberty, the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and the promotion of free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values.
Conservatives continue to support the Bush administration's policy to contain the menacing jihadi threat worldwide, and we deplore the Left's opportunistic potshots about the real shooting war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, Republican domestic policies under the leadership of George Bush have been abysmal, and if conservatives had a theme song, it would surely be Toby Keith singing "I Wish I Didn't Know Now What I Didn't Know Then."
The Party of Reagan withered under the "kinder, gentler" administration of Bush(41), consequently suffering further indignity under two "era of big government is over" Clinton terms, only to be further disenfranchised by Bush(43)'s "compassionate conservatism" domestic spending policies.
Under Republican leadership (before they were booted out last year) annual government spending had ballooned to more than 50 percent higher than the Clinton-era budgets a decade earlier. Of that, only 21 cents of every taxpayer dollar goes to national defense and homeland security. By contrast, 54 cents goes to entitlements like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and 8 cents goes to servicing the federal debt.
Meanwhile, the federal deficit continues to grow, raising the national debt, and those debts tighten the money supply, increasing the costs of investment and slowing economic growth and prosperity.
That having been said, however, public approval ratings for the current Democrat-controlled Congress are as low as the dismal approval ratings for President Bush.
The Republican Party has lost its bearing, and predictably, its ability to field conservative candidates in general elections. Though there are still many authentic conservatives on Capitol Hill, they have not composed even a majority of the Republican Party since Newt Gingrich was speaker.
However -- all is not lost.
Ahead of the 1964 presidential election, Ronald Reagan delivered what is now considered the defining declaration of 20th-century conservatism: "A Time for Choosing." Reagan said, "This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves." He went on to define, with typical clarity and resolve, a political agenda designed to "conserve" our national heritage.
Today, conservatives and Republicans again face a time for choosing.
In 1977, Reagan outlined "The New Republican Party," noting, "Our party must be based on the kind of leadership that grows and takes its strength from the people. Any organization is in actuality only the lengthened shadow of its members. A political party is a mechanical structure created to further a cause. The cause, not the mechanism, brings and holds the members together." Reagan was steadfast in his leadership of a Republican Party that derived its strength "from the people." The result was evident in his landslide re-election in 1984.
In order to ensure a Republican victory in '08, the party will have to nominate a conservative who understands the tested principle of a political party that is nothing if not a "shadow of its members."
In the wings, there is such a candidate.
When Fred Dalton Thompson launches his campaign, the current field of contenders will be reordered. More interesting than the shift in support to Thompson from the current poll leaders will be how a Thompson candidacy elevates some of the second-tier candidates like Duncan Hunter and Sam Brownback.
The sooner the better, Fred.