As with any great war in history, the GOP Civil War is full of misconception, rhetoric, propaganda and misinformation. There is no doubt a state of war exists within the GOP. That is obvious. What is disputable is when this war began and what it is fundamentally about. The Internet as well as mainstream media and political publications are full of varying opinions and views. So it is difficult for someone who isn’t familiar to gain a clear and objective understanding of the details.
In an attempt to unravel some of the more recent myths and misconceptions, we will take a look at the history and hopefully set the record straight. Let me begin by prefacing my remarks with words from the great philosopher, Jules Winnfield: “If my answers frighten you Vincent then you should cease asking scary questions.” Proceed with caution.
In a recent appearance on The O’Reilly Factor, Dr. Charles Krauthammer made the insistent argument that the only real difference between the “moderates” and “conservatives” is tactical.
I think this whole thing is very much blown up in the liberal media…. The difference between the hard right and moderates is really one over tactics rather than over ideology and objectives…. On objectives you tell me what is the fundamental difference between the so-called moderates and radicals. I don’t see it. We all agree on limited government, we all agree on restoration of individual rights, we all agree on liberty being the central ideal, we all agree on the restoration of individual responsibility and initiative… where’s the big difference?… This is ginned up by a lot of players for a lot of self-interested reasons…. Cool this a little bit by looking rationally at what are the real differences… and they are tactical.
Aside from the fact that some want to now label conservatives as “far right” or “radicals” while moderates are still the moderates, Dr. Krauthammer is just fundamentally wrong. We can trace this back to the 1944 and 1948 campaign of Thomas E. Dewey, if you want to get technical. This is where the so-called “moderates” made their initial stand for a more progressive and liberal republican party. So the war between conservatives and moderates really began way back then.
We see remnants of the Dewey philosophy disguised under Bush 43 as “compassionate conservatism.” We see the era of Richard Nixon actually expanding the scope and size of government, not limiting it at all. These are fundamental ideological differences with conservatism. Nixon’s EPA is now encroaching evermore on our everyday lives as Americans, not ensuring more liberty. But let’s jump ahead to a time where conservatives seemed to prevail… the Reagan era.
Ronald Reagan campaigned on the promise to get rid of LBJ and Carter’s Department of Education. However, once he became president it was not possible to do so because of the moderate wing of the party who refused to go along with the idea. There was simply no political impetus to fight this battle in Congress, and Reagan could not do it by himself. Contrast this with Bush 43, who totally abandoned the conservative principle of getting rid of the DOE, actually campaigned on the opposite objective and allied with Ted Kennedy to expand Education with No Child Left Behind. Karl Rove brags about how ingenious this political idea was because Bush was able to garner 44% of the vote among voters who held education as their main issue. But remember, Reagan won a 44-state landslide while Bush 43 needed the SCOTUS to get him into the Oval Office.
In March 1997, President Bush signed a bill naming the Department of Education headquarters in Washington, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education Building. Not only did the moderates abandon Reagan’s goal of eliminating the department, they went out of their way to grow the department, then named it after LBJ, the father of the Great Society, the 1960s liberal attempt at utopian failure.
No difference, Dr. Krauthammer? Really?
We see a pattern of this ‘moderatism’ throughout the history of the GOP. In fact, the last 5 presidential candidates offered up by the GOP (at the insistence of moderates) have embraced totally non-conservative initiatives. O’reilly and others would have us believe the GOP Civil War began more recently with the advent of Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, but the truth is a different story. Long before the Tea Party, the idea of “civil war” within the GOP surfaced in 1990 with the New York Times, following the Bush 41 tax increase. Longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie wrote a piece titled: “Bush Loses the Right Wing.”
Not since Ronald Reagan’s challenge to Gerald Ford has the Republican Party been as bitterly divided as it is today. George Bush and his minions are heading into a civil war with GOP conservatives that will leave the political fields covered with blood.
President Bush has lost all his credibility with conservatives…
Conservatives believe that the GOP’s gains of the 1980’s largely resulted from the strategy of drawing a more definite ideological line between the Republicans and Democrats. The (Bush) Administration has assaulted that strategy and has offended ordinary voters.…
The Rockefeller-Ford and Goldwater-Reagan wings long struggled for control of the party. Ronald Reagan’s election was supposed to have settled the issue, but only delayed the day of reckoning. The matters of principle dividing the wings are too great to be decided by negotiation and mediation. The shelling of Fort Sumter has begun.
Bush 41 would go on to lose his reelection bid in humiliation to Clinton with only 37% of the vote.
In 1996 the GOP Establishment nominated Bob Dole, who spent an entire Senate career acceding to the idea of getting the federal government involved in one program after another — food stamps, Meals on Wheels, women and children’s nutrition programs being but a handful of examples. So involved was Dole in raising taxes to meet these and other perceived governmental obligations that Newt Gingrich once set-off a mini-firestorm in the Reagan era by referring to then-Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dole as “the tax collector for the welfare state.”
In 2008 the GOP Establishment nominated the author of the McCain-Kennedy “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act” and McCain-Feingold, a law that used the federal government to suppress free speech.
In 2012 the GOP Establishment nominated the father of Romneycare — the inspiration for Obamacare.
None of these men, Bush 41, Bush 43, Dole, McCain or Romney, were committed to limiting the size of government. Not one. So I think Dr. Krauthammer is wrong when he says we basically share the same principles.
We decidedly don’t.
Finally, we have the myth currently being perpetrated by moderates, that conservatives are the rigid ideologues, refusing to bend and defiantly stuck on their principles. It is in fact, the other way around. Margaret Thatcher’s longtime adviser, the late Sir Keith Joseph believed that the internal dynamics of politics continually ratcheted left. British Conservatives had simply adhered to what was called socialist ratcheting. To be a Conservative Prime Minister was to simply manage the leftward, socialist ratchets of the last Labour government, never to change course. The reason for Thatcher’s success (and Reagan’s in America) was precisely because they did not go along with the leftward socialist ratcheting and sought to ratchet rightward. To go completely in the opposite direction. Very often to the disgruntlement of the moderates.
When today’s conservatives listen to any GOP moderate, what they hear is a stubborn refusal to break from the rigid ideology of moderation. Terms like “rigid” and “purity test” are frequently applied to conservatives, when in fact it is moderates who demand adherence to the American version of the socialist ratchet. Moderate Republicans are determined (make that obsessed) on turning that socialist ratchet leftward, just not as fast and hopefully better managed.
Look again at that list of favorite programs revered by those five moderate GOP nominees. Tax increases (Bush 41), increases in federal programs on nutrition, food stamps, Meals on Wheels plus tax increases (Dole), No Child Left Behind, Expansion of Medicare and the Pill Bill (Bush 43), McCain-Kennedy and McCain-Feingold (McCain), Romneycare (Romney).
In an America where the nation now has a $17 trillion deficit and $90 trillion in unfunded liabilities, in no small part because of the role of GOP moderates, with the ship of state seen as heading directly for a financial Niagara Falls, the patience of conservatives has run out.
When moderate Republicans say they are conservatives, when they salt their speeches with references to Ronald Reagan, they are not believed precisely because so many conservatives understand instinctively that the words of moderates are meaningless because the rest of what they do is not in synch with what they say.
Read my lips, anyone?
Governor Christie is the latest to be trotted out by the moderates. Unaware that the phrase “getting things done” is a euphemism for “I’m a liberal establishment republican.” When asked if he is a conservative, Christie replies “I don’t get into those labels” and says “it’s a Washington D.C. game.” Contrast this with Reagan who vociferously proclaimed his conservative convictions and explained why they were important to America. No conservative is fooled by someone new to the scene who is in fact playing the same tired game with the “no labels” business that is in fact as old as it is instantly recognizable.
This current series of GOP internal disputes is simply not about tactics. It is in fact about differences between core conservative principles and moderate socialist ratcheting. And when moderate Republicans repeatedly try and talk the conservative talk while their programmatic body language says exactly to the contrary, they compound the problem by undermining their own credibility.
Leading to the much validated concern of conservatives that when moderate Republicans run for president or any other office they lose outright. Or, worse, when they win by the skin of their political teeth or even the rare landslide they immediately set about the task of continuing, in Thatcherite language, to manage the goals of the socialist ratchet rather than pulling the country forward in another direction entirely — to core conservative goals.