October 10, 2005
In George We Trust?By Rick Moran
Watching the conservative coalition slowly unravel over the Miers nomination these past two weeks has been an extraordinarily painful experience. Despite all of the hard slogging work done by activists of various stripes over the past quarter century, the winning coalition that encompasses movement conservatives, main street Republicans, foreign policy hawks, and religious fundamentalists under one overarching banner is showing some wear and tear. Five long years of bitter partisan warfare, shocking tragedy, economic bust and boom, and a shooting war in Iraq, where the terrorists test our resolve to prevail every single day, produce a certain amount of stress.
This isn't the first crisis for the conservative movement since it initially tasted electoral success in the 1980 elections. The world seemed young and full of possibilities then, as the landslide victory of Ronald Reagan, along with the Republican capture of the Senate for the first time since 1948, seemed to augur bigger and better things to come.
Then in the late 1980's, conservatives fell victim to their own success, as the Cold War ended with astounding speed and the iron curtain fell. Politically speaking, these events started untying the part of the Reagan coalition that included what author Theodore H. White referred to as 'urban ethnics.' These were white, middle class, blue collar, second and third generation immigrants, many with deep emotional and family ties to Eastern Europe, who were disgusted with the appeasement and unilateral disarmament policies of the McGovern—Carter wing of the Democratic party.
Economically liberal but socially conservative, they were bunched in an arc in what used to be referred to as 'The Rust Belt' along the Great Lakes. Their support allowed Reagan to cut into Democratic strengths in the battleground states of the Midwest. Although considered 'natural' Democrats due to their union affiliations, the political brain trust of the Reagan campaign successfully targeted them by appealing both to their patriotism and their unease with liberal values.
Then, in 1992, they went home. With the Cold war over, the Clintonites successfully appealed to the economic interests of this group, portraying George Bush 41 as out of touch with 'regular' Americans and thus not able to 'feel their pain.' Clinton pandered to their values by rushing home in the middle of his first presidential campaign to preside over the execution of an Arkansas death row inmate, and taking issue with rap singer Sister Souljah.
Many of these white ethnics have since made their way back to the Republican Party, as the Democrats have careened further and further to the left. They have become 'values voters' whose allegiance to the party can be traced to its stand on issues like abortion, gay marriage, and the family values espoused so eloquently by President Bush. There is ample evidence that these values voters were the difference in Ohio during the election campaign of 2004.
The crisis over Harriet Miers, however, is much different. It reflects a schism not over ideology, but over perceptions of the President himself. While many activists are extremely unhappy with the choice of Miers and some conservative intellectuals have expressed opposition over her supposed lack of credentials, the question of supporting or opposing the nominee comes down to one, simple question.
How much do you trust George W. Bush?
Even before the Miers nomination, many conservatives have had to take deep breath in order to continue supporting a man whose veto pen seems to have been misplaced in the face of numerous budget—busting, pork—laden spending bills from a supposed conservative Congress. And the President's support for the McCain—Feingold First Amendment—shattering campaign finance monstrosity has enraged web activists whose support has been so vital both to the Administration's legislative successes and electoral victories.
But it is on the question of judges that many conservatives have nearly lost patience with the President. They have been frustrated by Bush's seeming acquiescence in the face of Democratic tactics that seek to impede his most conservative choices. He has been given the benefit of the doubt thanks only to the hyperbole of the left with regard to the unconscionable filibuster tactics of Congressional Democrats.
But now the right is faced with a nominee whose name was put forward as someone who would be acceptable to many of these same Democrats. For some, that is reason enough to oppose Miers. For others, it is proof that the President has 'caved in' to certain political realities and has arrogantly ignored the advice of his allies, just to avoid a bruising partisan debate. There has even been talk that Miers should be opposed to teach the President a lesson or to purge her supporters who come from the more moderate wing of the party.
All too often, conservatives have followed a 'feel good' course of action and ignored what was possible or even necessary. This has resulted in Republicans devouring their own when it comes to Presidential governance. Only an iconic figure like Ronald Reagan could escape the fate of other Republican Presidents like Richard Nixon and George Bush 41, whose administrations were nearly torn apart by internecine battles between conservatives and pragmatists.
Reagan's stature was so Olympian in the conservative movement that any visible moves toward the center were blamed on the moderates around him. 'Let Reagan be Reagan' was a plaintive, even juvenile cry, first uttered by Interior Secretary James Watt, but which became a battle hymn for movement conservatives who thought they saw apostasy in what was actually Reagan's deftness and agility in pushing his programs through a heavily Democratic Congress.
Both Lifson and blogger/radio host Hugh Hewitt make the same argument: Trust George. When it comes right down to it, pragmatic conservatives have very little choice. It's not like they're going to abandon Republicans and vote Democratic. And it is probable that, with a little coaxing, they can be made to come out and support Republicans in 2006. Indeed, as Democratic prospects have improved over the summer, it will become vital come election time that these same conservatives not sit on their hands and refuse to take part — not with the possible takeover of the Senate, or the House, or both by Democrats in the offing.
For the conservative 'true believers' however, this is the crisis of the Bush presidency. No amount of stroking by Bush aides is going to assuage their disappointment. In this respect, it remains to be seen if these disappointed activists will fall on their swords once again in a futile gesture of defiance by staying home on Election Day, 2006. If they do so, and if they hand the election to the Democrats, there could be a real bloodletting among conservatives that could split Republicans for a generation and perhaps even give impetus to the creation of a third party.
Any way you look at it, the President has his work cut out for him. And if Harriet Miers falters or comes up short in any way, the coalition that has elected 3 out of the last 4 Presidents could finally collapse in flurry of recrimination and anger.
Rick Moran is a frequent contributor and is proprietor of the blog Right Wing Nuthouse.