Which of the Two Dozen 2016 GOP Contenders is the Right One?
Although it is not without precedent, the number of potential contenders for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination exceeds two dozen. It's actually a somewhat ridiculous situation – especially as the number of Democrat candidates at this point is essentially one. I also say ridiculous because I maintain that the choice of the next GOP presidential candidate is one of the most consequential choices the country will ever make.
The progressive remake of the United States is now a work that is just over a century in progress. One can argue that its political debut dates to 1900 – the year that Teddy Roosevelt entered the White House; or perhaps 1912 – when Wilson became president; but certainly no later than 1913 – upon the establishment of the Federal Reserve and the passage of the 16th and 17th amendments to the Constitution [income tax and direct election of senators].
I shan't review in detail the myriad ways that the progressive putsch has changed America from a free market, limited government, bourgeois culture, constitutional republic that maximized individual freedom into a big government, crony capitalistic, libertine cultural mess that emphasizes group rights and government dependency. Let me just say that the march from the former to the latter has been relatively steady – under both Democrat and Republican administrations – with major lurches to the left under Roosevelt and Johnson. Obama aspired to be the vehicle for a third major (and even greater) move to port, but the outcomes of the 2010 and 2014 elections suggest that he has not succeeded.
There have been two exceptions to the overall trend: the administrations of Harding-Coolidge and of Reagan. In each of these cases, the interval of sanity did not survive the departure of the conservative leader who ushered it in. I will say more about how Reagan succeeded and failed momentarily. For more about the 1920s era, I recommend you to the books (manly dealing with Coolidge) of A. Shlaes and G. Tucker.
Now it is my assertion that the vast majority of GOP politicians over the last century can be classified into one of the following three categories:
- RINOs – meaning that they do not really believe that progressivism and big government are bad for America – it's just that the Democrats are screwing it up and Republicans should be entrusted with the task of implementing the progressive agenda because they will do it more efficiently and cost effectively than liberal Democrats have or could.
- CRUELs – that is, confused Republicans who are unable to exercise leadership. These are conservative politicians whose hearts and minds may be in the right place, but they are unable to: (i) articulate their beliefs; (ii) explain the connection between progressivism and the ills that beset the nation; (iii) describe clearly how conservative policies will enhance liberty and economic prosperity; and (iv) deflect the vicious slanders that the Democrats hurl at them.
- CCCs – that is committed, conservative constitutionalists. These are politicians who have a clear understanding of what the progressives have wrought and how the country has changed. They can envision and describe the bleak future that awaits us if we don’t have a major course correction. Furthermore, such people also have a clear idea of what must be done to return the country to its founding ethos, re-institute the ideals of free market capitalism, constitutional and limited governance, and American exceptionalism and thereby restore the republic. Moreover, they can explain these ideas clearly and simply.
I'm not sure whether there are more RINOS than CRUELs or vice versa. But I am sure that there are far more of either of them than there are triple Cs. That sorry fact and the palpable shift of the Democrat Party sharply to the left have helped to pave the way for the advent of the Obama era. That era is highlighted by the willingness of the people to elect – and re-elect – the most anti-American, anti-constitutional, radically left, lawless president in American history. Thus it would appear that the progressive transformation of America is nearly complete. If we do not slam on the brakes and initiate a reversal of the transformation soon – very soon – then it will be too late and the United States of America – the most noble and successful experiment in human freedom the world has ever known – will be doomed to fail just shy of its quarter millennium birthday.
It is a tragedy that I contemplate with dread – that is, that I might see the completion of the progressive putsch and the final conversion of the US into the soft tyranny of a perhaps benignly inspired but ultimately oppressive, economically disadvantaged, centrally managed, social welfare state. It is quite possible that, unless we can elect a CCC in 2016, we will indeed see the end of the American experiment.
So is there a savior in the crowded field? If so, who is it? Well, here are my assessments of the various candidates (the list will not be exhaustive).
RINOs: Romney, Christie, Graham, Snyder, Ehrlich, Gilmore, Kasich;
CRUELS: Santorum, Perry, Palin, Cain, Bachmann, Paul;
CCCs: Cruz, Carson, Pence, Walker, Bolton.
You have, of course, noted several missing names: Bush, Huckabee, Rubio, Jindal, Ryan. These are the folks that I am unable to definitively pigeon-hole. Several (like Huckabee, Rubio and Jindal) are not RINOs, but I can't decide between the other two categories. The other two (Bush and Ryan) might be RINOs, but I am not sure.
The point is that my opinion is not what matters. Over the next two years, the GOP electorate will choose. I hope that it will choose wisely and then that the choice will be endorsed by the overall electorate.
Even if this optimistic scenario transpires, I must, however, inject a note of caution – actually, two notes. First, think back to Reagan. When he entered office, he had three broad objectives: (i) defeat the Soviet Union and rid the world of the communist menace; (ii) restore the American economy to health; and (iii) shrink the government, restore federalism and reduce the federal debt. He succeeded brilliantly at the first two, but failed miserably at the third. Alas, in some ways a new triple C president in January 2017 would face analogous crises in all three areas. First, the communist menace has been replaced by the Islamist menace. The nuclear feature of the conflict is not replicated (at least not yet), but our current opponents’ fanaticism, murderous ambition and vicious intolerance are, if anything, even worse than the Soviets'. Jimmy Carter suggested that we get over our "inordinate fear of communism." It is clear that Barack Obama feels likewise about radical Islam. But if we don’t confront and destroy it, we and the rest of the world are in for some very rough sailing.
Second, the economic crisis of 2008-2009 was arguably as serious as the crisis of the late 1970s. Although Obama and the Dems have done nothing to heal it, the US economy is so resilient that it has healed itself. But only partially, as we still have significant economic problems: historically low labor participation, stagnant salaries, colossal debt, a middle class that is gaining no ground and excessive income inequality. These problems will command the attention of a new conservative president.
And of course there is the third major crisis: the need to shrink the government, restore federalism and reduce the debt will be on the new president's plate – assuming that he or she can, unlike Reagan, get past the first two crises. Which brings me to the second note of caution. It is impossible to restore America politically and economically if it is not restored culturally. Reagan understood this, I believe, as exhibited by the words in his farewell address. But he never seriously addressed the issue – either because he didn't have time or perhaps he lacked the belief that he could make a difference. We can never know. But, the matter of the culture is critical to the success of the conservative restoration project. For in fact, culture trumps politics.
Twentieth century progressives – especially Antonio Gramsci -- grasped this idea. They understood that in order to radically alter the politics of the United States, they had to first undermine bourgeois culture and replace it with a more libertine version. They understood that the flow of influence runs downhill from culture to politics. And so they set about changing America's culture. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Today, the left controls virtually all of the opinion-molding organs of American society: the media and the arts, public schools, foundations, seminaries, museums, libraries, higher education, the federal bureaucracy, the legal profession and so on. Classic American culture celebrated individual liberty, limited government, free market capitalism, strong morals grounded in religion, intact traditional families and vibrant cohesive communities, individual responsibility and the meritocracy, and American Exceptionalism in particular, the idea that America is a model and force for good in the world. That culture has been supplanted by one that values: group rights, big government and crony capitalism, loose morals and banishment of religion from the public square, global American weakness and disengagement, and an obscene focus on the warts in American history.
It is little wonder that in such a culture, the least experienced, most anti-American, anti-Constitutional, radically left, lawless president in American history could be elected and re-elected.
We must recapture the culture. It took the left a century to overthrow America's classic culture. It may take us a century to win it back. A program for doing so is for another essay. What we need now is not just another Reagan, but a succession of triple C presidents who understand the cultural issue, as well as the foreign and economic policy issues, and who have the requisite ideas, understanding and political skills to bring about a conservative renaissance. Through their leadership we can take back our country. At the moment, I'll settle for a first person in that line. Which of the two dozen contenders is that special person? I pray that we find out soon.
Ron Lipsman, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Maryland, writes about politics, culture, education, science and sports at http://ronlipsman.com. Follow him on Twitter @rlipsman