To a politician, the next election is always the most important of his or her constituents’ lives. This year, however, most Republican voters would agree. They believe the results of President Obama’s first term must be reversed. As President Obama campaigns (did he ever stop?), his emboldened rhetoric attempts to drown out many inconvenient facts. On Obama’s watch, over four trillion dollars have been added to our national debt. Nearly five million people have stopped looking for work since the end of the recession in June 2009. Forty-five million people require food stamps, with 16 million added during the last three years. And that’s just the iceberg’s tip.
Despite the Hindenburgs that were Solyndra and Stimulus, the Administration still lectures skeptics of crony capitalism who believe a profit motive yields superior results to a re-election motive. Solyndra is the result of an administration that thinks government should “partner” with the private sector. As economic growth slows, debt mushrooms, and structural unemployment (seriously? in America?) hardens, many Americans, not just Republicans, fear the U.S. is heading toward a Greek tragedy.
Enter the Republican nomination race. For all the nasty words and ads, future nomination battles will likely be publicized as the most brutal in history, as this one has been characterized and as Obama/Clinton was in 2008. Is Mitt Romney, the likely winner, electable? Sure, if only for Obama’s forgettable (if you’re a Democrat) and embarrassing (if you’re a Republican) record. Regardless of the result, I respect all the candidates for their passion and willingness to run the nomination gauntlet.
The problem for Republicans is that the Party’s best leaders lacked the intestinal fortitude to run. Among others, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie will be remembered for their conspicuous absence from the 2012 contest. For when a leader refuses a higher responsibility for which he is qualified and to which he is called, he diminishes himself. In refusing the call from millions of his fellow citizens, the leader has failed to do his duty for his country.
The absence of the aforementioned leaders causes Republicans of all stripes such acute pain because each could have bridged the chasm between the so-called ‘establishment’ and the tea party wing better than any of the current candidates. The establishment sees flaws in Newt Gingrich’s character and leadership capacity. Tea party leaders question Romney’s commitment to conservative principles. Gingrich’s problems are clearly more difficult to overcome, and it looks like Romney will defeat him anyway.
The latte drinking Romney campaign will need the Tea Party to defeat Obama, and a Romney administration wouldn’t pass much legislation without Tea Party support. Yet, it isn’t clear the Romney campaign values their votes or believes they can distinguish between Republican platforms. Take Romney’s pledge to reduce the corporate tax rate to 25% from 35%. Tea party supporters understand this new rate would only bring the U.S. in line with its competitors. Dilution due to congressional compromise might result in a rate closer to 30%.
They also grasp that excluding high earners from his plan to reduce the tax rate on capital gains won’t appreciably increase investment. As a rich man, it seems Romney wants to be the lovable “compassionate conservative” and thinks taking bold, conservative positions will scare away independents and make him look greedy. This is a flawed approach for many reasons, the most important of which is that conservatism is compassionate in its very essence.
Conservatives believe individuals, not the government, should make decisions that affect them. They don’t believe parents should be forced to enroll their children in schools where the desires of teachers take precedence over the needs of students. They believe medical decisions should be made between a doctor and patient, and they reject any attempt by the government to force citizens to buy anything.
They believe in the positive, distributive effects of the free market; that, when individuals pursue their self-interest, the result is a higher standard of living for everyone, not just risk takers (see: Jobs, Steven P.). They believe the government ought to protect the public and regulate industry, but only when the benefits of such regulation outweigh the costs. They understand that politicians are prone to rewarding individual and corporate donors, thereby distorting the market and exacting a price on those who don’t have connections to power. Conservatives want an end to all corporate welfare, allowing competition based on merit alone. That’s fairness.
Conservatives recoil at the sight of politicians who campaign on wealth re-distribution. To such politicians, dependent voters are loyal voters. This isn’t to say a strong safety net isn’t important to protect the most vulnerable. However, perpetual handouts tend to tie knots both below and above the needy, restricting their ability and motivation to live independently. How free is the citizen who relies on a politician who is generous with other people’s money?
Conservatives view our country’s massive debts as a moral outrage. Young adults have been left with a colossal burden. The lack of protests on campuses against government excess is shocking considering today’s college graduates face poor job prospects, high student loan debt and a huge future tax burden due to high debt and unreformed entitlements. Private sector pensions are nearly extinct. Given the current rate of entitlement reform, young Americans can’t be faulted for planning a retirement without social security income.
These beliefs are worth proclaiming, not simply defending, and I believe most Americans share some or all of them. With strong leaders at the state level, I’m optimistic a few brave leaders will enter the arena eventually, if not this year. However, a national group is only as good as the leaders that represent it on the national stage. Perhaps the party’s best hope for the future is to expand its base by reminding people unfamiliar with it that the Republican Party has been reborn. No matter who you are or where you’re from, we believe in you and we’d love to have you.
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