Dick Armey has an excellent critique of the Republicans in yesterday’s Washington Post. Armey’s argument is misinterpreted by this self-proclaimed moderate and this social conservative, both of whom think that Armey is blaming social and religious conservatives (or unfairly singling out some religious conservatives) for the Party’s current problems.
The Republican Party is a broad coalition of libertarians, social and religious conservatives, fiscal conservatives and pro-defense liberals. A broad coalition needs unifying ideas that transcend the differences between the coalition’s subgroups. Armey is arguing for those unifying ideas. He is not saying that the issues that energize social conservatives do not matter. What he is saying is that by focusing too much on those particular issues, and by spending to the point of negating their historical focus on limited government, the Republicans abandoned the values which in the past unified them and allowed them to win elections.
The groups comprising the Republican Party disagree about many things but share fundamental beliefs in limited government and strong national defense. The conventional wisdom since 2000 has been that the Republican coalition is weakening because it no longer has a Democratic administration to oppose. That seems right, and it appears increasingly obvious that the limits of Republican political effectiveness have been reached. Spending and social-issues triangulation no longer work, if they ever did, to keep the coalition together. A new approach is needed. Perhaps now, for want of better alternatives, the Republican Party will return to its small-government roots.
(And perhaps one day the Democrats will provide effective competition in the form of alternative ideas to what the Republicans are offering. In the meantime the only choices we have are Republicans and anti-Republicans. The failure of the Republicans to dominate the political landscape in the face of such weak opposition shows how much they have drifted from their ideological roots.)
Cross-posted at 26th Parallel.