The 2012 presidential campaign is in full swing. In the midst of the Republican primaries, tensions are high as the divide between conservatives and establishment Republicans grows more visible. On one hand, we have a tall, slick politician who has held, and notwithstanding his numerous flip-flops, continues to hold moderate-to-left views on many issues. On the other hand, we have a number of candidates who, while not very polished or refined, hold with conviction many conservative positions. All the candidates share one opinion, however: the country cannot withstand a second term with Barack Obama as president, for it would mark an irreparable decline in America’s strength, prosperity, and character. How to prevent this is the main matter of contention in the race.
When speaking with some of my friends in the conservative movement, they seem to advocate what is commonly referred to as “Big-Tent Republicanism”. That is, they are Republicans predominantly concerned with the electability of a candidate over that candidate’s ideology. They view attracting new people to the party as critical in order to bolster its electoral power. They believe that in order to do this, we must nominate only moderate candidates, as to not alienate these potential voters.
The Republican establishment has effectively, and deviously, crafted a choice for the Republican electorate between ideology and electability. They say conservatism is not enough in style to win a general election, and defeating Barack Obama is not a guarantee. We must therefore nominate someone centrist enough to garner the independent vote. But what if this rationale was mere fallacy? What if we were being forced to make a false choice between equally electable candidates? I fear this is the case, and that just as the country cannot sustain an extended Obama presidency, it cannot tolerate the nomination of an establishment Republican candidate to challenge him.
This election is easily the most important election in at least the last eighty years. Barack Obama’s tax-and-spend fiscal policies and his inconsistent, timid, apologetic foreign policies are destroying this country’s economy and making us less safe in an increasingly dangerous world. It is for this reason, not in spite of it, that we must elect a strong, principled conservative who can create a sharp contrast with Barack Obama, not only in campaigning, but in governing.
National republicans for the last eighty years, save Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, have campaigned with the sole purpose getting elected. They run on a centrist platform, speaking in vague generalities in order to sound intelligent without saying anything potentially offensive. Then, if and when they are elected to office, they govern in a similar fashion, striking deals with the other side in order to appear amiable, and compromising their principles when the other side does not. What have we Republicans received in return for these efforts? A powerful and intrusive government, a growing welfare state and dependent class, and a national political culture that increasingly views conservatism as something foreign, uncompassionate, and extreme, even though it is, and has always been, this country’s largest ideological faction.
If the last eighty years have taught us anything, it’s this one simple fact: it’s not good enough to simply win an election. Every election in which the victor is just another moderate, establishment Republican who only wishes to nibble around the edges of our national problems destroys the potency of the Republican Party, and causes voters at large to lose confidence conservatism, even though they experience only a watered-down version of it. This has to stop. The party is becoming increasingly divided, and the country is suffering.
The establishment Republican mantra of voting for politicians over principles has failed. How we became so engrossed in this idea is beyond me, but we must re-adopt the mentality that we vote for principles above all else—that is the reason we vote in the first place. If principles were unimportant, democracy would not exist. We elect politicians into power only to wield our principles, because power is not an end, but a means to an end.
Remember that politicians derive their power from us. If we elect conservative politicians, then the principles they hold are given mandate by our votes. On the other hand, if we elect candidates who lack conservative principles, how can we reasonably expect them to serve us? Moderate politicians have no more of a mandate to advocate conservative policies than do leftist politicians. We would be just as well-off electing nobody at all, because moderation is not a principle. Moderation is something you do to a principle—it is the cession of principle. Consider then our purpose in voting during this primary campaign season: it is not simply to have people occupy space in government; it is to save our country. I don’t want moderates and independents to vote for our candidates for the same reason I don’t want leftists to vote for our candidates: a vote for a candidate who sacrifices his/her principles is no better than a vote for the person with whom you disagree.
This election needs to focus on ideas. The nominee of the Republican Party is only as electable in the general election as we make him. How can a candidate who conservatives feel the need to hold their nose while voting for be considered more electable than a principled candidate who draws enthusiastic conservatives to the polls in droves? Isn’t it just as difficult to guarantee that conservatives actually go the polls and vote for a lukewarm candidate as it is to guarantee that Barack Obama will lose the election? The Big-Tent Republicans certainly aren’t counting on it—they think they have conservatives backed into a corner, that they can trade one conservative vote for two or more independent votes. But what makes them think they can even count on their candidate mobilizing the grassroots support needed to actually get their cherished moderates and independents to the polls? Lastly, how can we hope to win the battle of ideas when the candidate we’re supposed to support doesn’t embody our own values? How can we effectively persuade independent voters to vote for someone whom we know in our hearts and minds is just the lesser of two evils?
There is only one way to save our country, and it is not to elect gasbag, empty-suit politicians who only want to trim around the edges and maintain the status quo. Conservatism is the only philosophy capable of restoring this country, and so we must vote not for politicians, but for conservatism. We don’t need to moderate our principles to get votes—we need to spread them, to educate people about them, so that our principles can be given electoral force. Empty votes may win elections, but they won’t win the future.