Monday, November 06, 2006

Donkey-loving Conservatives

If this goes the way everyone seems to think it will, it's going to be a result of the conservatives abandoning the Republicans and perhaps shacking up with the Democrats.

It's easy to use the two words "conservative" and "Republican" as synonyms or even as a sort of compound word "conservativerepublicans" but I've noticed a growing gap between people with a conservative philosophy about the world and people who leverage those principles for political purposes. It's something I first became aware of when I was researching my book and it seemed at the time (summer 2005) that non-Republican conservatives might have something to say about the future of the right in America. I went ahead and concentrated on this distinction in the book and have seen that prediction come true. In the book, a deeply conservative mayor of a small Idaho town renounces his party right into my microphone and becomes a reluctant Democrat. As the Republican party drifts away from conservative principles with big ambitious government and spending, the Democrats are positioning themselves as the party of caution, pragmatism, and even conservatism. It's hard to imagine it's deliberate on the part of the Democrats but it's happening.

The candidates that have fared the best among Democratic challengers have been the ones that would be considered moderate or even conservative. Jim Webb in Virginia was in the Reagan administration and is no fan of the far left wing of his own party. Tester in Montana appeals to a conservative/libertarian element in his own state that is ill-served by the incumbent (Conrad Burns used to give the farm report on radio in Montana but has since become too DC for many Montanans). Harold Ford will likely lose but he came awfully close to taking Bill Frist's seat in Tennessee by running as a conservative Democrat. He's not running this time around, but Obama has become a rock star by taking a church-friendly, moderate tack as he emerges from Illinois, land of Lincoln, to national prominence.

Meanwhile, who's struggling? Ned Lamont, who was beloved by the left but couldn't court the middle and unlike Webb and Tester, couldn't court the classical conservatives that the GOP has left behind. Rick Santorum is set to lose big to Bob Casey, a conservative Democrat. Even if all the conservatives don't necessarily vote for their local Democrat, they may choose not to vote at all for their local Republican, at least in enough numbers to tilt the composition of the government.

There will be soul-searching in the GOP if this all turns out the way it's been speculated to. And just as Democrats wonder how they lost the south in the wake of Reagan's 1980 election, Republicans will wonder how they lost the conservatives.

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