Conservatives Are Strangers in the Republican Party


In the aftermath of the recent Republican primary in Indiana it is clear that the conservative movement has suffered a setback.  This was the anti-incumbent, anti-establishment year, wasn’t it?  It was our opportunity to take back the Republican Party and make of it a credible, opposition conservative party that stood on principle. 

            To paraphrase what I had written before: “Yes, we the conservative base have had it with the stand-for-nothing Republican Party in Washington, with the moribund Republican leadership and their water-carriers in Congress who cave on every issue.  We can no longer tolerate big spending Republicans who come home during election time and campaign as conservatives and return to Washington and vote as liberals.”

            I found succor in the Republican Presidential Primary process early on.  This is why, I surmised, the base had rejected the “Establishment.”  Jeb Bush, Chris Christy, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich, establishment figures all, were either out of the Presidential race or had no chance of winning.  It was only the outsiders left, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, a sure sign of the frustration the base felt towards the Republican ruling class.

            But it didn’t quite work out that way in the Indiana primary.  It would have been one thing if Trump had succeeded and Marlin Stutzman had defeated Todd Young in the race to replace retiring Republican Senator Dan Coats.  Congressman Stutzman, a three term Congressman like Young, is Indiana’s most conservative Congressman with a Heritage score of 87% compared with 62% for Young, a quintessential liberal Republican and Establishment loyalist.  With Republican incumbents filling out the 2016 Senate roster across the country, the Stutzman-Young contest provided the best example of the Tea Party versus Establishment contest that have appeared in other open GOP primaries.  It was well known that McConnell and Coats both preferred Young over Stutzman, seeing Stutzman as a potential Cruz-like “troublemaker.” 

            And so the Empire Struck Back, with the Chamber of Commerce and the Mitch McConnell-linked-Senate Leadership Fund spending millions backing Young and attacking Stutzman.  Young won handily, 65-35%, thus giving the nod to someone who embodied the reason why people were supposedly voting for Trump in the first place. Further, we failed to nominate a single new conservative to the Senate.

                In 2016, a year when the GOP voters were supposedly more anti-establishment than ever, every single moderate (liberal) Republican incumbent House member easily won reelection.  Trey Hollingsworth, a wealthy lifelong Democrat carpetbagger from Tennessee, spent millions of his own money to win the primary in the open seat to replace Todd Young in Indiana’s 9th Congressional District. 

            With the defeat of conservative standard-bearer Ted Cruz, and the many questions surrounding Donald Trump’s commitment to conservative principles, and the summary defeats here and elsewhere, conservatives are wondering what happened?  Then there was the Republican Presidential primary process that resembled more a cage match rather than a substantive debate over critical, conservative issues.  The Republican Party managed to squander its best opportunity in a generation to make their case for balanced budgets, limited government, and free markets against the debacle of the Obama years.

            In the end, the old bulls of the Republican Party will “cut deals” with Trump (or Hillary) as they did with Obama and the merrymaking will continue, the same deficit spending and debt, the printing of money and devaluing of the currency, the unsustainable growth of government and the welfare state.  The career politicians, lobbyists, consultants, and cronies will resume feeding at the public trough in a city that spends $4 trillion a year - until the laws of economics assert themselves, and the federal enterprise collapses under its own weight amidst much social upheaval.

            These were the issues a responsible, fiscally prudent Republican Party was supposed to make. But there was not even a cursory discussion of this in the primary process, nor other major concerns such as restoring separation of powers and Constitutional order, the assault by Obama and his pen, phone, and executive fiats that merged the legislative and executive functions, in lawless, unconstitutional acts, from Amnesty to Obamacare to Sanctuary Cities to the destabilizing and dangerous Nuclear Deal with Iran.  Nor was there a debate regarding the overarching federal bureaucracy, the administrative state or fourth branch of government, in particular the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but other governmental bodies as well, that release thousands of pages of regulations each year with the impact of law and virtually no Congressional oversight, burdening and stifling economic activity, a completely non-democratic process that usurps Congress’s legislative function.  All this and much more was ignored by the Republican Congress who seemed unwilling to rouse itself from its stupor to defend the prerogatives and powers of Congress let alone the Constitution. 

            And so constitutional conservatives wander in the wilderness, strangers in their own party, in a year that began with some measure of hope.  We recognize the power of the media and incumbency, “name ID,” the “Establishment” and bushels of money to decide outcomes regardless of issues and our efforts. These forces effectively undermine insurgent candidates that seek to challenge the status quo. Furthermore, Establishment candidates run on our issues only to abandon them later.  And voters seem willing to go along with this.  The one good thing that can be said is that our arguments held sway and were widely used by Republicans who at least attempted to present themselves as Conservatives however poorly they may have conducted themselves in Washington.

            What is to be done? The oft-cited “third party” option is untenable.  The numbers are simply not there in a nation roughly evenly divided. The answer must be in a long game strategy that seeks to present the politics of liberty and virtue, the tripod stool of Reagan conservatism embracing traditional values, fiscal conservatism, and strong national defense at all levels of culture and politics.  Enlightenment Conservative principles of free markets, liberty, limited government, private property, state’s rights (federalism), separation of powers, inalienable rights, and the Constitution, must be actively presented in all forums, including an active “new” media, our schools and colleges, in cinema and entertainment, in our bureaucracies and courts, and of course within the political process, in particular, the Republican Party. We must also strive to build an authentic conservative/liberty movement in Indiana, unifying if possible the various independent groups that already exist and working with national level organizations and prominent conservative figures and politicians such as Senator Ted Cruz and others.  And then reliable funding channels must be sought commensurate with such a challenge. 

            If necessary, we must become a third party within the Republican Party, to transform it into a revitalized, conservative Republican Party. To paraphrase myself once more: “This was Reagan’s Republican Party.  This was the party of Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican President who freed the slaves and preserved the union.  In truth, philosophically, it is the party of the founders, of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, a party of limited government, a strong private sector, and a vibrant civil society.  It is a party that must believe, as Reagan once described it, ‘that we are a nation that has a government, not the other way around.’”  

In my recent campaign for Congress to represent Indiana’s 8th district, I attempted to sound, however unsuccessfully, these themes. Although ultimately defeated, I hope that this message will animate Congressman Larry Bucshon, other Republicans, and perhaps moderate Democrats in the general election and beyond. The Republican Party must decide if it is to become a principled conservative party that stands for liberty and limited government or remain the big government, big spending, liberal, progressive party it is today.  In which case it will rip itself asunder and leave the nation to the tender mercies of the left and the Democrats. 

            We have, after all, a nation, a constitution, and a bill of rights to save.


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