Politicos have been trying to figure out just where the Republican Party plans to get the surge for its resurgence. The Republicans have done their damndest to shed independent and Libertarian voters since 2001, ‘and what do they aim to replace them with?’ I ask you. Do the Neoconservatives represent a large enough voting bloc to give them control of the White House and Congress?
I came across Stephen Richer’s guest editorial “Republicans’ way forward is in the West” in the Oct. 16 edition of the Salt Lake Tribune. Richer is an editor for NewMajority.com, which has since changed its name to FrumForum.com, after David Frum, the Canadian/American conservative speech writer for George Bush who has debated Rush Limbaugh over the future of the Republican Party.
Richer offers a few instances of Utah’s politicians shifting toward the center and argues that the West’s more moderate Republicans should step up and take control of the party, for its own good.
I sent off a few questions to Richer and he was gracious enough to reply. I deeply disagree with some of his responses but I’m the guy sitting in the West watching the Republican Party blow itself up, not the one trying to resurgify it. So here’s what he had to say.
New West: Has living in Washington D.C. warped your brain yet?
Stephen Richer: Despite what it seems from living in D.C., the average American does not have a master’s degree; the average American is not a single 27-year-old; the average American does not prefer tangy yogurt to chocolate ice cream; the average American does not obsess over politics; the average American does not identify as “liberal or progressive”; the average American does not wear a suit to work; the average American does not open conversations with “where are you from?”; and the average American does not have to root for three of the worst teams in professional sports (Nationals, Wizards, and Redskins).
NW: Republicans have pretty clearly become the party of the South since Bush Junior was elected. Why do you think they’ve abandoned the West? Is there anybody in the party who is interested in regaining Republican losses in the West?
SR: I don’t think we’ve abandoned the West—we simply lost it in 2006 and 2008. “Abandonment” suggests agency and a level of permanence that I don’t think any rational Republican could wish for. To continue losing the West would be to condemn the Party to permanent minority status.
I suspect that our loss has more to do with performance than it does with policy. Voters in 2006 and 2008 were highly dissatisfied with the government’s performance—due to a range of factors such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the economy, and Hurricane Katrina—and they considered it ripe time to give somebody else the reins.
As for ideology, Western Republicanism has long given primacy to economic liberties, the free-market, individual freedom, and national security. But according to conventional wisdom, the Bush administration and the Republican Congress of 2006 put a social agenda in the spotlight while letting the economy teeter and the national deficit soar.
Two schools of thought have emerged as to what is to be done. The “reformists” camp (David Frum, David Brooks, Mickey Edwards, etc.) would like to reshape the current Republican Party into an entity more attractive to Western (and North Eastern) Republicans. This party would presumably be in the mold of the limited government models envisioned by Westerners Barry Goldwater and President Reagan.
The other camp—the “traditionalists”—are more interested in the Party as it currently exists and would prefer to twist Westerners to fit the Party or abuse the Democratic Party until Westerners return to the Republican Party by default. It remains to be seen whether this can be done even given the amazing reach that traditionalists such as Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh have.
NW: Which Republican candidate do you think Westerners [would] be likely to vote for in 2012? Palin? Romney? Do you think Huntsman has presidential aspirations?
SR: Not Palin. Her book will outsell nearly every other political book, and she will continue to draw audiences so large that you would think she is president (of course, Michael Jackson drew such audiences as well), but the serious political world has put her into the “political performers” camp. Palin has not painted herself as an expert manager (Romney) or a skilled politician who knows the ins and outs of every issue (Hillary Clinton). She is now simply a more credible Anne Coulter—an amazing accomplishment, yes, but Anne Coulter is not governing any population, and since her questionable resignation last July, neither is Sarah Palin. Finally, Sarah Palin simply does not represent Western Republicanism.
Romney, yes. I think that Westerners are driven less by ideology than they are by results and efficiency. Romney scores an A+ in these categories (Bain Capital, Bain & Company, the 2002 Olympics, and Massachusetts).
As for Huntsman, I have no special insight into the ambitions of the former Utah Governor. The Party won’t be ready for him in 2012, as evidenced by cancelled trip to Michigan’s Kent County (I have written on this subject here http://www.newmajority.com/did-the-gop-force-huntsman-to-china), but he won’t be ready to leave China yet anyway. Should the party be in need of a moderate Republican for 2016, I think he will have a number of people knocking at his door.
NW: You mentioned the trouble Bennett got into with his liberal health care fix. Didn’t his approach violate the one principle Western Republicans aren’t supposed to compromise on, namely limited government?
SR: I don’t know who wrote that rule. I think there are few absolutes in politics. It’s true that Western Republicans are usually of the limited government first mold, but I think Bennett understandably took at shot at putting his name on what could have been the biggest bill of the Obama administration, and what would have been the hallmark of bipartisanship for years to come. Being a senator is a pretty glorious position as it is, but if Bennett-Wyden had passed, Bennett would have gone from the “junior senator from Utah” to one of the leading figures in the country.
Bennett will face challengers from the right in the upcoming election, but if it’s true that height counts in political elections, then he shouldn’t be in too much trouble.