Ken McCracken at WILLisms hosts a Pundit Roundtable every Sunday where he asks several bloggers to comment on the same question.
I’ve participated a couple of times and found it enjoyable. Ken’s questions are always topical and elicit a variety of responses, all well thought out and interesting.
This week’s question was especially thought provoking:
Now that the Dubai ports deal has fallen through, and with all the rancor these days over pork, immigration, policy failures such as Social Security reform, and a backlash over the Iraq War, is the Republican party cracking up as some have suggested?
What does Karl Rove need to do?
Here’s my response:
The ports deal will be seen in retrospect as an hysterical interlude and not much more. The ineptness demonstrated by the White House in handling first, the vetting of the transaction and then the backlash against it was troubling but hardly a reason to think that it had any broad implications for the Republican party.
That said, the party’s problems are systemic and will not go away. This is the result of modern conservatism, an ideology born in minority opposition, making a poor transition to majority status. Part of that is the tension engendered by conservatism having to adjust to being a governing philosophy while its primary tenets rest on an anti-government foundation. This tension has resulted in a split between ideologues and pragmatists.
The pragmatists - call them National Conservatives - recognize that in order to govern a 21st century industrialized democracy, some compromises are necessary with the welfare state. They are also the most concerned with maintaining Republicans as a majority party and are unabashed at using the federal spigot to “earmark” their way to re-election. They maintain a conservative outlook on social issues like abortion and they support tax cuts and a robust foreign policy. Watch over the next 6 months as some of the more politically vulnerable among them abandon the President on Iraq.
The ideologues - call them True Blue Conservatives - are found mostly in the netroots and the hinterlands of red state America. Their numbers in Congress are relatively small and only recently have they begun to seriously rebel against the National Conservatives’ control of Congress. The contest for Majority Leader surprised the TB Conservatives as they may not have realized how influential they could be. The recent budget proposal coming from the House Republican Study Committee reflects a newfound confidence by the TB conservatives to at the very least have more of a say in Congressional budget matters.
There is little chance that these two camps will suffer some irrevocable split any time soon. The glue that holds the two parts together - tax cuts, social issues, and to a large extent the War in Iraq and a general agreement on the nature of the War on Terror - guarantee that at least through the 2008 elections, the Republican party will be united. This is not to say that other fissures that exist between libertarians and social conservatives as well as isolationists and neo-cons are going to go away. In fact, in the long run the conservative crack-up is more likely to occur as a result of these internecine battles rather than any fight between the National and True Blue Conservatives. That is because at bottom, it’s about maintaining power. And in that regard, even the TB Conservatives can force themselves to be pragmatic enough to maintain the status quo.
As for what Rove can do about it, I daresay the Evil One is less engaged on matters of Republican unity these days except as it relates to legacy building by the President. In that, I fully expect Rove to work dutifully to help get out the vote in ‘06 and perhaps even try and swing the ‘08 Republican nomination to someone who would build upon Bush’s legacy. I have no idea who that would be but I’m pretty sure it won’t be anyone named McCain.
By the way, if you aren’t a daily reader of Willisms, you’re missing out on one of the finest political sites around. Will and Ken blog on some of the real nuts and bolts stuff that makes politics so fascinating. And make sure to check out Ken’s weekly post on Social Security reform every Thursday.
A truly unique and valuable resource. Bookmark it.