According to the left-leaning media and punditry, the race for the Republican nomination for president is dominated by right wing extremism. Positions as frightening as phasing out Medicare and getting rid of the Department of Education are being bandied about, with the only solace for liberals being the knowledge that those positions will moderate once the primaries are over and the Republican candidate tries to appeal to voters beyond the Republican base.
Supposedly, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney represent this “hard shift to the right” within the Republican Party, which is why they are in first and second place, respectively, in national polls. However, given the histories of these two men and their present stand on the issues, that narrative just doesn’t jibe with reality. In fact, if average conservative Americans really believe what they say they believe, it is difficult to figure out how any of them could cast a vote for Perry or Romney.
By “average conservative Americans,” I mean those people not in public office and unconnected to the political machine who vote in polls this early in the election cycle. Everyone knows these people. We work with them, socialize with them, live with them. Unlike most people we know, they feel strongly about politics and identify themselves as conservatives. They care enough to follow the nomination races over a year before the general election and can articulate an opinion, as opposed to the majority of Americans who will say something like “I haven’t made up my mind yet” to cover for the fact that they have no idea what any of the candidates in either party stand for.
I think that most would agree that this group of people generally say they believe in small government, free enterprise, traditional family and religious values, and (let’s face it) unqualified worship of the U.S. military, no matter how it is employed. These are the things that conservatives say that they are for.
It is not so much what they are for as what they are against that brought the Republican Party back from the brink in 2010. The Tea-powered victory in 2010 rode a wave of conservative backlash against Barack Obama and his socialist agenda of big government healthcare, environmentalism, and wealth redistribution. More than anything else, it was Obamacare that served as the rallying point. Anyone who attended a Tea Party event can attest to the fact that the overwhelming majority of the signs and speeches (when not glorifying the military) represented opposition to this evil, Marxist scheme. If only Obamacare could be repealed, America would return to the capitalist paradise
that it was under George W. Bush.
With that in mind, one has to ask how Mitt Romney is even in the race. After all, it was the Massachusetts healthcare plan supported and signed into law by Governor Romney that inspired Obamacare in the first place. Despite Romney’s insistence that there are “major differences” between the Massachusetts plan and Obama’s, the only tangible difference that he has been able to cite is that his plan was run at the state level and not forced on every American citizen as a “one-size fits all solution.” Other than that, I don’t believe that Romney or anyone else has been able to point out a fundamental difference between Romneycare and Obamacare.
So that’s what all of the noise was about in 2010? The Tea Party rallies, the signs, the angry town hall meetings? I thought that conservatives objected to the fundamental socialist principles embodied in Obamacare: the central economic planning, the government-enforced mandate, and the wealth redistribution. I don’t remember signs saying “let the states run Obamacare.” It was get rid of government-run healthcare (except for Medicare) or we’ll be living in the 1960’s-era Soviet Union before the next election.
“People can change,” some supporters might tell you, and that is certainly true. But has Romney really changed? As of this writing, the issues page on his website says, “States and private markets, not the federal government, hold the key to improving our health care system.”
Not just “private markets,” but “states and private markets” hold the key. It would seem that Romney hasn’t changed his mind at all about his state-run, big government socialist healthcare program. If Romney’s only defense of his plan is that it was run at the state level rather than the national level, then average American conservatives should be automatically vetoing his candidacy on Romneycare alone. Yet Romney led the race until Rick Perry entered, and is still a solid second.
That brings us to Rick Perry. He has also convinced his conservative supporters that he has changed his views since previously being a Democrat. That is certainly not unprecedented. Conservative icon Ronald Reagan was once a Democrat before becoming what most conservatives perceive as the quintessential conservative president. However, Perry wasn’t just a Democrat.
If there is any one person in second place to Obama as the arch-villain in conservative mythology, it is Al Gore, (or Algore as Rush Limbaugh refers to him). Gore is the undisputed leader of the liberal environmentalist movement, which lays the blame for the global warming that conservatives don’t even believe exists at the feet of free enterprise. If Obamacare was the peanut butter of the present administration’s platform in 2008, then Cap and Trade was the jelly. Conservatives wanted no part of either, and see Gore as every bit the evil Marxist that Obama is because of his leadership on this issue.
Believe it or not, it was this Conservative Public Enemy No. 2 that Perry supported as a Democrat in the 1988 primaries. He not only supported Gore, but actually chaired his campaign in Texas. He could have supported the eventual Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis, whose most striking difference to Gore was his refusal to bow to environmental interests at the expense of economic development, as documented in the New York Times. In other words, even as a Democrat, Perry backed a radical environmentalist extremist instead of a somewhat more moderate centrist.
Again, people can change their minds, but has Perry changed his? Does he oppose Cap and Trade on principle, as most conservatives say they do? Apparently he does not, according to his actions as governor. As with Romney on healthcare, Perry is completely supportive of a policy that conservatives say they are fundamentally opposed to, as long as the evil is perpetrated by the state governments rather than the feds. The chief difference between the Cap and Trade imposed on Texans and that imposed by the federal government seems to be that Texas measures emissions limits on the whole facility while the EPA measures it on every smokestack. Is that the sole objection that average conservatives have to Al Gore and his global warming (excuse me, climate change) agenda?
As with Romney, Perry’s support for a key plank in the socialist-liberal agenda should be a deal killer for anyone remotely describing themselves as conservative. Yet not only has Perry been able to sidestep any criticism on this position, he’s currently leading the nomination race by a comfortable margin.
So, what do conservatives really want? If these polls are any indication, they want a good-looking former governor with a suspiciously liberal background who is good at spouting hardcore conservative rhetoric and then doing exactly the opposite once he gets into office. In other words, they want Ronald Reagan, the former New Deal Democrat who suddenly became a libertarian-leaning ultra-conservative and rode that rhetoric into the White House, where he promptly doubled the size and power of the federal government, raising taxes six times and further empowering the Department of Education that he promised to abolish.
It’s not as if there are not alternatives. Ron Paul, currently running third, actually believes in the principles conservatives say they hold dear and has voted consistently according to them as a 12-term Congressman. He is on the record vowing to get rid of the Department of Education, along with Energy, Commerce, and most of the others. You won’t hear anything like that from Romney or Perry, yet it’s an uphill battle for Paul, supposedly because of his foreign policy positions.
But what about Herman Cain and Gary Johnson? As a libertarian, I don’t buy into the “government should be run like a business” philosophy, but most conservatives do. Both Cain and Johnson take this approach, with Johnson promising to deliver a balanced budget proposal in his first year, including abolishing the Department of Education. Yet these two candidates aren’t even on the map with conservative voters.
With several nationally-televised debates completed and plenty more coming, conservative voters have plenty of alternatives in selecting a candidate. According to their most fiercely-held beliefs, conservatives should be voting “anybody but Perry or Romney,” yet those two lead the race. One has to wonder where all of these supposed “right wing extremists” are hiding.
Contrary to the liberal media narrative that the Republican Party has shifted hard to the right and is fielding “extremist” candidates to run against Obama, the primary race looks more like business as usual. Former liberals and big government conservatives are railing against government to energize their conservative supporters, while at the same time openly supporting cornerstones of the liberal agenda. If Perry and Romney are an indication of where conservative voters are headed in 2012, then the Democrats have nothing to worry about, even if Obama loses.
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.
© Thomas Mullen 2011