Much has been made of the squabbling in the [[Republican party]]. The longer the horse race for the Republican nomination lasts, so goes the conventional wisdom, the better for the [[Democrats]]. The media will play up bickering among the Republican contenders until the nomination is secure. Then everyone will gather at the convention, endorse the frontrunner, and urge unity at all costs to defeat the Democrats. It’s all so predictable.
So why do the Republicans traditionally have more trouble with “the unity issue” ? Simply put, it’s because there is no such thing as the conservative movement. There are actually three.
First we have the social conservatives. Social conservatives are driven by “values” issues, engaging a popular culture that they see as poisonous and depraved. They believe in using law to send a message, typically a religious one. They support personhood amendments, constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage, and are vehemently opposed to any changes in victimless crime laws.
Ostensibly, [[social conservatives]] pay lip service to limited government. But when push comes to shove, people having too much personal freedom bothers them more than people having too little economic freedom. In practice, they tax, spend and regulate like Democrats. [[Rick Santorum]] appeals to this type of conservative.
In the second group, we have the [[neoconservatives]]. Instead of emphasizing social issues, they are much more concerned with America’s role in international affairs. They see enemies everywhere. They believe America can and should shape the world in its own interests through the use of military power.
Neocons are all hawkish on foreign policy. America, in their view, should have a forward presence in every major part of the world, should engage in great power struggles everywhere to advance its national interests, and can best defeat her terrorist enemies through regime change and nation building.
When it comes to military spending, neocons want more. Always. The current budget is never enough, and anyone who disagrees is unpatriotic and a danger to his fellow citizens. When the New York Times wants to appear balanced, they give a slot on the op-ed page to a neocon. [[Newt Gingrich]] is a neoconservative.
The third group is a little harder to label. We might call them “tea party conservatives”, or “free-market conservatives”, or “libertarian conservatives”. These people are motivated primarily by economic issues: Cutting taxes and cutting spending are what float their boat. They are ardently pro-capitalism, pro-free markets, pro-freedom, and anti-politician, particularly the incumbents who made this mess in the first place. [[Ron Paul]] appeals to this group.
So why can’t they all get along? Because while the Republican Party is supposed to be the party of limited government, only one of these groups truly wants it.
Social conservatives need a government big enough to regulate the personal lives of Americans in the way that they believe their religious faith demands. Neoconservatives require a government with enough taxing and regulatory power to fund and deploy a world-shaping military to all corners of the globe. And while the tea partiers are notoriously hard to pin down, there’s at least a good group of them that want America’s military posture downsized, taxes cut, spending cut, and social issues de-emphasized. Sometimes I think these people don’t belong in the same room, let alone the same party.
It’s my belief that no matter what kind of show of unity the Republicans put on at the convention, this situation isn’t stable. History has a kind of inevitability. Simple economics will drive the neocons out of business. With a national debt of $15 trillion, America has neither the money nor the national temperament to support their dreams of empire . And as the [[Jim Dobson]]s and [[Pat Robertson]]s fade from public life, churches will find that younger Christians are more socially tolerant and skeptical of government than their parents.
Real unity will happen in the Republican Party only when conservatives of every stripe decide that constitutionally limited government is truly worth pursuing. When that happens, the presidency will be truly worth winning.