Future of the Right

[Jon Henke - cross-posted at The Next Right]

It seems to me there are three main factions within the Republican Party, and while we can see strengths and weaknesses in each of them, the future of the Right is far from clear.

  1. Progressive Republicans (aka: Teddy Roosevelt Republicans) - These are the Republicans who may be solid allies on many issues, but who also seem to want a Great Leader who can do Big Things. They are Crusader Conservatives - generally reliable on limited government, but willing to go off on Big Government crusades.

    Illustrative Quote: "The object of government is the welfare of the people," (Teddy Roosevelt)

  2. Goldwater Republicans - These Republicans vote for limited government, individual liberty and strong defense; they may have various opinions on social issues, but they subsume those views to the goal at hand: limiting government

    Illustrative Quote: "I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom." (Goldwater

  3. Bush Republicans - these voters may or may not care about limited government, but they're willing to accept Big Government, so long as the government does socially conservative things. (See: Mike Huckabee, Christian Democracy)

    Illustrative Quote: "Prayers can help, and so can the government." - President Bush, February 6, 2008

Of those mentioned, many have fallen into a fourth camp - Status Quo Republicans. They are mostly focused on winning that next election and consolidating their own power.

So, where does the Right stand?

At this point, the Progressive Republicans are in the drivers seat - partly because John McCain (a Progressive Republican) has the Republican nomination, and partly because a charismatic figure with some Big Ideas beats factions with no attention-grabbing ideas. At this point, no other faction has the policy ideas and grassroots support to challenge for leadership. But that position can only be maintained by a charismatic leader for a short time. It is not sustainable, At some point, the other coalitions will see to fill the core policy vacuums McCain may leave open.

The Bush Republicans are doing badly right now - you've all seen the polling - but the social conservative/evangelical base is still strong (as evidenced by the out-of-nowhere Huckabee campaign) They're not gone yet, and they could make a quick comeback with a charismatic candidate. Like, you know, Mike Huckabee. If they do that, it will mark the GOP's turn towards the European Christian Democracy style of political parties.

Finally, there are the Goldwater Republicans. They have been relegated to lesser roles, or turned into Status Quo Republicans. While a few still make appropriate noises on the Hill, a lack of publicly appealing, political viable ideas for limiting government has rendered them mostly impotent. The Goldwater Republicans have the greatest opportunity, however, because it is they who will have the most compelling arguments against Democratic and/or McCain polices, and it is they who will need to begin driving a narrative about the impact of Big Government policy. If they do it well, they will have a chance to reassert the Goldwater brand. If they don't, they will probably become marginalized.

It's impossible to tell which of these factions will dominate. Your predictions are welcomed.

Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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