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Roundtable
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Is the Party Over?
Round Two: Response

TERENCE P. JEFFREY

Chris Caldwell writes, wrongly, that the "Reaganite coalition cannot be reassembled ... because the Cold War is over and all politicians of all parties accept the coalition's moderate-to-low tax philosophy."

That is an ironic mistake to have made the same week that the Republican-controlled Senate rejected an $885 billion increase in tobacco taxes -- a tax increase devoutly supported by President Clinton and the majority of congressional Democrats. The tax rebellion is alive and well -- and the Democrats, as the party of high taxes, are still on the wrong side of it.

Christopher Caldwell responds:
"Mr. Jeffrey is right that we owe thanks to the Republicans for blocking the appalling McCain tobacco bill, but he exaggerates their heroism. Can anyone name a prominent Republican who opposed the bill?"

See the rest of Caldwell's response.


Stanley Greenberg more accurately analyzes what Ronald Reagan's victory in the Cold War has meant for Republicans when he writes that the GOP "is increasingly divided by its nationalist and internationalist instincts."

Few inside the Republican Party debate whether taxes are too high and should be cut. But two other debates inside the party will decide its future success. The first, which I wrote about in Round One of this forum, is whether the party will continue to champion social and cultural traditionalism. If the party walks away from the social issues that motivate southern Christians and midwestern Catholics (and could motivate Hispanics) to vote Republican, it will not be able to sustain a national majority coalition.

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The same is true of the patriotism issue (defending American sovereignty and American jobs). If the "internationalist" elite in the Republican Party controls the party's agenda on foreign policy, the party will fail to win the support of the Perot bloc and will lose some of the midwestern Catholics who might otherwise vote for Republicans. The internationalists in the Republican Party supported NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, the IMF bailout of Mexico and appeasement of Communist China. In fact, their foreign policy is exactly the same as President Clinton's.

Stanley B. Greenberg responds:
"Jeffrey's position -- both on abortion and trade -- is a sure formula for leaving the conservative coalition completed fractured. It is not sufficient to tally the gains of a particular positioning without assessing the losses that are sure to mount up and the battles that are sure to break out."

See the rest of Greenberg's response.


The nationalists in the Republican Party opposed every one of the above initiatives, asking pointedly how they served the interests of the American people and whether they eroded the sovereignty of the American republic. Nationalist Republicans, in other words, have grounds for debating Clintonite Democrats on foreign policy.

In the debate between the nationalists and the internationalists, southern Christians side with the nationalists. They are sickened by U.S. appeasement of a brutal Chinese regime that persecutes Christians and that enforces with coercive abortion a one-child-per-couple population policy. They also reject the incipient steps toward global government that the WTO and the IMF represent.

Northern Catholics also tend to side with the nationalists because they too oppose the appeasement of the Communists in China. They are tired of seeing multinational corporations move jobs out of America by shutting down factories in the American rust belt while opening new ones in Asia -- where they can pay workers 25 cents an hour -- with the assurance of the World Trade Organization that they will not be charged a tariff when they bring their Asian goods back into the U.S. market.

Like the pro-life issue, the patriotism issue is one that expands the reach of the GOP into traditionally Democratic territory and that also pits the conservative grass roots of the party against a segment of the party elite.

If you define the Republican Party as a handful of elitists in Washington, D.C., Caldwell is correct that a tough China policy that inspires "populist distrust of big business" is "Republican blasphemy." But at the grass roots these days it is entirely orthodox for Republicans to "distrust big business." Who is it, after all, who sold missile technology to the Chinese?

Christopher Caldwell responds:
"If, in 2000, the Democrats run a decorated Vietnam vet like John Kerry or Bob Kerrey against any of the Vietnam-era non-combatants who dominate the Republican field, then Mr. Jeffrey's 'patriot' vote won't look too secure for the GOP."

See the rest of Caldwell's response.


There is no doubt that anti-tax and anti-big-government sentiments were fundamental to the Reagan coalition. There is also no doubt that traditionalist views on social and cultural issues were also fundamental. But the Reagan coalition's strongest bond of all was patriotism: the sense that confronting Soviet aggression was the surest way to secure the peace and defend the freedom of America.

In the post-Cold War era a policy of confronting the Soviet Union should be replaced by a policy of defending American sovereignty and American jobs against the predations of foreign governments like China's and international institutions like the World Trade Organization. This policy is right both morally and politically. It will give the party the opportunity to rebuild the Reagan coalition on a slightly different foundation than the one upon which it was built in the 1980s.

A GOP presidential nominee who fights for lower taxes, the right to life, and U.S. sovereignty could not only win the White House in 2000 but could also lay the groundwork for a new era of Republican rule in the first decades of the twenty-first century.


What do you think?

See what other readers have to say about the future of the Republican Party in the Body Politic forum -- and share your views. We'll highlight selected readers' comments as the Roundtable progresses.


Roundtable Overview


Introduction and opening questions by Jack Beatty

Round One: Opening Remarks -- posted on June 18, 1998

Round Two: Responses -- posted on June 25, 1998

Round Three: Concluding Remarks -- posted on July 2, 1998


Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor of Human Events and was the presidential-campaign manager for Patrick J. Buchanan in 1996.

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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