Closing Ranks

One thing that struck me while reading about last week's big right-wing activist summit is that the rumors of the looming conservative civil war may turn out to be greatly exaggerated. Oh, the pundits will fight, as they have been for a while, but for a serious circular firing squad you need the activist groups to turn on one another. You might think that a defeat like the one the GOP endured last week would prompt Grover Norquist to argue that the Republican Party needs to ditch its warmongers and its theocrats, or prompt Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council to argue that the GOP needs to ditch its flat-tax obsessives, or prompt the Federalist Society's Leonard Leo to complain about all those anti-intellectual hicks who loved Sarah Palin. But in practice the incentives probably cut the other way: Nobody wants to fire the first shot against their fellow movementarians, because then everybody else might just close ranks and train their fire in your direction. So the social-conservative activist groups will stand by the economic-conservative activist groups, and so on, lest they all hang separately - just as the Democratic Party's various interest groups all stuck together in the Eighties, holding firm to the belief that there was nothing wrong with liberalism that couldn't be fixed with more liberalism, rallying around Walter Mondale when that squishy centrist Gary Hart looked poised to knock him off in the '84 primaries, and going on, of course, to a resounding victory in the 1984 general election. Or something like that.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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