Reihan: The 'War on Terror' Conservatives

Soren Dayton raises interesting questions concerning the tension between the short-term ends of Republican politicians and the long-term ends of conservative activists.

The movement activist offers a strategy for moving the country to the right over the long-term. And over the medium-term, the movement activist actually probably grows his organization and his power with a target like Hillary Clinton to attack. And this is the point. Many, many conservative consultants will say in private that they know that they will make a lot of money attacking Hillary Clinton if she is President. And many suspect that she can’t be beat. The one way for them to lose is to lose influence in the party over the short term. And that’s what Giuliani brings, especially if we manages to win.

Because my general sense is that the conservative movement is badly in need of shaking up, this kind of reflects well on Giuliani. Ross and I wrote a short piece a few months back outlining how Giuliani could become a vehicle for a lower-middle reformist agenda. By now it seems clear that this lower-middle route hasn't been pursued: quite the opposite. The style of confrontational politics he's chosen hasn't been anti-shirker, anti-corporate crime, anti-cronyism. It's been, as Dayton suggests, a right-nationalist style focused almost exclusively on a maximalist approach to the War on Terror. And it's by no means clear that this is a tactical mistake. Back to Dayton:

As the Elephant in the Mirror poll pointed out, there are now about an equal number of "War on Terror" conservatives as there are social conservatives. This kind of situation is how parties change. There is an underlying reality to a Giuliani candidacy that a lot of pundits have not understood yet. The post-George W. Bush, post-9/11 party is different than it used to be. More socially conservative, but also more conservative on the war on terror. And Rudy is their ticket to a seat at the table.

One wonders what the foreign policy landscape will look like in five to ten years. The Cold War shaped the party coalitions for decades, which makes the sense: the Soviet threat was an apparently immovable part of the landscape, and it shaped everything from attitudes towards the size of government to ethnic allegiances. I wonder about the staying power of the "War on Terror" framework politically speaking, and whether or not we're seeing an unsustainable boom in "War on Terror" nationalism.

My preferred alternative is "moralistic domestic reformism." More on that to come.