When asked to relate the results of the Constitutional Convention of 1789 to a citizen as he left Independence Hall, Benjamin Franklin is reported to have replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” As the annual Conservative Political Action Conference ended last weekend, one might reply similarly to an observer that the future of the GOP is bright, if we can keep it.
In 1975, Ronald Reagan, not yet one of conservatives’ most beloved presidents, sat down with Reason magazine for an interview about his thoughts on the future direction of the GOP. “The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom,” Reagan told Reason, “and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.” Reagan’s words were not meant as a specific defense of libertarianism, but rather as a call to Republicans to keep the door open for libertarian-learning conservatives in the fight against the common enemy -- Big Government.
Reagan’s words have proved prophetic time and again in the years since his presidency ended on January 20, 1988; most recently last weekend as Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul handedly won the annual CPAC presidential straw poll, considered an early barometer for the sentiments of the Republican grassroots in the next presidential campaign cycle. Paul received 31 percent of the CPAC vote, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz -- another staunch foe of Big Brother -- in second place with 11 percent. To the chagrin of Establishment Republicans like Sens. Lindsay Graham and John McCain, it appears what they deride as the “wacko birds” have come home to roost in the GOP, and it couldn’t come quick enough.
For close to three decades, true conservative voters have been vastly underrepresented in the GOP. Republican primaries, especially those prior to the rise of the Tea Party, largely centered on debate between Big Government Republicans, and Slightly-Less-Big Government Republicans. Were it not for the rise of the Tea Party movement and Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential bid, it is doubtful the “Constitution” would be the buzzword it is today. Instead, we likely still would be mired in an endless-loop debate about enhanced national security powers, modified federal education policies, and slightly fewer pork projects than advocated by the Democrats.