Craig Shirley

The GOP itself has been corrupted by a love of government and as any student of Thomas Jefferson will tell you, all but the most stalwart will eventually be seduced by power. The GOP has not just been seduced by power, it has become its concubine. GOP lobbying firms openly advertise their ability to get millions in graft for just thirty pieces of silver, and many in the three co-joined Republican coalitions of national defense, social and economic conservatives, which were ironically brought together by an aversion to too much government, are devotees of government. Some of their various leaders can more faithfully articulate why they need government, better than why they don’t need government.

The foreign policy right, which used to subscribe to the projection of American power to only protect American interests, has become dominated by neo-conservatism, which seems to substitute American interests for the interests of all civilized nations. The economic right, whose libertarian roots stemmed from a desire to be freed from excessive government taxation and regulations, now supports corporate welfare, subsidies, and amnesty for corporate executives who break the law by hiring illegal aliens—not to mention amnesty for 12 million illegal aliens.

Cynical politicians have manipulated the social right, through the meddling in the Terry Schiavo case, to the banning of gambling on the internet and a constitutional amendment defining marriage has helped transform the conservative movement, which was once about the expansion of freedom, into "Big Christian Brother" which is now concerned with the expansion of virtue. It is the height of intellectual dishonesty for a political party to say out of one side of its mouth, overturn Roe because we believe behavioral issues belong at the state level, while out of the other side of its mouth say we need to federalize the private act of marriage. Republicanism has become incoherent for most Americans.

So it is good that conservatives are gathering and talking. What they do will determine the future of the GOP. The movement can…and possibly should…survive without the Republican Party. But the GOP is a dead duck without conservatism. So when conservatives gather, they would do well to ask themselves, is Ronald Reagan’s minimalist government philosophy gone? Do they no longer subscribe to “maximum freedom consistent with law and order” as the Gipper said in 1964? Or is the only thing left of Reaganism inside the movement and the GOP his rhetoric?

The conservative movement can heal itself, if all factions are willing to compromise and give up their infatuation with government, power and access and again embrace Reagan’s small government, do-it-yourself philosophy. The GOP, on the other hand, may have reached its own "Thermidor," that point in the French revolution when it fell apart and the various factions began to bicker amongst themselves. Even their leader, Robespierre, was beheaded. Let’s hope there is less bloodshed within the GOP.

Craig Shirley

Craig Shirley is a Reagan biographer, a presidential historian and Chairman of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. His firm is assisting Scott Walker’s presidential campaign.