• On one level, the War on Terror unites and strengthens conservatives and their cause. But the war is so important that many conservatives are willing to abandon social conservatism to ensure we have a strong enough commander in chief to lead us in the war. This abandonment, if it occurs, could be the last straw for some evangelicals.
• Among the current slate of GOP presidential candidates, those closest to Reagan conservatism have recent liberal records and/or difficulty gaining electoral traction.
Before the explosion of Mike Huckabee's campaign, President Bush's "compassionate conservatism" seemed decidedly on the outs among conservatives. Indeed, many believe Republicans lost the 2006 congressional elections, not because of Iraq but because of Bush's betrayal of domestic conservative principles -- other than his tax policy.
But Huckabee has resurrected compassionate conservatism, apparently reading the Gospel as mandating a greater, more intrusive and more "compassionate" role for the government. Huckabee objects to criticisms of his conservative bona fides, but his rhetoric and sometimes his record on health care, education, foreign policy, federal smoking bans, terrorists, criminals and economic producers gives this conservative pause. I hope I'm way off base, especially if he wins the nomination.
The Buchanan/Paul antiwar isolationism, I believe, is neither good for conservatism nor the national interest. That said, this strain gains some strength from arguable excesses of the foreign policy preferences of true neoconservatives.
The true neoconservative -- as opposed to the loose definition of that term supplied by antiwar liberals -- is a former Democrat who favors a more energetic role for government in domestic policy and a more proactive approach to foreign policy. He possibly even has an appetite for invading nations that don't represent a discernible threat to our national interest, because he believes in the transformative, contagious power of democracy.
I couldn't have greater appreciation for the role of neoconservatives in the war, but I think the conservative movement would have more credibility and be less threatening to impressionable moderates if we clarified that we are not nation builders and would only attack (and thereafter help to rebuild) nations we believe represent threats to our national interest, like -- yes -- Iraq. We do believe in republican government (and hope democracy spreads) but don't regard it as a panacea for all the world's problems.
Considering the extreme liberalism of all the Democratic candidates and the nation's still mostly conservative majority, Republicans would be well-positioned for the general 2008 elections, especially with the turnaround in Iraq. But unless conservatives work through their present identity crisis and regain a clearer sense of who they are, Democrats will have the advantage.
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