Michael Gerson
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The Republican wave also carries along a group of libertarians such as Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul. Since expressing a preference for property rights above civil rights protections -- revisiting the segregated lunch counter -- Paul has minimized his contact with the media. The source of this caution is instructive. The fear is not that Paul will make gaffes or mistakes, but rather that he will further reveal his own political views. In America, the ideology of libertarianism is itself a scandal. It involves not only a retreat from Obamaism but a retreat from the most basic social commitments to the weak, elderly and disadvantaged, along with a withdrawal from American global commitments. Libertarianism has a rigorous ideological coldness at its core. Voters are alienated when that core is exposed. And Paul is now neck and neck with his Democratic opponent in a race a Republican should easily win.

In addition, the Republican wave carries along a group more interested in stigmatizing immigrants than winning their support. Some conservatives have found Arizona's anti-immigration law a cause worth fighting for -- a law that is poorly written, ineffective, symbolically toxic and likely to be overturned.

The response of many responsible Republicans to these ideological trends is to stay quiet, make no sudden moves and hope they go away. But these are not merely excesses; they are arguments. Significant portions of the Republican coalition believe that it is a desirable strategy to talk of armed revolution, embrace libertarian purity and alienate Hispanic voters. With a major Republican victory in November, those who hold these views may well be elevated in profile and influence. And this could create durable, destructive perceptions of the Republican Party that take decades to change. A party that is intimidated and silent in the face of its extremes is eventually defined by them.

This is the challenge of a political wave. It requires leaders who will turn its energy into a responsible, governing agenda. So far -- in Congress, among conservative leaders, among prospective presidential candidates -- that leadership has been lacking.

And so the Republican Party rides a massive wave toward a rocky shore.

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Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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