Last week, Republicans lost several seats held by moderate and liberal Republicans in New England and the mid-Atlantic states -- as well as some in the Rocky Mountains and Southwest. In the '90s, the Rockies and Southwest were growing populations of reliable conservative votes, while the Northeastern coastal region's liberalism was being awkwardly but ably held back by ensconced Republican moderate to liberal incumbents, such as Nancy Johnson. How do we propose to win back those Northeastern seats? Or if we are planning to abandon the Northeast, where do we plan to pick up replacement seats elsewhere? We may get back and pick up more seats in the Rockies and Southwest -- but clearly because of immigration from California and Mexico into that region, those seats will be more competitive in the 2000s than they were in '80s and '90s.
How congressional Republicans shape and describe their conservatism may well determine whether those seats are retrievable or not in the next few election cycles.
I still believe in the wisdom of Ronald Reagan in 1975, when he said that we conservatives had to avoid pale pastels, and describe our principles and programs in bold colors. But one of Reagan's many gifts was the ability to describe authentic conservative principles in a way that appealed to many moderates and even a few liberals. Back then only about 25 percent of the public was self-described conservatives (with liberals at 25-30 percent and moderates at approximately today's 45 percent. Today (and for a couple of decades now), the breakdown is approximately: 20 percent liberal, 35 percent conservative, 45 percent moderate. So our job is easier than Reagan's was -- because Reagan bequeathed us about 10 percent more conservatives and about 10 percent less liberals than he found when he started his national leadership. But it is still formidable. And remember, functional public self-definitions of conservatism change over time. Back in 1964, Barry Goldwater and his supporters opposed any federal aid to education. Today, few even rock-ribbed conservatives oppose any federal college tuition aid, for example.
This is a very delicate moment for the conservative coalition. Over the next several months (and probably years), conservatives must do what we usually do very badly, restrain ourselves from adamantine proclamations of what is or is not beyond the pale of conservatism. And while we can almost all now agree to stop spending like drunken sailors and earmarking special benefits -- having marred our record on this over the last six years, merely restating our commitment will not be nearly enough to regain the lost faithful.
Particularly for House Republicans, these and related questions will be of first priority as they re-organize both their leadership (I hope after Thanksgiving) and as they design their visions, strategies, projects and tactics for the next Congress.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.
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