How low can the GOP brand go? What will the next great conservative movement look like?
Former House Republican leader Tom Delay told the editors of The Washington Times a hard truth: "The conservatives refuse to accept that the left is cleaning their clock, and until you hit some bottom, whatever that is, to where it says, 'Well, maybe we ought to do something different,' little or nothing's going to change."
The thumpin' of 2006 was not enough of a wake-up call for a party -- or a political movement -- that had experienced 25 years of steady if not spectacular growth. Will it take the massacre building in 2008 to make an entrenched ideological establishment (of which I consider myself a charter member) engage in that most critical activity for a political movement: new thinking?
Here's what I see: The conservative movement that launched with Barry Goldwater's campaign in 1964 has pretty much run its course. It has died in the way great political coalitions do, as much because of its successes as because of its failures.
The Roosevelt coalition dwindled as more Americans climbed into the middle classes, where they resented high taxes and did not look to the government to be their champion in the same way.
The Reagan coalition, that combination of anti-communist hawks, pro-growth low-taxers and social conservatives, has achieved great things: the fall of the Soviet Union, the resurgence of faith in market economies, a permanent reduction in the federal tax rates (including taking millions of Americans off the federal income tax rolls altogether), a striking reduction in crime rates, welfare reform and the largely unsung doubling of the per-child tax exemption that each year protects the incomes that families (especially larger religious families) need to raise their kids.
As Sen. Obama is adept at pointing out, Iran is not Russia. After six years without a major terrorist attack, the new threats behind the War on Terror do not have the same kind of galvanizing resonance as Khrushchev thumping his nuclear-backed shoe and saying, "We will bury you!"
Meanwhile, the left never was defunded, creating a huge structural mismatch in the process of "culture creation": Massive government dollars fuel their organizations and ideas, while even tiny social conservative funding streams like abstinence education are under intense assault. The federal government is larger and more intrusive than ever -- where exactly in the Constitution did it say Congress has the power to regulate my lightbulb purchases? And we never did win back the right to buy toilets that flush properly, did we?
Most heartbreaking, the drive to rebuke judicial activism appears to have stalled just one Supreme Court justice short of overturning that most monstrous monument to judicial tyranny, Roe v. Wade.
The mismatch in "culture creation" funding has helped give rise to a new "creative class" of urban knowledge workers who, like Kansas, tend to vote their values, and not their economic interests. They have fewer votes than Kansas but a lot more money to give, as Obama can testify.
A resurgent cultural liberalism, writhingly angry at the experience of being held in check for two decades by fears of electoral losses at the hands of the moral majority, is about to be unleashed on the American body politic.
McCain may well win the White House this year, as even in the middle of the 50-year dominance of the Roosevelt coalition, Americans regularly elected GOP presidents from time-to-time.
But the next great conservative movement is still waiting to be conceived, much less, born.