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Conservative movement at a crossroads

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It’s safe to say that the Republican party — and the conservative movement more specifically — is at a crossroads.

Republicans find themselves completely out of power at the national level, and with diminishing numbers at the state level. They’re leaderless, rudderless, and without a coherent vision. They wield no power, have no influence, and are of virtually no importance to the incoming Obama administration.  Not since the time of FDR have the Republicans been of such little significance.

And amazingly, they’re still in better condition then the conservative movement, which lay in shambles tonight.

Birthed by Robert Taft, nourished by William F. Buckley, energized by Barry Goldwater, and legitimized by Ronald Reagan, the movement that defined the second half of the twentieth century finds itself bereft of ideas and on life support. That’s no small feat considering that it produced two presidents (Reagan and George W. Bush), helped a third get over the finish line (George H.W. Bush), and broke the Democrats fifty year hold on Congress — all in the span of a generation.  The one silver lining — if you’re a conservative that is — is the 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court, though that could very well change in the next four years.

But essentially that’s where it’s at.  So the question becomes: What next for Republicans and conservatives? What is their path back to power?

The conservatives’ reflexive answer for the past 60 years has been the same: cut taxes, beef up national defense, get tough on crime, and emphasize values. It worked for Reagan and George W. Bush, and Nixon too, even though he governed as a liberal. It was a winning formula for six decades, and the right had little reason to stray beyond the playbook.

But as John McCain found out, the playbook doesn’t work anymore, mostly because those issues lack relevance. Cut taxes? Bush did that, and now we’re facing a trillion dollar deficit. Obama ran on a platform of tax hikes for the wealthy, and nobody seemed to care. With the Federal government doling out a trillion plus dollars in bailouts this quarter, it’s hard to see how permanently low taxes work anymore.

Crime? Immigration? Not sure the two words were even mentioned during the campaign.  No doubt immigration will heat up again in the future, but law and order doesn’t seem to resonate the way it did during the 60s, 70s and 80s. Willie Horton ads are a thing of the past.

Values seem to have lost all meaning. Twenty years ago George H.W. Bush was elected almost solely because his opponent a. belonged to the ACLU and b. thought it silly to jail school teachers who refused to lead the pledge of allegiance. Today Bush would be castigated for raising either as an issue.

And where does one even start with foreign policy. In the simplest terms, Bush railroaded the country into war and made us pariahs on the world stage. We’re now left with few allies and almost no moral standing. In the eyes of many, we’re the evil empire that Reagan once railed against.

Trying to win elections on these issues is a one way ticket to extinction. The bedrock that served as the foundation for the conservative movement has turned to sand, and everyone can feel it except those standing atop it.

A new set of issues — energy policy, climate change, healthcare and global citizenship, to name a few — are going to define elections of the future, and conservatives need to address these and develop solutions if they want to claw their way back to relevance.  Otherwise, life support is going to fail.

www.nickragone.com