In the 2010 election the New Hampshire Republican party took 298 out of 400 house seats, 19 out of 24 state-senate seats, and all five seats on the executive council. A little over a year later, in the state’s presidential primary, the same (more or less) electorate gave over 56 percent of its votes to a couple of moneyed “moderates,” one of whom served in the Obama administration and the other of whom left no trace in office other than the pilot program for Obamacare. Another 23 percent voted for Ron Paul. Supporters of the three other “major” candidates in the race argue that, if only the other two fellows would clear off, a viable conservative alternative to Mitt Romney would emerge. In fact, even if you combine Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum’s share of the vote, it adds up to a mere 19.5 percent: Were Bain Capital to come in and restructure the “conservative” candidates into one streamlined and efficient Newt Perrtorum, this unstoppable force would be competitive with Jon Huntsman.
According to George Mason University’s annual survey of freedom in the 50 states, New Hampshire is the freest state in the union, so one would expect there to be takers for Ron Paul’s message. On the other hand, facing a very different electorate in Iowa, Paul pulled pretty much an identical share of the poll. It may be time for those of us on the right to consider whether it’s not so much the conservative vote that’s split but whether conservatism itself is fracturing.
No candidate is ideal, and we conservatives are always enjoined not to make the perfect the enemy of the good — or in this case the enemy of the mediocre: Sitting next to me last Tuesday on Fox News, the pollster Frank Luntz said that Romney in his victory speech was now starting to use words that resonate with the American people. The main word he used was “America.” On Tuesday night Romney told us he wants to restore America to an America where millions of Americans believe in the American ideal of a strong America for millions of Americans. Which is more than your average Belgian can say. The crowd responded appreciatively. An hour later a weird goofy gnome in a baggy suit two sizes too big came out and started yakking about the Federal Reserve, fiat money, and monetary policy “throughout all of history.” And the crowd went bananas!
It’s traditional at this point for non-Paulites to say that, while broadly sympathetic to his views on individual liberty, they deplore his neo-isolationism on foreign policy. But deploring it is an inadequate response to a faction that is likely to emerge with the second-highest number of delegates at the GOP convention. In the end, Newt represents Newt and Huntsman represents Huntsman, but Ron Paul represents a view of America’s role in the world, and one for which there are more and more takers after a decade of expensive but inconclusive war. President Obama has called for cuts of half a trillion dollars from the military budget. In response, too many of my friends on the right are demanding business as usual — that the Pentagon’s way of doing things must continue in perpetuity. It cannot.
America is responsible for about 43 percent of the planet’s military expenditure. This is partly a reflection of the diminished military budgets of everyone else. As Britain and the other European powers learned very quickly in the decades after the Second World War, when it comes to a choice between unsustainable welfare programs or a military of global reach, the latter is always easier to cut. It is, needless to say, a false choice. By mid-decade the Pentagon’s huge bloated budget will be less than the mere interest payments on U.S. debt. Much of which goes to bankrolling the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Nevertheless, faced with reducing funding for China’s military or our own, the latter will be the easier choice for Washington.