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It’s Not About Geography


It’s important for Sullivan to leave out the West for another reason: Barry Goldwater. Were it not for Goldwater, the GOP would never have been infused with small-government conservatism in the first place.

But all of this is fairly nonsensical. Geography doesn’t explain much in terms of the problems with the GOP and conservatism that Hart and Sullivan lament and/or exaggerate. Yes, the GOP liked balanced budgets in days of yore, and would that it still did. But the Republican Party had vastly more social-do-gooders and big government types before conservatives and red state yahoos took over. Does any historically literate person believe that the Nixon and Rockefeller wings of the Republican Party were stauncher defenders of individual rights and limited government than Reagan and Goldwater? Do any of the people harkening back to the Teddy Roosevelt GOP remember that he was an imperialist of the first order abroad and social-meddler at home?

In fact, this whole analysis turns history on its head. Not only did the infusion of the South and West into the GOP make it less favorable to big government, but the political story of the last forty years is the decreasing relevance of geography in political parties. Both the Republican and Democratic parties were once homes to leftwingers and rightwingers. The parties represented regional coalitions of regional economic interests, so you had progressive Republicans in the same party as conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats in the same party as conservative Democrats. Much of this had to do with trade and taxation (hence those incomprehensible 19th century battles over silver and tarrifs). Today almost all the liberals are in the Democratic Party and almost all of the conservatives are in the Republican Party (I’m not talking about voters, but elected officials).

Yes, there is a serious tension between the GOP leadership and traditional conservatism (and, contrary to much ill-founded ad hominem, NR has denounced this trend regularly). But this conflict is not due to the fact the GOP is better tanned and has a southwestern accent, it’s because it is a majority party in power and majority parties in power by their very nature become enamored with power and its many uses for good and ill. Majority parties deviate from orthodoxy because they can and, sometimes, because they must in order to govern. Minority parties tend toward purity because they have nothing else going for them and the desire to get back in power encourages unity.


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