The Corner

‘Bob McDonnell, Conservative Pragmatist’

I have a piece up on the home page about the Virginia race. Here’s a bit from it:

Both words in the label “conservative pragmatist” are important. McDonnell is indisputably a conservative — a Reaganite whose social-conservative credentials are impeccable (just ask the Washington Post, which has been crusading against him for these views, expressed pungently in his long-ago graduate-school thesis). But he’s also a wonk who has focused on crafting policy to address the everyday concerns of Virginians.

“Bob’s approach,” says an adviser, “is to take conservative principles and apply them to practical problem-solving. His target audience is that average swing voter, who wants to know that your values are close to his and that you’re going to solve problems.” . . .

This tack seems so commonsensical it should be unremarkable. Yet, there’s been an intense intra-conservative debate since the election last year between the traditionalists on the one hand and the reformers on the other. To over-simplify, the traditionalists think the mere assertion of conservative principles is enough to win elections (and if not, too bad). And the reformers think contemporary conservatism is so dated that it at the very least needs new policy and perhaps needs to be torn down entirely and built again.

McDonnell’s campaign demonstrates just how arid much of this debate is. McDonnell’s traditionalism informs his policy, and his policy invigorates his traditionalism and makes it appealing to the vast numbers of voters who aren’t driven by ideology or abstractions.