Postmodern Conservative

Is the Longing for Deliberation a Low-Energy Fantasy?

The most charming fantasy on the web right now is Hugh Hewitt imagining that the deliberation of an open convention could be guided by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. They would, in the name of the Republican principles of economic freedom, limited government, and all that, convince the convention to save the party by nominating Governor Nikki Haley.

Well, who wouldn’t want that to happen? She would surely be the favorite to win the election. Not only that, it would be miracle for a national convention these days to actually deliberate — as a responsible legislative body — about the future of the party of Lincoln and Reagan.

If you imagine something like that could happen, you should vote for Cruz in Indiana and the other primaries to come. If you think being a Republican means anything in particular at all, you should do the same.

It won’t happen, though. For one thing, very few of the delegates at the convention would actually accept the leadership of Romney and Ryan. They’re losers! Tools of the oligarchic elite. Republicans in name only. They’ve compromised way too often with the devil.

Both Cruz and Trump have worked so hard to discredit their leadership, after all.

It’s true enough that the Romney-Ryan ticket was weak, especially in the wake of the Republican landslide in 2010. And the real source of Republican ineffectiveness has been the failure to follow up an off-year victory with the selection of a presidential candidate who could win in November. 

In 2016, neither Trump nor Cruz is such a candidate. Trump, of course, stands for all kinds of stuff Republicans do not. He’s not for limited government, but against stupid government. And not nearly enough Americans really believe that guy is either capable of exercising genuinely informed judgment or can be trusted.

Having said that, I wish more Republicans were more attuned to how many voters want a proud alternative to what is perceived as the humiliating stupidity of George W. Bush’s administration.

Trump has mobilized an impressive minority faction that achieved a hostile takeover of what turns out to have been a decadent party. He says he can win without party unity. He certainly won’t get the unity, given how many Republican opinion leaders are now saying it’s imperative to work for Trump’s defeat in November. 

Cruz, it turns out, has also mobilized only a minority faction that hasn’t captured the hearts and minds of most Republicans, much less America as a whole. That’s a little bit because he’s hard to like and too easy to caricature, if not really demonize. It’s mainly because the pro-growth, opportunity-society brand (or Kempism) isn’t resonating this time, even with the add-on of Evangelical identity politics.

Cruz hasn’t even flourished as the Never Trump, to my surprise. One reason is that Never Trump limps as a brand. It is, all alone, just too negative without the add-on of a compelling personal alternative. You can’t sell all that well that Never Trump means either Cruz or Kasich, depending on where you live.

Although “lose with Cruz” is, after all, much better for the soul of the party than lose with Trump, I think we know enough to know that Cruz’s strategy of putting the Reagan coalition back together again miscalculated the mood of the crucial “Reagan Democrats.”

And because so many ordinary voters are, with good reason, mainly obsessed with the crumbling safety nets that have ordered their lives, they’re in no mood for any cutbacks in their entitlements and all that. That Trump understands. And imagine what Hillary Clinton would do to eviscerate Cruz’s tax and health-care policies. That might mean there’s a deficiency in the spirit of republican liberty in the country right now, as well as  too much populism and not enough constitutionalism. The key is to understand why. (Insert a rant about how clueless George Will is here.)

So if we had real party leadership and a genuinely deliberative convention, I think it’s safe to say that the nominee would not neither Trump nor Cruz. (It wouldn’t be Rubio or Bush or Kasich either.) But if wishes were horses . . .

It’s the duty of us all to keep hope alive. Vote for Cruz in Indiana and pray the polls are wrong.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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