Postmodern Conservative

The Moderation of Catholic Floridian Republicans

The outcome of the Iowa caucus is more unclear than ever. All the experts say there’s a Rubio surge, and many attribute it to his response to the atheist that’s going viral on YouTube. I will admit that, as presidential candidates go, Rubio seems to have been a genuine searcher and searcher when it comes to his Christianity (and so an American church-switcher in the mode of our friend Rod Dreher, our hero Orestes Brownson, and many others). And it does seem that the Evangelicals of Iowa have been mistaken in thinking that Cruz is more one of them than Rubio. It’s possible to say that even while remembering that Rubio has made it clear time and again that he’s with the Catholics again on doctrine. 

The Rubio surge has been picked up in a poll or two, and we remember that the people of Iowa often confound the experts with a lot of last-minute switching. It may be great news for Rubio, insofar as it’s possible to imagine him even winning a close three-way race. It may be bad news for Rubio, insofar as his expectations have now heightened. And merely finishing a mediocre third will now be deemed a disappointment. 

Speaking of Catholics: It was impossible for me not to admire the Catholic Floridian position on immigration on display at the debate last Thursday night. Governor Jeb Bush, having nothing to lose, was loud and proud about it. Rubio was more than a bit shifty, as Governors Bush and Christie pointed out. But Rubio did suggest that after the security and control issues are taken care of, he would be for a path to citizenship for many or most of the people here if the American people could be persuaded. Rubio also reminded us that our system of legal immigration needs to be modernized and based on merit.

The country, with good reason, has gotten much more security-conscious when it comes to immigration, and Trump actually should be praised for reminding us that “a country is a country,” and that the first job of our leaders is what’s best for American citizens. So there’s plenty of reason to be suspicious of the apolitical naïvité and both oligarchic and progressive political motivations of the open-borders people on both the left and the libertarian right. The country shouldn’t be flooded with guest workers to drive down wages and push ordinary Americans out of jobs. Citizenship isn’t just another form of rent-seeking. 

Having said that, we might be called properly Catholic to be basically generous when it comes to immigration, and to think of the people in our country legally as future citizens. This conservative and Catholic position has to be distinguished from apolitical humanitarianism (which is sinking many of the countries of Europe) and what can imprecisely called the pure capitalism of the WSJ and many Republican big donors. That’s the political mean between two extremes.

In general, the absence of Trump from the Republican stage last Thursday might have been more good than not for Rubio, despite the fact it wasn’t one of his best performances. It might well have been Cruz’s worst, insofar as he couldn’t keep from being too strident and not so witty. It was, objectively, a pretty good night for the governors — Bush, Christie, and even Kasich at times. I appreciated it when Christie said that governors have to admit it when they’ve changed their minds on issues such as immigration. I’m not endorsing any of them. In fact, I’m damning Bush for waging his ridiculous war against Rubio, against his fellow Catholic Floridian.

Finally, let me add that this campaign is also displaying extremes that were thought to be dead. There’s Sanders’s single-payer socialism, the favorite of so many of our young people that we assumed were getting more libertarian. It turns out, as I keep saying, that they are libertarian-securitarian, which, it also turns out, is more than a touch of old-fashioned (if misguided) political idealism. In a democracy, everything old gets new again, and now it’s socialism’s turn. I’m not so sure that the anti-establishment Sanders campaign can be assimilated that readily into the progressive-vs.-conservative alternatives outlined so incisively by our Mr. Ceaser. The same with Trump’s campaign.

And there’s Cruz’s tax and health-care schemes. If I heard him correctly on Thursday, his proposal is to drive down cost through a national market for health-care alternatives, have most people buy individual, private catastrophic coverage and a health savings account, and eliminate the tax break that incentivizes employer-based health care. Meanwhile, it appears, no government subsidies at all. A guy who would do that, it would seem, would privatize or just take out Social Security and Medicare and push America into a purely post-entitlement system compatible with the dynamism of the 21st-century global competitive marketplace. That’s not a ticket to win in November, and conceivably it’s not even a ticket to beat Trump in Republican primaries.  

Gotta stop, and extremism in defense of liberty and/or security might or might not be vice, depending on the circumstances.

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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