David Brooks, a rare breed of thoughtful conservative, recently wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece:
Some people blame bad campaign managers for Romney's underperforming campaign, but the problem is deeper. Conservatism has lost the balance between economic and traditional conservatism. The Republican Party has abandoned half of its intellectual ammunition. It appeals to people as potential business owners, but not as parents, neighbors and citizens.
He is on the right track but draws a conclusion short of the station. The problem is not the loss of balance between two intellectual branches of conservatism, with one gaining too great a prominence over the other. Instead, the two have been hijacked by extremists who reject both of the traditional "mentalities" that Brooks references. The extremists eschew any form of compromise; they will accept no tax increases of any kind in the effort to balance the budget, advocate theocratic social reforms, and demonize all aspects of government save the military and homeland security. Focusing on the old tension between the two traditional branches of conservatism in the face of today's extremism is like worrying about gas mileage as your car goes sailing off a cliff.
The problem is not, as Brooks postulates, that "Republicans like Romney often rely on an economic language that seems corporate and alien to people who do not define themselves in economic terms." No, the problem is that the GOP now represents those who embrace ignorance as a badge of honor. Fortunately that is not resonating with the majority of Americans. The problem is that the GOP rejects climate change, fights against evolution, attacks basic women's rights, attempts to impose Christianity as a national religion, assaults any efforts to reform our health-care system, and focuses attention on distractions from our main problems with issues like the president's birth certificate. Conservatives are in trouble because they treat voters like idiots: Romney absurdly proposes to balance the budget by adding $5 trillion to the debt; he proposes giving tax breaks to the wealthy in the hopes of creating jobs, ignoring the fact that this very effort failed miserably under Bush.
But some conservative pundits see the writing on the wall and anticipate a big loss in November. We can practically hear the sound of knives being honed. But instead of pointing fingers, conservatives need to look closely in the mirror. Conservatives are in trouble, but not because Romney was an ineffective candidate. Conservatism is in trouble because the founding ideology has failed in both theory and practice. Reagan's efforts to "balance the budget, cut taxes and increase military spending" failed. Bush Sr.'s "read my lips: no new taxes" failed. Bush Jr.'s massive tax cut for the rich while executing two unfunded wars failed. We have 20 years of Republican rule (Reagan for eight, Bush Sr. for four, and Bush Jr. for eight) to prove that the basic ideas of conservatism do not work. We have 12 years of Democratic rule (Clinton for eight; Obama for four, so far) to prove that liberalism does work. In the eight years Bill Clinton was in office, the Dow Jones Industrial Average more than tripled, from 3,310 to 10,578. When George W. Bush left office, the market was at 7,948, a massive decline of 25 percent. Today the market is solidly in the 13,000 range, a gain of more than 60 percent during the four years of the Obama administration. Yet in spite of this overwhelming evidence, conservatives still believe Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility. Absurdly, they say Romney would be better than Obama because he has a business background, but so did both Bush Sr. and Jr., and Reagan came in saying he would run the government like a business. And that is why conservatives are in trouble: They reject facts that do not support a pre-conceived conclusion; they deny reality with faith-based reasoning. They are anti-science, anti-women, anti-reason; they are for massive government spending on the military and homeland security while claiming they want small government; they lament the debt while proposing to add another $5 trillion to it; they want government off our backs while putting government in our bedrooms and doctors' offices. They disparage half the country for not paying taxes while doing everything possible themselves to avoid paying taxes. In the former case, people are moochers; in the latter, they are clever users of tax loopholes.
As ineffective as he is, Romney is not the problem; no, the real issue is that conservative ideology is intellectually bankrupt, morally corrupt, and internally inconsistent. Conservatism is failing because the movement offers us a rigid ideology instead of practical solutions to our most pressing problems. The bottom line is that conservatism is in trouble because theology is not a viable organizing principle in a modern democracy. Conservatism is failing because the movement has become a gooey mix of extremism, theology, and voodoo economics.