The Republican Mess
Senator Jim DeMint gave one of the most rousing speeches at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, warning Republicans that there can be no compromise with the Democrats. As usual, Sen. DeMint is right. Republicans cannot afford to compromise, quite literally, with any party or anyone who honestly believes that our government can spend one more cent or borrow one more dollar for one more minute.
But this also goes for Republicans.
We’ve heard a lot this week about the “Santorum surge” as the former Pennsylvania Senator rises in the polls to become the latest Republican to pose a serious challenge to Mitt Romney. Romney’s big government offenses are numerous and well known, which is why conservatives remain reluctant to support him. But Santorum’s big government offenses are just as numerous and equally as offensive. Writes The Washington Examiner’s Timothy P. Carney:
As a member of Senate leadership, Santorum literally was an agent of the GOP establishment during passage of No Child Left Behind, the expansion of Medicare, and the overspending of the Bush era.
Red State’s Erick Erickson is even more explicit:
Rick Santorum is a pro-life statist. He is. You will have to deal with it. He is a big government conservative. Santorum is right on social issues, but has never let his love of social issues stand in the way of the creeping expansion of the welfare state. In fact, he has been complicit in the expansion of the welfare state.
The unavoidable dilemma concerning both Romney and Santorum is that neither man has ever been conservative in the same way that Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan defined that term—believing that government isn’t the solution to our problems, but the problem. Reagan believed that conservatism proper was like a three-legged stool, consisting of social, national security and economic/libertarian conservatives. Both Romney and Santorum have never had much use for the fiscally responsible leg of that stool. Both candidates reveal this plainly in their attacks on each other—whether Santorum’s insistence that Romney is a TARP-supporting liberal who gave the Democrats the blueprint for ObamaCare, or Romney’s insistence that Santorum represents, as Carney put it, “an agent of the GOP establishment during… the overspending of the Bush era.”
Unfortunately for the GOP, both candidates are absolutely right in their indictments of each other. Romney and Santorum are essentially George W. Bush Republicans competing in a Tea Party-tinged election where conservatives do not necessarily want to go back to the big spending Bush era. Bush’s GOP was completely void of the economic/libertarian philosophy Reagan believed essential in promoting an effective conservatism, and the absence of any tangible limited government philosophy is what allowed Bush Republicans to rack up debt even worse than Bill Clinton Democrats. Said Sen. DeMint of the Bush era: “You could accuse Republicans of a lot of things, but you could never convict us of being too conservative!”
Sen. DeMint wants Reagan’s three-legged stool restored, advising the GOP that “The debate in the Republican Party needs to be between libertarians and conservatives… There’s no longer room for moderates and liberals because we don’t have any money to spend, so I don’t want to be debating with anyone who wants to grow government.”
Some Republicans now look to Romney, though most of his career he has grown government. Some Republicans now look to Santorum, though most of his career he has grown government. When President Obama promises to cut spending in every State of the Union address he’s delivered, conservatives instinctively know he’s lying. Why? Because Obama’s actual record of cutting spending is non-existent. The same is true of Romney and Santorum. To the extent that Republicans realize this, they’ve been reluctant to support either candidate. To the extent that Republicans have been willing to ignore it, they compromise conservative principles in the very way Sen. DeMint has warned them not to.
If DeMint wants the conversation in the GOP to be between libertarians and conservatives, Santorum says: “I fight very strongly against libertarian influence within the Republican Party and the conservative movement.” This is true. Santorum has fought against small government conservatism his entire career.
Sen. DeMint is right that Republicans can no longer afford to compromise with the Democrats. The remaining question is: Can conservatives afford to compromise with Republicans who grow government and spend money just like liberal Democrats?