The Conservative Moment Calls for a Cultural Crusader
~by E.C. Gach
What some currently scanning the GOP field seem to miss is the complete disdain many (most?) conservatives have for President Obama. At best, he’s prevented the country from enjoying the economic recovery that would have occurred under a Republican President, and at worst, he’s an illegitimate, quite literally un-American, radical socialist who doesn’t actually want the American economy, a largely free market capitalistic entity, to succeed or even survive.
What follows is a theory of the current conservative psyche that explains why Governor Rick Perry cold be the inevitable Republican nominee for President of the United States.
There are plenty of reasons why he may not succeed post-nomination, but at this point I think it’s worth noting why he just might be the most appealing candidate in the field right now.
Again, it all comes back to how much conservatives dislike President Obama. It’s arguably been the driving force behind conservative Congressional politics and Republican talking points for the past three years. Traditionally, if Democrats took up a policy position, Republicans would pivot toward opposing policies, and conservative ideology would be reworked to accommodate them (and vice versa). But now, if President Obama endorses a certain reality, that reality itself must be fought against.
Up until recently, it was perfectly normal for Republicans to challenge Obama’s citizenship, or at least insinuate that the subject remained clouded in uncertainty. Even after Osama bin Laden was killed, doubt loomed, with immediate calls by opinion leaders on the far right to release photographic proof. If ever a President were willing to lie about the demise of America’s public enemy #1, it would surely be this one.
While partisans like Karl Rove, Laura Ingraham, and Rush Limbaugh are most likely just being opportunistically cynical, the larger narrative taking hold is not lost on average conservative voters. Especially since Obama’s illegitimacy isn’t a creation of Republican elites, but a more natural reaction by that segment of the electorate that was always opposed to him, but which has since had three years of accelerated American decline under his watch to gorge on and despise him for.
Enter Rick Perry, who trumps Michelle Bachman with his extensive executive experience while at the same time presenting a fiery authenticity that the northern Mitt Romney just can’t match. Perry’s a fighter as they say. At first blush, he has a gravity and weight that Bachman’s Tea Party sermonizing fails to achieve. He also has a successful record of job creation that isn’t steeped in financial investment like Romney’s private sector resume.
And yet many see Perry as a Bachman tier candidate. For instance, Daniel Larison of the American Conservative argues,
In the end, the Bachmann-Perry contest is probably a competition to decide who will end up losing to Romney. What is most likely to happen is that Bachmann and Perry will compete with one another as Huckabee and Romney did in 2008, and by splitting the anti-Romney vote they will allow Romney to capture the nomination in the same way McCain did by eking out a number of victories in the early states. Perry will be very strong in Southern primaries, but outside the South his appeal may be as limited as Huckabee’s was last time.
But 2008 bares little resemblance to today. There was not the same urgency nor doom and gloom of then that there is today. Obama won on “hope” remember? Does anyone think the atmosphere that could propel that sort of candidacy to the White House exists today? It certainly doesn’t exist at the level of the Republican primary, where in 2008 there was lukewarm support on all conservative fronts. In the end that primary’s choices came down to a minister Governor with only regional appeal, a New England Governor with more blue blood than red meat, and a really, really old guy, whose campaign nearly burnt out more than once.
This cycle there’s a Republican House Representative who hails from the least popular branch of Government, that same New England Governor who spent the last five years as a professional campaigner, and a long serving Governor of Texas who can more or less claim no connection to the capital or its agreed upon dysfunction.
However, the most important difference between now and then is that in 2008, now President Obama had three less years of driving conservatives insane under his belt. The Tea Party didn’t exist then, but it does now, as just one indication of how Washington’s common practices and conventional policies, like say, raising the debt ceiling, have now become egregious under Obama.
Whether conservative animosity toward Obama is well deserved or not, the point is that an unenergetic conservative electorate from 2008 is now rallied and looking for a fight. And when the Speaker of the House himself must plead with his fellow members to pass a right of center piece of legislation, I have little confidence in the ability of party elites to hold back the base back and nominate the less inspiring, but more moderate, Mitt Romney.
With the requisite time to truly cultivate their displeasure for a cosmopolitan, African American liberal who hailed from the urban north, I think the conservative base is more than ready to flock to Rick Perry.
But doesn’t the specter of “W” haunt his candidacy? I don’t think so. I was as repelled by George Walker Bush as many conservatives are by Barak Hussein Obama. But when I look at Perry I don’t see the former cowboy President. And if I don’t see that, my “gut” tells me that most conservative primary voters won’t either. Perry actually is a homegrown Texan, with all of the swagger and wholesome gentlemanly charisma that entails. And like the former President said, he’s just a “good-looking rascal.”
Because at the end of the day policy doesn’t matter. Policy hasn’t mattered for the past three years. That’s how a center-right health care proposal becomes a socialist takeover, limited banking regulation becomes an economic chokehold, and $4 trillion in cuts with changes to entitlements in the mix isn’t worth sacrificing the opportunity to continue the good fight.
Rather, the last three years have seen the culture wars crescendo, fueled by economic troubles that still leave many unemployed and threaten many other’s retirement savings. American decline was put off by the rise of finance, then information technology, and finally inflated real estate. With no apparent get-out-of-jail-free cards left though, conservative voters are faced with the choice between two competing narratives. The first is to learn from and follow the successful examples of the rest of the world. A troubling, more complex, hyper-globalized, and completely unacceptable option. The alternative is to become more quintessentially American, follow the example given by the founding fathers and embodied in the revered Constitution, and never admit defeat, for doing so is the surest way to achieve it.
And that’s what Perry offers: a bold figure ready to stand and fight for a compelling, if fictional, narrative of who we were and may be again as a people. He might not say so explicitly. But he doesn’t need to, instead exhaling this notion with every breath and exuding it with every movement. Romney’s support up until now, I would wager, was based largely on his competency when compared with the rest of the field, but even more importantly, his apparent ability to defeat Obama. He can no longer claim, with any certainty, to be the only one with those qualities.
When presented with a viable and more inspiring alternative in Rick Perry, who overshadows Romney’s achievements without suffering from his failures, why does anyone think the conservative sentiment will moderate and choose the candidate that has more general election appeal? Did Republican’s win the mid-term elections by moderating? Who really thinks that will be the strategy this time? Or that there’s even an establishment that remains legitimate enough to follow it? Nominating Romney over Perry would be a complete reversal of conservatism’s rightward shift over the past few years. And I just don’t see that happening.