Gov. Jon Huntsman is off to the Far East to tackle China and there's been some glee from those who have deemed him a Republican In Name Only (RINO), a moderate, a liberal Republican. While my former governor does have some centrist views on social policy and environmentalism, he supports guns rights, he proposed a market-based solutions to the increased health care costs and he backed school voucher program, to name a few conservative minded ideas. I was kind of surprised at the reaction to his departure, but then again, with the GOP trying to find it's way and the conservative movement setting giant bonfires to direct it, there's going to be some disagreement to who exactly is part of the new Republicans.
In my book, Gov. Huntsman is not a moderate as Collins, Schwarzenegger, Specter and Snowe are moderates. The four latter Republicans are not conservatives, but are either populist or centrist liberals who have more in common with Republicans than Democrats, or who use the party to advance their career. Things like supporting the largest government power grab since the New Deal or giving in to your state's corrupt Democratic leadership on everything from union dues, gun control and insane environmental standards don't really add to your conservative credentials. These moderates, along with voters who call themselves moderates, usually try to straddle the fence on issues. They assume they can play the bi-partisan card, the peacemaker card, like Senator McCain is so famous for. Their beliefs are that the middle is always the best course to take. They hate ideology (or so they say), but they say they stand for principles. Usually, the extent of a moderate's principles is the length of the fence pole they're sitting on.
Now, conservatives that are centrist on some issues are not moderates. The conservative movement that propelled Ronald Reagan to the White House wasn't made up of a single ideological movement, but by the collection and fusion of several different schools of conservative thought. Libertarians, social traditionalists, religious conservatives, classical liberals, national security hawks, free marketers; they all came together to elected a man they believed would further their goals. If we are to see blowouts like 1980 and 1984, we cannot shed the muscle that is the fusion of conservatism while trying to rid ourselves of the fat that is moderate waffling.
Conservatism needs to very publicly draw a line that says, “On this side, you are conservative. On the other side, you are not.” This line should be drawn from the core beliefs on conservatism: individualism, federalism, free markets and a strong national security. Social issues, while very important, cannot be the only indicator of a conservative.
Pundits like talking about the Republican Party's need to move to the center to have a big tent. I say nay, not just to the center! The party must extent its tent to the right as well. Everything up to where center meets left should be Republican territory. The Republican Party does need to shed the useless waffles and find its core values, but we can't simply force it to a singular conservative image because, honestly, there isn't one and there wasn't never was one. Conservatism has been, and always will be, a collection of Americans fighting for what they believe.
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