In 2008, after eight years of George W. Bush, after having lost the House and the Senate, after having lost many State houses and Governorships, the Republican Party teetered on the edge of becoming a long term minority party in the United States. It was not because the Democratic Party had necessarily done anything special to change themselves, nor had they damaged the GOP in some manner as to deal a death blow. Quite the opposite, actually. It was the Republican Party that had been faltering from within.
After the crushing losses of 2008 the pundits began to ask the question, “What now for the GOP?” What they were asking had less to do with strategy and more to do with message. What did the GOP stand for? Who were the GOP leaders? The horrible primary set-up a GOP ticket which fronted a liberal Arizona Senator and a half-term unknown Governor from the 3rd least populated State. The GOP was deeply divided after the primary, and there was a large lack of enthusiasm for McCain as the leader of the party, or the nation. During the election, the GOP ticket seemed to be splitting as well, with the Governor of Alaska “Going Rogue” in defiance of the leadership of the Arizona Senator. After the election the depth and breadth of the divide was so obvious that to ask the question about the future of the GOP was not uncalled for.
The state of the Party at that time was one where the party leader and outgoing President, backed by the Party itself, had drastically veered from the “small government/limited government” doctrine which defined its surging success in recent years. No, the Party had lurched so far to the left that figure heads within the party defended the constant erosion of liberties and the perpetual borrowing and bail-outs as staples to the values of the party itself. Perpetual war, Patriot Act, wireless taps, bail-outs, federal healthcare/prescription drugs, No Child Left Behind. The party of limited government was responsible for the largest growth of the (non-essential) government in the history of the United States. After losing power in the executive and legislative branches, the party was at war with itself for what it had done, suffering from a crisis of identity.
During this crisis, however, there was a splinter group within the party which had laid the groundwork for the coming election cycle. The energetic and overly enthusiastic supporters of Ron Paul in 2008 had effected a tone within the party discussion, raising the issue of liberty. The big government GOP leaders were so put off by this message that Paul and his supporters were actually blocked from the national GOP convention. This group of the small Libertarian wing of the ‘Big Tent Party’ splintered from the GOP, holding their own Liberty Convention, where they put in place a long term strategy to retake the Republican Party.
As the Republican establishment selected new leadership and tried to scrape together a message, there was a movement already underfoot, planning Liberty Rallies on Tax day. The general message of the rallies was Liberty, low taxes, and a change to the monetary system. It was the Tea Party. The newly elected left was so afraid of the quick organization and the multitude of rallies across the nation that they immediately went into panic mode, claiming that the Liberty minded rallies were racist or terrorist in nature. The GOP establishment was so disconnected that they did not claim affiliation with the organizations spreading their message across America on Tax Day. This “radical element” was the organization of the Libertarian movement, the Campaign for Liberty. The success of the ‘Tax Day Tea Parties’ did not belong to the established GOP, however, after the movement began to swell in numbers the GOP began to approach the rag-tag leadership with an offer to take the Liberty movement under the wing of the Republican Establishment. As such, the GOP rested its momentum heading into the 2010 elections on the Tea Party. The strength of the Tea Party was brought into question on primary election day, and overwhelmingly the GOP establishment candidates were ousted in favor of the Libertarian Tea Party Conservatives. The narrative of 2010 was, then, that the GOP was now being led by the Tea Party, and as such the Republican Party could only retain the established leadership under the banner of this liberty movement.
After the unprecedented resurgence of the once dead GOP in 2010, the strategy of the established Republican leadership was to retain the talking points of the movement while dismantling the structure and ability of the Tea Party to splinter from the ‘Big Tent’. It was, after all, floated as an idea that the Tea Party itself could actually become a formidable third party, challenging the Republicans for top-tier status against a unified Democratic Party. Such a move, of course, would have ensured Democratic majority in 2012 and beyond. So the GOP establishment took the Tea Party congressmen and senators into their fold, and moved quickly to marginalize the Tea Party movement itself. By mid-2011 it was clear that the Tea Party had been so over-run by the mainstream GOP that the movement was dead under the moniker “Tea Party”. What began as a liberty movement quickly became a social conservative movement with no clear message of opposition. The message of small government, lower taxes, and individual liberty which defined the Tea Party became talking points for established moderate Republicans. The waters were so muddied that the mention of the Tea Party no longer represents a sect of the GOP, rather some ambiguous affiliation from within the Republican Party. You no longer hear about Tea Party candidates heading into the 2012 election cycle, rather you hear about whether voters identify with the Tea party. But I ask you, what does it mean to identify with the Tea Party in 2012? What is the party’s message? You are unable to answer because the GOP successfully dismantled the movement while simultaneously absorbing their talking points. The movement was no longer deemed a threat.
The fractures of 2008 began to reappear in the GOP during the selection of the presidential candidates in 2011. As the party began the process of identifying the next generation of leadership, so returned the animosity of the 2008 election cycle. The media scrambled to identify the leader of the Tea Party movement while the GOP establishment held their breath hoping none would arise. Sarah Palin was the media darling, mostly because of her atypical moves after losing the election in 2008. Michelle Bachmann was a very vocal member of the Tea Party, but lacked the excitement of Sarah Palin, and who could not get her endorsement for the ‘female amongst the males’ spot in the 2012 run. Other first term names were favored by the media, such as Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. It was becoming clear that the incorporation of the Tea party into the GOP had so diluted the movement that when the time came for the Tea Party to front their leader as a challenger to the GOP establishment candidate, the movement found it had been so love-struck with the recognition of the GOP that it was no longer a movement unto itself. It had no leadership. It had no message.
Seeing a sign of weakness from the Tea Party movement, who had developed into an active staging ground for the social conservative wing of the GOP and less of a true liberty movement, the Conservatives began their quest to identify and run a “True Conservative” candidate. Large bands of Conservative Republicans attempted grassroots draft campaigns for Governors from Indiana, Texas, New Jersey, as well as a fleet of Senators and Congressmen. Each draft campaign attempted to sway opinion in favor of their candidate as the Truest “True Conservative”. As the field winnowed, however, even the definition of a “True Conservative” was sullied, tarnished by conservative talking points that do not actually resemble the left-moderate actions which they were being used to describe. The Conservatives, as well, had been marginalized.
Then there are the 2008 hold-overs. Most notably Mitt Romney, who made a calculated decision to yield the 2008 race to McCain after South Carolina, and go directly into 2012 campaign mode. Mitt Romney, who maintained the campaign presence in the early voting states, was identified as one of those who was expected to run and was identified as an early front-runner. His campaign represents the ideas of the moderate-left lurch of the established GOP, and a continuation of those ideals of the ‘Neo Conservative’ era of the Republican Party.
The second hold-over is Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the Libertarian who was blacklisted from the GOP in 2008. Paul’s brand of Republicanism is the Goldwater/Jeffersonian Libertarianism. His strategy was much the same as Romney’s: stay in the early voting states and build a movement with which to roll through them in 2012. He was hated by GOP establishment and feared by the media. His followers were branded, as he was, as being out of touch. But then came the economic collapse. Then came the continued wars under Obama. Then came the financial disasters of the fiat currency system. And the media turned to the one man who had not only predicted the downfall, but was actively building a movement of educating the public to the extent of the failings. His movement, the Campaign for Liberty, gave life to the Tea Party and the GOP wins in 2010. Paul’s decision to enter the Presidential race gave the Liberty Movement a validated and tested leader, and this put fear back into the heart of the GOP. Paul’s early numbers and successes were dismissed as ‘Paul-bot anomalies’, and he was written off as a candidate out-of-touch (again) and unelectable. He was targeted by the media for blacklisting, and painted as outside of the party norm by the GOP. But Paul’s numbers continue to grow, his Campaign for Liberty continues to reach the voting bloc in charge of the future of the party – the youth vote. Where the Tea party movement failed, the original campaign for liberty strategy devised by Paul in 2008 had succeeded, and the Libertarian’s have a movement underway within the GOP.
We turned the calendar to 2012, the election year. We are under the thumb of an unpopular President, a Democrat who is easily beaten should an organized opposition show itself. Herein lies the rub. The fractures made visible in 2008 were never truly fixed, and now we see a Republican party so broken that it is becoming ever impossible to repair, re-establish, and retake the battlefield. The GOP is not organized. It has no leadership. The Tea Party has failed, and the message marginalized. The Social Conservative movement has failed, and the message marginalized. So what is left is a bloody power struggle between the Neo-Conservative elements of the establishment, both sides fighting so viciously to implement their brand of moderate leftism under the brand “Republican”. We see a Republican battle in which the majority has been fooled by the talking points, by the stolen message of the Liberty movement and the Conservative movement. The leaders of the GOP promote a continued growing of the government, increased erosion of liberties (such as the NDAA, SOPA, etc), increased spending, and perpetual war while at the same time using talking points about increasing liberty, reducing debt, cutting spending, and securing Americans by not backing down from saber rattling. The message is unorganized, it does not make sense. The Republican brand has somehow become no different from the Democratic brand, save a few minor means to the ends – but in both cases the end is the same.
When Republicans act like Republicans we win. When we act like Democrats, they win.
As the infighting intensifies, all eyes are on Ron Paul and his growing Campaign for Liberty. There is daily talk about Paul’s brand of Libertarianism splintering from the GOP. With it, Paul will take a national 10-15% of the GOP – those who learned the lesson from his movement and those who are simply tired of the heated divide in the Party. A Ron Paul third party run is the Tea Party splinter nightmare held by the GOP after the 2010 groundswell. But this time the GOP has no control. The movement has a leader. The leader has a brand. The brand has a following that transcends party lines, drawing support from the fiscal right and the anti-war left as well as liberty minded independents. The big story of the 2012 election is going to be the political landscape left behind by the Ron Paul Campaign for Liberty and the lasting effects of a movement within the GOP or established as a third party.
The GOP cannot contain the core of this movement, the Libertarians.The atmosphere is ripe for a fracture of the party. The stress of an undefined party to define itself, a party who is historically on the conservative-right but who has recently lurched moderate-left, a party who has largely gone without a notable figurehead, without any true leadership for too long is the stress that continue to fracture the party from within. The squelching of the conservative right and the ignoring of the libertarian movement threaten a party so divided against itself that it will not beat this sitting President nor will it retain control of the either chamber of congress, no matter which Moderate-Leftist you prop up on Election Day. What we are witnessing may be the end of the ‘Big Tent’ GOP, where libertarians and social conservatives need not apply, where they are catered to during elections but ignored while in power. The minority blocs of the GOP are growing wise to the new Republican brand. They are growing less patient with the lurch and less tolerant of the lip-service. The Party has moved past the crossroads and is heading full-speed toward the political cliff. This may very well be the narrative on how the mighty elephant died.