The Future of Conservatism

Back in late November, I was invited to contribute to a symposium in Commentary on the future of conservatism. The symposium appeared in the January issue of the magazine, and item by item it has been posted on the web. My particular contribution was posted this morning.

I am hoping that, before long, the symposium as a whole will be made available in this fashion. The list of contributors includes Elliott Abrams, Charlotte Allen, Larry P. Arnn, Michael Barone, John R. Bolton, David Brog, Arthur C. Brooks, David Brooks, Linda Chavez, Matthew Continetti, Artur Davis, Rod Dreher, Nicholas Eberstadt, David Frum, Michael Gerson, James K. Glassman, Jonah Goldberg, Victor Davis Hanson, Hugh Hewitt, Jeff Jacoby, Roger Kimball, Philip Klein, William Kristol, Jay P. Lefkowitz, Yuval Levin, Tod Lindberg, Heather MacDonald, Harvey Mansfield, Clifford D. May, Wilfred McClay, Michael Medved, Michael B. Mukasey, James Piereson, Daniel Pipes, Ramesh Ponnuru, Dennis Prager, R.R. Reno, Jason Riley, Karl Rove, Jennifer Rubin, Reihan Salam, Fred Siegel, Roger Simon, Bret Stephens, Mark Steyn, James Taranto, John B. Taylor, Tevi Troy, Peter Wehner, George Weigel, and Ruth R. Wisse. Needless to say, they have much of interest to say, and they do not all agree.

As you can see from reading the first paragraph of my piece, I am highly critical of Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012. In my opinion, he ran with the aim of eking out a narrow personal victory, and he orphaned the Republican candidates for the House and the Senate. Instead of nationalizing their campaigns, he left them to fend for themselves — which allowed local issues and particular personalities to be put front and center (which aided the Democrats considerably).

In my judgment, the long-term consequences of the 2012 election will be terrible for the country but good for conservatism:

Barack Obama’s victory was a technical triumph–proof positive that when one’s rival runs as a technocrat and is inclined to sit on what looks like a lead and run out the clock–micro-targeting can be made to work. Apart from demonizing his opponent and positioning himself as a champion of the sexual revolution and of punitive taxation, the president had nothing to say. He proposed no agenda. He won no mandate. All that he achieved was to delay the reckoning and to render it far more damaging to his party. America’s withdrawal from the world has set the stage for ugly developments abroad. The recession that is on the horizon will only be deepened by the tax increases that will soon be imposed. And the implementation of ObamaCare will unleash a fury that will make the emergence of the Tea Party in 2009 look tame. The immediate prospects for the country are grim, but the prospects for conservatism have never been better. Barack Obama is, step by step, unmasking liberalism and revealing its true character, and his admirers in Democratic strongholds such as California, Illinois, and New York are doing everything that they can to show us the future as they envisage it and to demonstrate that it does not work.

What conservatism still lacks is a standard-bearer. None of the prospective candidates who might have been able to shoulder the burden chose to run in 2012. Mitt Romney won the nomination solely because none of the available alternatives was plausible in the slightest. He was the last man standing because he was the only candidate who had not thoroughly blotted his copybook. The opportunity now looms. It is time for a younger, more principled generation to step forward and to indict the administrative entitlement state for what it is: the “soft despotism” described by Alexis de Tocqueville 172 years ago.

It is the last paragraph that you might wish to focus on. Mitt Romney did not want to run in 2012, so his son now tells us. He ran out of a sense of duty, which speaks well of him as a man, but his heart was not really in it. He gave it the old college try, to his great credit. But he did not turn the election into a crusade — which is what was required. The other candidates in the race for the Republican nomination were appalling. Had the party nominated any one of them, it would have been a suicidal act.

There is an old saying in politics: “You cannot beat someone with no one.” To win in 2016, to reverse the madness into which we as a nation are descending, we will need to find a someone — a candidate of intelligence and real cunning with fire in the belly and a willingness to fight the ruthlessness of the Democrats with a ruthlessness of his own.