Mitt Romney’s grip on the Republican nomination for President tightened a bit more last Tuesday with his solid win in the New Hampshire Primary election. This was somewhat historic, as many have pointed out, in that this is the first time in many years that a candidate has won both the Iowa caucus and the nation’s first primary. Completing the political Triple Crown by winning South Carolina may be tougher, but all indications at this early stage are of a virtual Romney sweep.
While it remains too early to officially bestow the “nominee” title to Romney, and too naïve to suggest that his candidacy has earned widespread acceptance (much less garnered excitement) among Republicans, it is worth noting that he won all demographic groups in New Hampshire, with the exception of the hedonistic 18-29 year olds who, bristling as they do at the thought of any moral constraints, supported libertarian Ron Paul.
The theme now mostly revolves around the disposition of the “second tier” (meaning “Not Romney”) candidates. All will stay in the race for the time being, banking their hopes on South Carolina, which will be the next sieve they go through. But barring a major development that propels one of them into actual contender status, the role of the other candidates has shifted somewhat from trying to capture the nomination, into one of shaping the narrative and the eventual nominee.
Take Rick Santorum for instance. He had a real chance at one point; had he taken the opportunity early on to assure himself that his social conservative reputation ably preceded him, and had come out strongly, almost exclusively, on foreign policy and economic issues, chances are fair to middling that the nomination could have been his to lose.. It was a unique luxury afforded nearly to him alone among the candidates.
It may be too late for that now. But Santorum still has a role to play in the process, in ensuring that one of the legs of the conservative triumvirate are not lost — namely that which deals with the social and cultural situation. With the other front runners duking it out over the economy and (to what little extent it is allowed) foreign policy, the process needs Santorum to keep these issues on the table.
“What for??”, I hear you cry. After all, didn’t we declare a “truce” on social issues?
Perhaps, but if so it was a recklessly precipitate declaration. The social, traditional, cultural aspect is indispensable to a truly conservative philosophy. The primary distinguishing feature of conservatism is its prudent recognition of the realities of the human condition, based on inherited wisdom and experience. Among these truths is the recognition that a self-governing society that lacks moral order cannot long survive itself. As Robert Bork wrote, “The government ought not try to impose virtue, but it can deter incitements to vice”
Free markets and limited governments require a firm moral base in order to succeed; as social order breaks down, the temptation to accept ever more authoritarian government to replace lost security becomes increasingly irresistible. It falls on the conservative to preserve this base, and also to counter the efforts by liberals, in their quest for an artificial egalitarian utopia, to tear it down and replace it with their own, one that mandates sensitivity training and speech codes. There is, after all, more than one road to serfdom.
This is why social conservatism is, and always will, remain an imported member of the conservative trinity, along with economic libertarianism, and a strong, realist foreign policy that seeks to defend both the United States and the civilization that gave her form.
Part of the tragedy of Ron Paul’s candidacy, in fact, is that he could have been in position to play the same role of shaping the party’s message when it came to the critical discussion of economic liberty. Unfortunately, his Noam Chomsky approach to foreign policy and sheer nutty conspiracy-infused positions on many issues renders him less credible as time passes.
The GOP needs to re-fuse, to borrow from the term used by the architects of the modern conservative movement from the 1950’s, whose “fusionism” congealed economic libertarianism, traditional conservatism, and anti-communism into a single, coherent political movement, which bore fruit by eventually electing Ronald Reagan, and shifting the societal paradigm to the right. The GOP needs as its candidate, one who represents, and offers to the nation, a conservatism on all fronts – economic, foreign policy and cultural.
Mitt Romney can, if he chooses, be that candidate. At this point, let’s hope he is capable of it.