Jacob Weisberg suggests British Tory politician David Cameron as a model for how the Republicans can claw their way back into the national electoral game:
[An] encouraging model for the right is the British Conservative Party, poised to return to power after 12 years in the wilderness. David Cameron, who took over as party leader in 2005, has focused on winning over moderates and modernizing his party’s fusty image (though a scandal involving conservative members of Parliament using official allowances for such expenses as moat-dredging isn’t helping). While hewing to the old values of free enterprise, family, and individual liberty, Cameron has accommodated Britain’s changing demographics and values by making the party pro-environment, gay-friendly, and sympathetic to immigrants. As with the Democrats, it took time and lost elections for the Tories to retool. But once they did, they re-emerged as a renewed competitive force.
In other words, at some point, for a Cameron-style strategy to work in the United States, the theocrats, the authoritarians, the anti-environmentalists, and the immigration hysterics are going to have to be eased to the margins of the Republican Party.
This is all well and good, but the Tories don’t have anything equivalent to American Shout Radio to contend with, do they? And with Limbaugh, Hannity, Malkin, and Drudge doing “that thang they do,” how likely is it that the decibel level on the “movement conservative” side will ever notch down? In other words, the Republican Party may be evolving, before our very eyes (and Shout Radio ears) into an authoritarian party that exploits national extremity, but does not play a significant role in governance when things are relatively calm and stable.
That’s a very scary prospect.
It means that the Republican Party really has two paths it can follow:
- It can go down the road of Cameron-style moderate libertarianism (a thoroughly coherent and viable political position in both good times and bad), or
- It can go down the road of Shout Radio “movement conservatism,” a conservatism that is essentially authoritarian and whose “purity” of expression gains traction only at times of extremity (during severe and prolonged economic downturns, or when the country is under existential threat from war or nuclear or biological terrorism).
I think that Shout Radio “movement conservatives” actually are banking on a decade of crisis to propel their movement’s electoral appeal. They are intuitive (in Naomi Klein’s phrase) “shock doctrine” political players. They aren’t moderates (obviously) and they don’t want moderation, or even to really work with moderates. Moderation is betrayal. Compromise is betrayal. They are making a very high stakes “all or nothing” gamble.
In other words, from the Shout Radio perspective, there is no reason to broaden the Republican Party’s appeal in normal times. Thus moderate Republicans who are trying to dial down conservative Shout Radio are “talking to the hand”—because movement conservatives aren’t listening. That’s not the game that Shout Radio conservatives are playing, or want to play. Republican moderates are useful to movement conservatives for one purpose: for laughing at.
Shout Radio’s model is less David Cameron and more Hermann Goring: “When I hear the word ‘culture’ I reach for my gun.”