To the surprise of everyone, including Ron Paul, the Texas Congressman has been quite successful in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Yet despite having come in third in Iowa and now second in New Hampshire, many still do not take Paul seriously. In fact, many seem to view Paul as an ominous forbearer of the Republican party’s impending existential crisis.
While it is unlikely that Paul will win the Republican nomination, his success is a harbinger of things to come. Ron Paul is doing what few Republican presidential candidates have done in the past 20 years – he appeals to both moderates and young people. It is not often talked about, but the Republican party has a demographic problem that threatens its very existence. The demographics of America are changing in a way that is deadly for the Republican party as it exists today. For many years, Republicans won elections because the country was full of white middle-class voters who mostly voted GOP on Election Day. Today, however, that simply is not enough.
One of the major problems facing the GOP is that the Latino population is the fastest growing segment in the U.S., and they overwhelmingly vote Democrat. Another is that the overall population is increasingly urban and secular in its sensibilities, and less inclined to buy into the self-ritious moral crusades of the past. Given these trends the Republican party must adapt accordingly, or face becoming increasingly marginalized, and ultimately obsolete.
Over the past forty years the Republican party has successfully built an uneasy coalition between the socially conservative and fiscally conservative segments of the population. Though some candidates embody both principles, rarely does one find a candidate who is a “true believer” in both. Often it seems that candidates are firmly committed to one or the other ideology and pay lip service to the other in order to fit within the Republican mold of what an ideal candidate should look like. However, both in practice and politics these candidates’ true colors usually bear out.
The best recent example of this can be found in the way social conservative darlings like Gingrich, Santorum and Perry have viciously attacked Mitt Romney for his role at his capital investment company Bain Capital. All of these candidates have derided Romney as a heartless capitalist who destroys jobs. A stance that is quite out of step with a pro-free market Republican agenda. Yet these candidates have nevertheless gained traction amongst social conservatives with this attack.
The truth of the matter is that there is cognitive dissonance between the classical liberalism of fiscal conservatives and the idea that the government should be the guarantor of Christian morality on the part of social conservatives. Fiscal conservatives by definition support small, limited government, with maximal personal responsibility and liberty. Social conservatives on the other hand see themselves as being under siege by an increasingly secular popular culture, and look to the government to institutionalize their values. It is rarely noted that this would require an expansion of government, and greater monitoring and intrusion into the personal lives of every citizen. In this respect fiscal and social conservatism are irreconcilable.
I personally have had a long and thoughtful journey to the right. This journey, in no small part, was made more difficult by the fact that I came to political awareness under George W. Bush, who as a “true believer” in social conservatism was also a fiscally irresponsible big government Republican. Many young and moderate voters see the inherent conflict between the philosophy of fiscal conservatism and social conservatism, and are alienated as a result. Going forward the G.O.P. must adopt a platform that is logically consistent, or tear itself apart for lack of coherence.
There are many critiques one can level against Ron Paul, but inconsistency isn’t one of them. Paul unabashedly supports the free-market, and endorses both personal responsibility and liberty. A position out of step with the mainstream, which endorses fiscal responsibility but social paternalism. Paul has found traction, despite not being a very good politician, because his ideas are sound and consistent. One does not have to sell half their soul in supporting Paul, because his ideas are logically interlinked byproducts of a unified underlying philosophy. Ron Paul isn’t likely to win this battle, but his ideas may very well win the ideological war.