Over the first weekend in November, I attended a conference of conservative and libertarian college newspaper editors, sponsored by the Collegiate Network. John J. Miller, National Political Reporter for National Review, asked during his opening speech who supported which Republican candidate for president. By a show of hands, the top three vote-getters were Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and, likely due to the large libertarian presence at the conference, Ron Paul. Surprisingly, when talking to individuals about their preferences, however, the conference’s attendees were very divided. Many who supported Giuliani refused to support Romney and vice-versa, listing the other’s shortcomings and how he was not a real conservative. Such divisiveness serves up an ominous vision of the upcoming primary season.
For nearly a year since the midterm elections, polls consistently showed that Republicans were not as satisfied with their choices for president as Democrats were, an assumption that continues today. As the presidential caucuses and primaries near, the recent YouTube debate for the Republicans reflected this fact due to the infighting between leaders Giuliani and Romney. Political commentator Robert Novak warned in a recent column against nominating Mike Huckabee, whose big-government views would completely transform the Republican Party into an anti-libertarian party. With so many accusations flying around, one has to wonder if Ronald Reagan is twisting in his grave for so many blatant violations of his eleventh commandant to not speak ill of a fellow Republican. Fred Thompson felt a need to add his own corollary: to speak ill of a fellow Republican if they speak ill of him first.
How did the Republican Party become so fractured? Economic conservatives, social conservatives, and hawks have been calling each other out, blaming others for the party’s woes and failure in the 2006 elections. Consequently, no one takes responsibility. Indeed, the infighting is reminiscent of the disparate factions jockeying for attention within the Democratic Party since the beginning of the conservative movement. While the Democrats were disorganized, Republicans united their message, advanced worthwhile interests from each part of their coalition, and became the party of reform and ideas that took back Congress in 1994.
Unless Republicans can learn to again collaborate and strive for consensus within their ranks, their divisions warn of dark times ahead for the Party. Disagreements over priorities, agendas, and platforms will yield little progress, and fewer elections will be won from the inability to articulate change. Going into the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, and other contests leading up to Super Tuesday, Republicans need to be willing to cooperate if there’s going to be any hope of 2008 not turning into another 2006, or worse, the White House falling again to a Clinton.
Interestingly, these national trends of disunity can even be extended to our own Stanford University. In recent years, conservative groups have proliferated for numerous reasons, such as the emergence of the Stanford Conservative Society in addition to the College Republicans, or pro-Israel groups founded in response to talk of divestment. In addition to these groups, there still exists a pro-life group and others of relevance.
The difficulty these groups have in working together may be a byproduct of the national environment. Each is so concerned with its own agenda that it is too hard to collaborate even on projects of mutual interest. No group should try to absorb or dominate any of the others, yet there is still no reason not to work together. Going into 2008 accentuates this need. Issues on campus can be won through thoughtful discussion and an amplification of such a message, and groups can also unite forces to influence local elections. By working together, we can show that members of the conservative coalition still can make meaningful accomplishments – together.