It was certainly interesting to see Ross Douthat chosen as the new token “real” conservative at *The New York Times *(David Brooks has been a longtime columnist for the Times, but it’s not clear that other conservatives consider him as one of their own, even if he considers himself conservative). I’ve read Mr. Douthat’s writings for a long time on The Atlantic‘s website, but I find he can’t escape the social authoritarianism that has characterized Republicanism since 1994.
I was disappointed by Mr. Douthat’s first column, which Paul already discussed–and defended–below. The column, “Cheney for President” demonstrates what continues to be a complete lack of awareness of the current state of the Republican Party, and of conservatism in general. Mr. Douthat suggests that if Cheney had been the Republican nominee, it would have been the final repudiation of the Bush Era that the GOP needs. Douthat argues, “A Cheney-Obama contest would have clarified conservatism’s present political predicament.”
I’m not sure that if conservatives don’t get it by now, they ever will. In 2006, the Bush legacy was already thoroughly rejected by the American populace, which flipped 30 seats to the Democrats. The Democratic Party had no business winning some of those seats, which were R+10 or more. The number of respondents who identify as “Democratic” went up substantially in opinion polls. And President Bush suffered through years of some of the lowest approval ratings ever. Cheney himself left office with 59% disapproval, according to USA Today/Gallup. For the first time in decades, the Republican campaign committees were consistently out-fundraised by their Democratic counterparts. And all that clear, conclusive evidence leaves out the fact that a liberal first-term senator from a deep-blue state managed to win states like North Carolina and Virginia in the 2008 presidential campaign.
It shouldn’t take a Cheney defeat in the 2008 election for conservatives to realize how bad their position is right now, and how badly the public views conservatism in all its forms right now. The conservative voices may be the ones speaking loudest (Limbaugh, Beck, various stimulus-refusing governors) but they seem to be speaking for fewer and fewer people. It may take more years in the “wilderness” before conservatives finally understand that their “small tent” approach dooms them to defeat in the long term (incidentally, something that Mr. Douthat’s fellow columnist David Brooks predicted some months ago).