After 20 debates, the Republicans don’t seem much closer to settling on a presidential nominee they’re happy with, which just might be because they’re looking in the wrong direction. The problem they party faces, in an election year in which they should do well, might not be with the candidates at all.
Time of Transition
Maybe it’s the GOP itself, at least in this sense. It’s changing so dramatically that its own leaders are having a difficult time keeping up. The old Reagan coalition has crumbled, and the forces that represent a kind of renewal aren’t yet recognized as such. The candidates are struggling to find the proper tone to appeal to a party in transition, and until they do—or leaders emerge who can—the Republicans are in full a devil of a time. (Devil here is a mere figure of speech, of course.)
Matt Welch in Reason notes that in the 28 states where party affiliation is recorded, the number of people calling themselves Republicans is down 800,000 since 2008. This doesn’t mean, however, that they’ve becoming Democrats.
Even amid the clarifying up-or-down, Team Blue or Team Red exercise of high-profile politics, Americans are increasingly choosing to jump off the political pendulum, reject tribalism, and declare themselves swing voters.
Welch thinks these are potential Ron Paul supporters, and maybe they are. Young people supporting the Texas libertarian of course are convincingly enthusiastic, and they are also in many cases not registered Republicans. The party would be well advised to welcome them into its ranks, just to keep the numbers up.
Dan McCarthy of The American Conservative, quoted approvingly by Welch, thinks the Paul supporters represent the future, not of the Republican Party so much as that of the country itself. McCarthy sees in this upsurge “an architectonic shift … arguably more profound” than that ushered in by the Goldwater candidacy of the ‘60s and the religious right of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Maybe they’re both right. The mistake might be in thinking we can predict what independents will do. If we were any good at it, they wouldn’t be out there on their own, confusing our categories by being so cussedly independent. We know now that they are not, as has long been assumed, moderates or centrists, but we shouldn’t assume they will be libertarians, either.
Given time, they will find their own way, and we’ll all be surprised. Which, in a free country, is just as it should be.