The Myth Of The Moderate, Part 1 -- Topography
If you’re a conservative, you know who you are. You believe in a limited government that promotes economic freedom and upholds traditional moral standards. If you’re a conservative, you know who liberals are. They believe in a massive, leviathan government that dominates everything, taxes everyone to death (and beyond, c.f. the Estate Tax) and seeks to overturn traditional moral standards out of a mistaken belief that such standards are oppressive and unfair. And if you are a conservative, the good news is that you outnumber liberals by almost 2-1 in the electorate.
But, if you’re a conservative, you are also frustrated because even though you outnumber liberals 2-1 they have the White House and large majorities in both houses of Congress. How in blazes does that happen? I think I know, and I’ll try to explain it as best I can.
I’m going to do this in three parts. In Part 1 I will try to draw a map. In Part 2 I’ll try to sketch how recent political history has played out over the map, and in Part 3 I’ll diagram what I think a winning strategy looks like on the map.
The map starts by saying I’ve broken the US electorate into four ideological groups using Rasmussen polling data. The numbers are my own distillation and may be off a few percentage points, but I think they are at least in the right ballpark and are good enough to draw some conclusions from. The four groups are (in order of size): Conservatives (33%), Libertarians (28%), Populists (22%) and Liberals (17%).
Well, the bad news is that, even though conservatives are the largest single ideological voting block, they’re not big enough to make a majority all on their own. 33% is a great base to build from, but it’s not enough all by itself. Conservatives need allies to win elections.
I know what you’re thinking,” oh no, another finger wagging piece about reaching out to Moderates.” Don’t worry, I wouldn’t waste your time (or my time) with that tired old trope. For one thing, the standard “compromise” line the David Frum’s of the world try to sell is bad strategy. Conservatives need allies, not mercenaries. Allies are people who share common objectives. Mercenaries are special interest groups bought off with concessions. Allies not only help you win elections, they help you govern effectively. Mercenaries might help win an election now and then, but paying them off makes it nearly impossible to actually do anything useful after you win. The moderates strategy has converted the Republican Party into a wimpy mass that can’t deliver any value to its constituents even when it’s in power.
For another thing, “moderates”, at least in any great numbers, don’t exist. They’re fabrications. Voters who get mislabeled “moderates” actually form two distinct groups, and they’re not at all the same. Lumping these two groups together as “moderates” is the root of Conservative struggles at the ballot box. Recognizing them clearly is the secret to success, the secret to saving the country from the Liberals. Allow me to introduce you to the other two groups:
Libertarians and Populists.
Libertarians are the second largest ideological block in the country, about 28% of the electorate. Libertarians share Conservatives views about limited government and free markets, but disagree with Conservatives about the government promoting morality. Some Libertarians don’t want the government enforcing traditional moral standards because their own wouldn’t pass muster. Other Libertarians actually share the same personal standards as Conservatives, but believe the government is inherently corrupting and thus completely unfit as a moral guardian. Either way they come to it, Libertarians think people should be both free to make their own moral choices and be accountable for the consequences of making bad ones. To contrast them with the two ideological pole groups, Conservatives want government to limit bad moral choices (e.g. outlaw drug use) while Liberals want government to limit the consequences of bad choices (e.g. generous welfare support for drug addicts who can’t hold down a job).
Populists are the third largest ideological block, about 22% of voters. Populists generally share Conservative’s standards for personal morality, but believe a large government is necessary to protect people from Big Business, or the vagaries of life. It’s not as easy to contrast Populists with Conservatives and Liberals for reasons I’ll elaborate on in Part 2. But a blunt description is that Populists don’t accept the Liberal’s loose morality, but also reject Conservative notions of personal responsibility. They think there should be moral standards, but it’s society’s fault when people fail to meet them, and society that must be held accountable for the problems.
So there’s the map. There are no moderates on it for Conservatives to reach out to, just Libertarians and Populists. A partnership with either group theoretically creates a majority, and Conservatives have allied with both groups in the recent past. With significantly different results. Part 2 will talk about that.