The scene at CPAC was of a movement at a point of transition – the old Reagan coalition doing battle with a new more libertarian rising generation. Whenever great transitions come, the existing hierarchy does its best to preserve the existing order of things. In this case, that order is unlikely to be preserved for long, for a whole host of reasons out of the control of any faction. Still, the problem remains: even accepting or adapting toward their views on marriage, immigration, foreign policy, national security, marijuana and more, are the challengers to the still-dominant viewpoints on the right likely to bring Republicans any closer to electoral viability?
The answer is almost certainly not. What is most troubling about the clashes on the right at the moment is not their ferocity or their insignificance, but rather how little they have to do with the issues Americans actually care about. The persistent inability of the right – conservatives, libertarians, and the Republican Party as a whole – to adapt a message that matches up with the shifting interests and focuses of huge swathes of the American people is a defect shared across all the warring factions.
During the coming wilderness years, the right needs to set aside their hopes for a common sense approach to tax reform, fiscal restraint, and entitlement reform – none of which are possible under the auspices of this White House, and few of which have popular support. Instead, they should apply real ingenuity to the challenge of presenting a message and a set of policies which rebut the dominant themes of the left. They should start by addressing the “War on Women”, the apotheosis of President Obama’s strategic approach: find and highlight as many wedge issues as possible that serve to naturally excite his base and pit factions of the right against itself. This is a strategy that will survive Obama, and that the right must mitigate or even turn to its benefit.
Benjamin Domenech is editor of The Transom.