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Reagan Left Long Ago--
The Conservative Crackup 2007

Arthur Bruzzone

January 2007

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca --   The eerie replication of the seventies continues, with one exception. In 1976, President Nixon took his "silent majority" and the Republican party into a dark winter.  But a movement, optimistic and hopeful, and a charismatic leader, proven and confident, percolated in the wings.  Flash forward to 2007, as the conservative coalition collapses and engages in sectarian verbal violence, there is no fresh, self-confident leader being groomed in the wings. No promising large-state governor, articulate, tenacious, and cemented to principle.

Instead, the party's leadership has been transferred, de facto, to moderate pragmatic leaders, each flawed, and each a blend of left and right leanings. In other words, they're just a step away from conservative Democrats.

In a previous column ("After The Republican Fall", October 2006), I envisioned what would occur following a major defeat in the November 2006 elections. 

The conservative movement and the Republican Party could have bunkered down, cleaned up the wreck, and prepared for the next wave.   There was the another possibility I didn't discuss; the actual outcome.  The factions of the fragile conservative coalition --- like Sunnis, and Shiites, and the rest of the cast blowing themselves up in Iraq --  have turned their minds, passions and pens on each other.

They're inflicting serious damage.  The wreck was caused by the likes of Christian Coalition 'leader' Ralph Reed (taking six-figure checks from high-flying lobbyist Jack Abramoff to run a phony campaign to help an indian tribe), greedy fiscal conservatives (feasting on earmarks and busting the federal budget driving discretionary spending up 35.8 percent), the myopic neo-conservatives like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Pearle (and their holy wars everywhere, all the time), and finally the inexperience of President Bush as a wartime president.  It  means the Republican Winter will be much longer than I expected. Meanwhile, the conservative crackup is in full force.

Thirty years ago, President Nixon left the party in shambles. Democrat Jimmy Carter beat President Gerald Ford.  But during that presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan entered the scene.  There wasn't a convention delegate in Kansas City's Kemper Arena in 1976 who doubted that Ronald Reagan would be back.  The limp presidency of Carter set up the sequel to the '76 campaign. 

The conservative coalition coalesced. They held hands, buried their intellectual hatchets:  Fiscal conservatives, libertarians, moral conservatives, Christian conservatives, strong defense advocates, anti-tax advocates, journalists, speakers and the rank and file found a leader. Four years later, Ronald Reagan was president. 

Thirty years later, the Republican Party had the reigns and lost it.  We controlled Congress and presidency.  The failure is solely ours. The Democrats, divided and intellectually bankrupt, can share no blame for Congress' performance or current U.S. foreign policy.  It will get worse. 

In 2008, Republicans must defend 21 out of 33 contested Senate seats.  Colorado Senator Wayne Allard won't be running.  Other possible retirees include Ted Stevens of Alaska (taking with him his bridge to no where), Senator John Warner of Virginia, and Pete Domenici of New Mexico.  Other vulnerable GOP senators include Gordon Smith of Oregon, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and John Sununu of New Hampshire. 

Once the primaries are over, Democrats will have fire in their belly.  Victory at all cost, whomever the nominee.  So, we have the prospect of a Democrat-controlled Congress and presidency. It couldn't come at worse time.  The country has an impending rendezvous with trillion dollar Medicare and Social Security deficits.  All the elements for the biggest expansion of the federal government and taxes in U.S. history. The Democrats are masters of big government and higher taxes.

American politics is dominated not by ideas.  In American politics, great ideas are embodied in a charismatic leader.  The two-party system guarantees that a winning party is in the end no party at all; instead a united coalition.  Only a strong leader can unite a coalition.  That's what makes the conservative winter something to be feared.  Until a proven winner emerges who understands and can connect with all the factions of the conservative movement and the Republican party, the American voters will be in no mood to hear the themes of the last 25 years.  There is no one on the horizon.  Reagan left long ago.