Monday, May 09, 2011

Is There a Litmus Test for Conservative Republicans?

In April, it was announced by the American Conservative Union that Christopher Malagisi had been hired as the new director of CPAC (the annual Conservative Political Action Conference), succeeding Lisa De Pasquale.  Malagisi's appointment was part of a changing of the guard that included the retirement of longtime ACU chairman David Keene and the tapping of his successor, Al Cardenas.

It's no secret that the choice of Cardenas was seen by many as a rebuke to Keene (and perhaps, indirectly, to De Pasquale) for being too open to libertarian and non-social conservative ideas and groups.  (The conflict came to head -- if it wasn't actually a tempest in a teapot -- when several social conservative organizations claimed to boycott CPAC this year because of the presence of GOProud, a gay conservative group.)  The ACU board, it was alleged, wanted to shrink the "big tent" that CPAC had been under Keene's leadership.

Last week, Malagisi stepped into a political tourbillion when, writing an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, he set up a five-stage litmus test for conservative Republican candidates that, by his estimation, disqualified Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson as contenders for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.  (It's noteworthy that in 2011, Paul and Johnson came in first and third, respectively, in the annual CPAC presidential straw poll.)

In his article, Malagisi asked, not rhetorically:
Why do Republicans let people like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson participate in Republican presidential debates? They are obviously trying to win the “Who’s more Libertarian?” or “Who’s the least Republican” debate as opposed to the actual Republican debate taking place.
He argued that the Republican Party rests on five pillars (which he does not define):
The Republican Party as a whole though is based on five fundamental principles – individual freedom, limited government, free markets, a strong national defense, and preserving our traditional values and heritage. The modern Republican Party is based on the foundation of the conservative movement.

The conservative movement is a coalition made up of three disparate, yet amenable groups – classical liberals or libertarians, traditionalists, and anti-communists – or modernly referred to as fiscal, social, and defense conservatives. While each entity emphasizes different issues, they all work together in a political compact of sorts with a shared sense of reason operating within tradition. They also understand that together, as a fusionist coalition, they have the best chance of winning elections and actually legislating their conservative principles.
Malagisi's exclusionary position immediately came under fire, beginning with 92 comments on the Examiner's web site, nearly all of which were in disagreement with him.

Bloggers also took aim at Malagisi.

First out of the box was The Minority Report's Alex Knepper, who says in a piece called "Yes, Ron Paul Should Be Allowed To Debate" that he is no fan of either Ron Paul or Gary Johnson, yet he still called Malagisi's op-ed "misguided," adding:
The term ‘Republican,’ however, refers to party affiliation, not to political philosophy. Anyone whose priorities are right-of-center can find a home in the GOP. This is why Ronald Reagan, who famously stated that libertarianism represents “the heart and soul” of modern conservatism, remains the icon of a party in which Mike Huckabee, who believes that libertarianism is a greater threat to America than liberalism, finds himself leading many presidential polls.

The logic of exclusion would appear to be that candidates who espouse heresy should not be considered legitimate Republican candidates and should hence be shut out from the debates.

Really, now? What to do, then, about Rick Santorum, who has previously stated that he finds “the whole personal autonomy thing,” which Malagisi holds as a hallmark of modern conservatism, to be completely overrated?
Knepper concludes by saying:
As Malagisi probably knows deep-down, there is no such thing as this creature known as the “true conservative.” Conservatism proper is a disposition, not an ideology. It is an attitude toward life, not a checklist of particulars that can be legislated from on-high. It remains, as it always has been, an argument with itself. If Ron Paul is wrong about foreign policy — and I think that he is — then it’s up to others on the stage to demonstrate that he is wrong. I hope that they can do that, rather than take the cowardly route of shutting him down.
Oklahoma blogger Brian Altenhofel goes straight to Malagisi's list of five principles and finds them "exceptional," as you will see:
I would have expected a much better level of rationality from a "President of the Young Conservatives Coalition, a National Review Institute Washington Fellow, and an Adjunct Professor."

The Republican Party has been referred to recently as the The Party of No. But I don't think that's quite accurate the more that I read articles and hear people speak about alleged Republican principles. A more accurate term might be The Party of Buts — "...based on five fundamental principles – individual freedom (BUT only those we approve), limited government (BUT so long as 'limited' means 'slower than Democrats'), free markets (BUT with federal financial support of private companies), a strong national defense (BUT only if it includes nation-building and holding Israel high on a pedestal), and preserving our traditional values (BUT only if those values don't conflict with our personal religious beliefs) and heritage."
Another blogger, The Virginia Conservative, posted a lengthy rebuttal to Malagisi on Sunday, also calling him "misguided":
I believe that Malagisi’s conclusions are just flat out wrong. He starts out claiming that the Republican Party is a three-legged stool, a merging of libertarians, traditionalists, and anti-communists....

Malagisi’s work devolves into fairly mindless bashing of Paul and Johnson for embracing this libertarian or “classical liberal” wing. He claims that both men are more suited to be Democrats rather than Republicans because they don’t support the war on terror or imposed moral standards coming out of Washington D.C. Doesn’t it seem strange that Malagisi admits there are three legs of the party, while at the same time seeking to saw off one entirely? Although this news may come as a shock to those who lack either common sense or a basic understanding of physics, but this two-legged stool that Malagisi seems to be advocating cannot stand.,,,

Both Paul and Johnson are a welcome change to the current Republican politicians as usual who advocate a blend of fiscal irresponsibility, moral pandering absent any real commitment for meaningful legislation, wars without end, and the shredding of our Constitution. Now, I will admit that Johnson is too libertarian for my tastes, after all, I am a social conservative. However, with the recent debate as a guide, I would support him over Rick Santorum. Although Santorum and I agree on many social issues, his statements in the debate lead me to fear that he would support an agenda more akin to fascism than liberty.

Despite what you may think from this post and others populating this blog, I am not a libertarian. However, as a constitutional or paleo-conservative, I see libertarians as allies as we both seek to rein in the power of the federal government. We can and do disagree on a number of social issues, like abortion and defending our borders, but the party should welcome these folks to counterbalance the Republicans who abandon any notion of limiting the power of government while Republicans reign....

I would wager that either Malagisi is woefully ignorant of Paul and the conservative movement (unlikely) or he is a neoconservative who longs for the return to big government Republicanism. Either way, I encourage my fellow traditional conservatives and libertarians to steer clear of his poisonous rhetoric. Although he is welcome to his opinions, given his current political position, I fear how many other potential allies will become unknowingly tainted by his misguided and baseless words.
One final example.

Pulling no punches, the Northern Virginia Conservative begins like this:
I just can't stop myself...
...from fisking this piece from stereotypical neoconservadouche Chris Malagisi. This guy is one of Newt Gingrich's henchmen, and periodically plugs him, and even started this page on facebook to "draft" Newtie. I, of course, couldn't stop myself back then, either... and this appeared. Whoops.
And he ends like this:
Spare me your smarm, your condescension and your arrogance. No sale. Don't you have a Newtie event to go to?
In addition to the comments on the Washington Examiner's web site and the well-considered rebuttals on blogs, there has also been chatter about Malagisi's commentary piece on Facebook and Twitter. If his ill-considered attack on two solid conservatives -- Ron Paul votes "no" on virtually everything that comes to the floor of the House of Representatives, on the basis that Congress lacks the constitutional authority to do virtually everything it does, and Gary Johnson vetoed 750 pieces of legislation during his eight years as New Mexico governor, arguing that most of it was fiscally irresponsible -- has not already been withdrawn, you can bet that he'll think more carefully about making similar attacks in the future. It would be unseemly, not to say uneconomical, for the new director of CPAC to make enemies of the people who buy about half of the tickets to that annual conservative event.

For other blog posts that discuss disputes and divisions between conservatives and libertarians, check out "Mt. Vernon Is No Sharon" (February 16, 2010); "Rick Santorum's Views on Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan" (October 16, 2010);"Yep, I'm a Mugwump" (March 15, 2006); and "Obsessed with Sex" (February 22, 2010).

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