Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | February 2, 2012

Why Sarah Palin is right about having a competitive primary season

The short answer is that Mitt Romney isn’t a small-government conservative.  The slightly longer answer is that Barack Obama has been – as he promised to be – a game-changer, and the 2012 election is the one in which libertarian anti-statism will either have a voice in the Republican Party, or will have to do something else.

This primary season is a fight for the character of the GOP.  The fight is not the perennial standoff between “social cons” and “fiscal cons”; it is a long-postponed dispute over the size and charter of government, and how the GOP will approach it.  It is the most basic possible dispute over ideas about man and the state and their consequences.  It’s also a dispute only the Republican Party could have.  The Democratic Party does not have such a diversity of viewpoint, at least not in any politically consequential way.  The decision about whether America will continue on a fiscally unsustainable path of ever-growing statism comes down to the GOP’s fight with itself.

The Romney wing represents the attitude that America is really OK with the size of government we have now: it just needs better management and some tweaking on the margins.  The Romney wing does not by any means have a class-hostile, socialist vision for the future.  It has no intention of interfering with the citizens’ intellectual liberties, and its view of managerial government is not predicated on the idea that the people need to be coerced (or “nudged”) into collectivist life choices.  It simply sees the existing size of government as compatible with a free-enough life, in the sense that we don’t need to push for significant changes.

The other wing – the one that has been getting behind a different candidate every few weeks – believes precisely that America is not OK with the size of government we have now.  Its main point is that our fiscal and economic problems, and many of our social ones, result directly from the size and interventionist activities of government.  The size of government is the problem – already, today – and if it isn’t fixed, America literally cannot survive as a republic with the intellectual and lifestyle liberties we have enjoyed up to now.

Many in the GOP’s “Not OK” wing have perceived government to be out of control for some time.  But the shock administered by the Obama administration gave the most direct impetus to the Tea Party movement, because it brought home to many Americans how vulnerable we had already become to executive overreach.

For this wing of the GOP, it isn’t enough to put a Republican in charge of the sprawling, momentum-driven executive.  The mere existence of such a gigantic apparat is an already-proven threat to liberty.  A Democrat could be reelected to head it at any time, and even with a Republican in charge, the civil-service army would continue in obscurity to pursue regulatory and money-spending charters issued years or decades ago.  The failure of Congress to pass a budget for over 1,000 days has suspended the legislature’s principal hammer over the executive’s freedom to do what it wants.  As long as government limps along from month to month, on continuing resolutions that are mainly about constituency-tending fights in the House and Senate, Congress cannot gather its will to bargain seriously with the executive over spending priorities.

For the “Not OK” wing of the GOP, what is essential in 2012 is repudiating government on this model.  Nothing is more important to America’s future than that.  The different wings of the GOP have differing views of what constitutes “realism”:  the “America is OK” wing views it as unrealistic to focus on something other than putting up the candidate whom they feel will appeal to the most voters.  The “Not OK” wing sees that as an unrealistic perspective on the current situation.  If government is not reined in – put through an effective bankruptcy proceeding, with its assets sold off and its charter reorganized – then nothing else will matter.

Who is right?  While I am with the “Not OK” wing philosophically, I don’t think it would be the end of America as we know it if Mitt Romney were elected.  But I do believe it would be a grave strategic error for the Republican Party to endorse him early, and silence intra-party dissent as if he represents what America really needs.  A Romney presidency would be no more than a hiatus in deliberately using the state as a steamroller for ideological purposes.  That would be better than 4 more years of Obama, but from the perspective of getting America on a different path, it’s not good enough.

The GOP needs this fight over philosophy of government.  What has to be established in the 2012 primary season is that the small-government vote matters.  If that is not established, the GOP itself will matter little.  Its difference from the Democratic Party will not be sufficient to attract (or keep) membership.

I believe Palin has a strategic view of America’s future that looks beyond the 2012 election itself.  The most important thing now is that the small-government perspective continue to have a chance to express itself on its terms.  If it is silenced in electoral politics, there will be no hope of changing America’s path.  And the only way for it to have a voice is for this primary season to continue on a competitive basis.  That is the mechanism through which the voice of either wing of the party matters to the industry of politics.  That’s where the noise has to be made.

Palin is right.  This is an incredibly “political” year, more so than any year I can remember other than maybe 1979.  Americans are more engaged in political ideas than I have ever seen them.  Obama’s poll numbers aren’t good, but perhaps more importantly, those numbers and others on GOP candidates keep shifting.  People’s choices haven’t been set in stone.  They’re not sure what’s going on, they’re still trying to find a candidate who says what they’re waiting to hear, and they haven’t made up their minds.  The media will do what they’re going to do, but the people are having a separate dialogue with themselves, and it isn’t over.

I believe the GOP would be out of step with the remarkable nature of this year to crown a big-government-as-usual candidate early, on the theory that we need to damp down philosophical debate and concentrate on “campaigning” as early as possible before November.  The campaigning is what is annoying the living bejeebers out of the voters; it’s the philosophical debate that matters this year.  Shutting it down would be a tactical as well as a strategic error.  The only way to force Romney to the right is to keep the primary season competitive.  It’s also the way to keep quality attention on the most important debate America has had on the nature of government since 1860.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.



  1. Great Essay… and now for the YES BUT:

    1. The GOP has no actual respectable “NOT OK” Candidate or leader. Well there is one, but he’s not running… Col. West do you hear this? Newt is the best that we “Not OK” folks have. That is small bad flavored tonic. Santorum is, unfortunately a “Big Government Conservative”. His history is that of a loyal party apparatchik. He’s on the side of the angels on life and Defense, but size of the leviathan, nozzomush.

    2. As time and corrupting influences of the power elite have their eroding effects on people, more “NOT OK” will drift, walk, then run to the “OK” crowd. It is inevitable as their livelihoods become increasingly dependent on the leviathan and their access to the reins of power.

    So what happens when the man from Mittstinia is showered with balloons and confetti in August/September? This outcome has been purchased by him and his, and the Establishment flaks show no signs of being dissuaded from their dogged pursuit of pathetic mediocrity. Except this year, the chosen bowl of sugarless spiceless fruitless milquetoast will be so battered, beaten wobbly, and abandoned by many to survive the sprint from Labor Day to the Election.

    Romney is a gaffe machine. As a matter of fact, he reminds me so much of Obummer, that it is almost painful to see. Unscripted and unrehearsed the guy is one memorized platitude after another. His only flourish seems to be the gaffe bullet after gaffe bullet for David Axelrod’s crap gun.

    Since Romney doesn’t stand for much of anything, really… except that he’s wealthy and we should be impressed by that because well he was born wealthy… and made is wealth himself… wait… You get the picture.

    The ‘BUT’ is out of the way…. now for the agreement.

    The contest needs to continue (Newt needs to win his challenge regarding SC delegates – He is correct, according to the RNC rules, the South Carolina delegate count should be proportionally distributed.) because the first ballot vote must fail to nominate anybody… only in a brokered Convention do the Republicans have enough of a complete surprise to serve up to make it a real contest in the Fall.

    Frankly the entire current field is a flop. And none of them are likely to beat Oh Bummer with anything approaching a mandate even if they do make it to the White House.

    Keep it rolling…


  2. Here are my diferences or, better said, “modified thoughts” on some of the things you write about in this post:

    Actually, it is not just Romney but the Republican Party that remains uncommitted to a smaller, less intrusive government. Romney is the predictable result of that lack of commitment and why he is the GOP “establishment’s” candidate of choice. In other words, Romney is not another one of the dangerous elements playing in these coming elections, Romney is the resulting element of a dangerous and ongoing GOP party attitude.

    Romney, I believe, is seen as the most electable by the GOP establishment because Romney fits the GOP establishment’s mold to a “T”. This mold has been in place and offered up by the GOP for some time now and Romney represents, at best, that party’s deep seated desire to keep the party within the “a bigger government is a better government” socio-political attitude.

    Romney, in my opinion, is little more than the GOP’s move, perhaps their rush to return us to the days of “H” and, even better (as far as they are concerned), to the days of “W” Bush.

    The GOP seems convinced that all problems can and should be resolved by government, that all social challenges should be addressed by government because government should be “compassionately” conservative, which is the copywriter’s way of saying one thing shielded, aided or, if all else fails, hidden by another.

    All of this is supported by the GOP apparent and demonstarble conviction that only government has the power to resolve any and everything, that government should not only be omnipotent but also all-loving as well as the ultimate giver of “justice for all”. These are the GOP thinkers (?) that have convinced themselves that government’s main function is to take care of every citizen’s comfort because that is either what will perpetuate them in their seats of power or because they follow the “if you can’t beat them, join them (only a bit slower to retain “some” diferentiation…).

    This “we move slightly slower than the democrats but in the same general direction” has been the GOP’s modus operandi for many presidential cycles now. Witness the past performance by Republican Presidents and Congresscreatures. “Spend and Print” or, if that fails, “Spend and Tax”. And, in support of that nefarious direction, government, under both parties, continue to contrive and create more laws, more and tighter controls all of which have to be administered, of course, by more and more government officials and bureaucrats. That this yields more power to government at the expense of our already limited individual liberties and common safety seems to not matter a bit to the either the DNC or the GOP.

    This attitude by both parties, because both parties are culpable at best and complicit at worst, is not just endangering the Republic, it has almost demolished it.

    So, my read is that the “Not OK” wing of the GOP as you call it are the GOP’s forlorn and lost souls that, still believing in the current electoral system, haven’t figured out where else they can go with their hopes and sapirations. Because, let’s face it, the way our system has been set up, manipulated and fueled, there is, simply, nowhere else to go. So, the choice for replacing Obama is being narrowed for us to chosing between a known liberal and a known progressive.

    Look, some things never change. The current primaries remind us, rather closely, by the way, of the 2000 Primaries between Bush and McCain, no…?


    • Big government programs instituted by Republicans may prove even more difficult to reverse than those promoted by Democrats. Two words: Richard Nixon.

      Even if we conservatives believe that Romney would be more likely to beat Obama than the rest of the Republican field, we need to do a little poker player math: our expected return is affected as much by the size of the pot as our chance of winning it. The stake in a contest between, say, Santorum and Obama is a lot larger than what is in play in a Romney-Obama race.

      The other thing to consider is that the odds may not be what the establishment pundits are telling us. To continue the card game analogy, Santorum argues that running Romney against Obama means that we can’t play some of our best cards, because on many issues where Obama is vulnerable (e,g., Obamacare), Romney does not present a distinct alternative.

  3. The now never-ending ritual of election rhetoric, oddly similar to that of professional wrestling, followed by the winner-take-all format of the electoral college, insures that nothing much is ever going to change. The victors get the spoils of the metastasizing bureaucracy and the cronyism that goes with it. The federal government is an end in itself, an organism that exists only to maintain its own existence. Why is it that the country with reputedly the oldest effective constitution has yet to have it duplicated anywhere else, even in Japan, Germany or Iraq, where Americans basically designed the government? Certainly the results of the 2012 election may have some effect on an individual American’s freedom and prosperity but there won’t be a perceptible decline in federal power regardless of who’s riding around in the armoured black suburban with the heavily tinted windows. They can’t and won’t abolish the EPA, the Dept. of Education, the Dept. of Commerce or the Dept. of Agriculture.

    • Amen!


  4. Is it time to throw in with the secesh yet?

  5. Everyone please be advised: If you are not for higher taxes Jesus will turn his back on you. You will die and burn in hell.

    When an empty suit politician, brings religion into the discussion, (no matter what the political leanings) he is signaling he thinks he is in deep trouble.

    Obama needs four more years because he is doing God’s work. He is clinging to his bible. Pretty soon he will be armed.Elmer Gantry call your office.

    On a serious note: We do all of Christ’s construction here in Central Oklahoma. If you don’t do business with us, you are dissing
    Jesus. I know what Jesus thinks, call us today.

  6. what percentage of the electorate is aligned with the “Not OK” wing of the GOP right at this point?

    figure that out and maybe you’ll have an answer as to why none of the half-dozen Not-OK candidates is still standing and why the GOP isn’t going to field any of them.

  7. I think Fuster has put his finger on something central to this discussion. However, he is incorrect in referring to the “electorate”. Palin didn’t run, and Bachmann flunked out of the primaries, not because the electorate as a whole thought they didn’t have the “right stuff”, but because polls showed that the Republican subset of the electorate manifestly didn’t want either of them.
    There is no question that Palin, Bachmann (and Gingrich too) are to the right of the Republical Party consensus. That is why they are not getting the primary votes. Romney, whatever his defects (and they are many and manifest) seems to be within that consensus. Unless you subscribe to the victimist proposition that it is the MSM, Republican Party “elites”, or Romney’s money that are preventing the Republican grass-roots from thinking and voting “straight”. Mind you, media surveys tend to show that Republican voters tend to get their information from Fox and right-wing radio, so it must be the money and the elites that are confusing these innocents. Perhaps we will now have to add media-surveys, along with the pollsters, to our vast list of liberal conspiracies.

    We are in the process of establishing in this primary season that the “Not ok” faction in the Republican Party is not particularly representative of the Republican “family” as a whole, and, in fact, comprises a noisy minority. If for no other reason, the continuing primary season is doing the Republican Party no small service.

    So whither the “Not ok” faction? It could have the courage of its convictions and start a whole new party where it wouldn’t have the excuse of the Republican “elites” to fall back on. However, history tells us that the US electorate doesn’t have much time for parties with extreme and off-center policies. Just look at the US Communist Party and its various derivatives. Most sensible folks know that the 100% of nothing which is the fruit of ideological purity, is, well, nothing… In this case, the nothing of permanent political irrelevancy. The alternative may welll play out in the aftermath of a Romney defeat in November. Romney is essentially a weak character with a reasonable record of business and administrative competence. Instead of defending his sensible and centrist record, the primary process is driving him into taking up contradictory positions which are further and further to the right of the US consensus – and rendering him less and less electable in a general election. In the aftermath of November, the Republicans may well have a rush of blood to the head and misread the reasons for the result and blame the loss on the party not being sufficiently extreme. People like Palin and Bachmann, would arise from the political grave like mall-zombies to sleepwalk an embittered and victimized Republican Party grass-roots into a position in which the Party becomes even less electable. I believe that people like JED are looking beyond November for opportunities to hijack the Republican Party and remake it more to their liking. Their misfortune is that, even if they are successful, their Republican Party will be representative of an even smaller percentage of Americans, and all their plotting and machinations can’t hijack the electorate.

    In the meantime, we can only applaud Gingrich’s decision to soldier on. The only thing he is capable of from here on in to the Convention is to further damage Romney (probably with Romney’s own assistance) and render collateral damage to GOP candidates generally in November.

    Go for it, Newt!

    • If concrete were B.S., you’d be Hoover Dam. The mastodon media has done their best to narrow down the GOP field, using the same methodology on Herman Cain as they employed on Clarence Thomas, since they wouldn’t be able to use the race card on Cain in a general election. Bachmann, who has more integrity in her little finger than BHO has in his whole body, ably points out that the expansion of government is a disaster for those forced to pay for it so naturally she’s painted as a crazy. Ron Paul’s common sense observations on monetary matters are dismissed as loony without analysis when, in fact, they were generally accepted everywhere not all that long ago and still are by a significant number of real economists.

      ” … the primary process is driving him into taking up contradictory positions which are further and further to the right of the US consensus….” Nice to know that you’ve got a handle on the US consensus, which would make you a pretty singular figure. Most observers would figure that elections involve the act of making a choice, selecting among two or more alternatives, not affirming a consensus or imaginary singularity., as it was in the once glorious Soviet Union or is today in Cuba, North Korea, China and most of the Arab world. It’s pretty obvious that there’s never been a so-called consensus in the US or anywhere else, ever. Since no two individuals have the same needs or desires, lumping these individuals into constituencies can’t produce a real consensus. The more individuals in the group, the more differences in opinion. Only by using the normal meaningless boilerplate rhetoric can politicians, and you, make appeals to individuals with specific needs ignore those needs and jump on the fantasy bandwagon.

      • Now, now. Calm down, Chuck, and take your medication.

        You poor helpless victim of the “mastodon media”. And because you and a few other self-pitying folks with views a million miles to the right of the American mainstream cannot get your way, you have convinced yourself that it must be because of a big conspiracy. Perhaps, if you think it through, it might just be because, in a democracy, tiny unrepresentative minorities seldom get their way.

        And, Chuck, consensus happens where people who disagree on issues agree to disagree because they can all agree on a bigger picture. Consensus is at the heart of every successful democracy – including our own. I accept that the concept of consensus is anathema to all ideologues – left and right. And you are perfectly entitled to your weird and off-centre views. Pity the majority of Republican voters don’t share them (unless you think that they are incapable of exercising free will because of a big conspiracy).

        In the meantime dear victim, be assured “I feel your pain”

        • How does observing that the “news” media as an institution uses its position in society not to disseminate factual information but to influence election results make one a victim?

          • You’re not a victim, Chuck. You only think you are.

            It’s just that I thought all you fringe folks believed that the New York Times was somehow preventing you from thinking straight.

          • Chuck, give it up. You can’t reason with a childish cotton candy view of the world.
            It would be nice if Child Paul could curtail the War and Peace length regurgitations to just the average Novel.
            All Day Suckers for everyone.

    • Gingrich has deep running progressive roots. Therefore, he is hardly on the “right” of anything. Actually, being a self-admited progressive, he is mostly on the “wrong”.


      • you style his hair?

        • No, idiot. I don’t.


          • Now this is getting to the Paul comprehension level. Fuster, I thought you knew Newt’s wife cuts his hair.
            Sarah cuts mine. Very very stylish indeed.

            • I gots all confused ,,,so much hair and so many wives…by that Rafa-Rooter.

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