This election cycle was an even bigger missed opportunity than 2000. The issues Pat Buchanan ran on”foreign policy, trade, and immigration”are all more salient now than they were eight years ago. Not only are antiwar conservatives up for grabs, but the Republican nominee, John McCain, is despised or distrusted by millions of ordinary taxpaying, churchgoing, Limbaugh-listening conservatives without the paleo prefix. Moreover, Ron Paul momentarily united Buchananites and libertarians during the Republican primaries, raising millions of dollars and inspiring thousands of passionate followers. The kind of third-party campaign that was quixotic during the Bush-Gore battle of the hanging chads would seem plausible in the fight against McBama. If there were ever a chance to free disaffected conservatives from the chains that bind them to the GOP, this would be the year. Yet unless something significant is brewing beneath the surface of the polls, that seems increasingly unlikely to happen.
We may be seeing the resurgence of what was thought to be an endangered species: the Southern white conservative Democrat. Travis Childers, a Democrat who won a congressional seat in a havily Republican district, is just one recent example. One of the Democrats’ other 2008 special election victories came in Louisiana, where Don Cazayoux beat Republican Woody Jenkins by a slim margin. Cazayoux is also a pro-life, pro-gun conservative Democrat who was willing to go toe-to-toe with Jenkins on his culture war bona fides. Only a few years ago, a Southern white conservative who aspired to be elected to anything higher than a state legislative seat would have been well advised to leave the party of Jefferson for the party of Lincoln. Times have changed.
James Webb was once the great white hope of the paleoconservatives. A little over a year into his first term, Jim Webb so far looks like something else entirely: a paleoconservative Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan always had many admirers on the right, especially among the neoconservatives. But in the Senate, he was a standard-issue liberal voting the Democratic Party line. Will Webb also roll over and play party regular? Washington has a way of taming mavericks and draining people of everything that makes them interesting. Steve Sailer once referred to “the Joe Liebermans and Daniel Patrick Moynihans who talk like Irving Kristol but vote like Walter Mondale.” Webb writes like Pat Buchanan but votes like Harry Reid.
If the Paul movement can persevere and cohere”neither of which is certain”it can go beyond a cult of personality and be a beginning rather than an ending. The challenge that awaits the thousands of activists who have been inspired by Dr. Paul isn’t to run and register under a new third party as the number of dedicated constitutionalists in Congress is reduced to zero. It is expanding the ranks of Ron Paul Republicans”and small-government supporters of all stripes”in a hostile political climate. That takes more than one man. It requires a real movement.
Ron Paul’s opposition to the Iraq conflict stems from his general libertarianism, since he agrees with Randolph Bourne that war is the health of the state. He has always opposed big government and continued to vote against expansions of Washington’s reach”long after it became unfashionable to do so within the GOP that gave us No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription drug benefit. In fact, Paul believes that the Constitution set up a limited federal government with enumerated powers. And he doesn”t always see the either party’s spending wish list enumerated in the text of that founding document.