Conservatism in America is dying, thankfully. I am not referring to the iconic conservative beliefs of Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole, who found success in compromise and concession. Compassionate conservatism will always be ingrained in our political system. I am talking about the mangled attempt to push the electorate to the extreme right under the guise of conservatism. The latter is being fueled by fear and misinformation wrapped in a blanket of a disingenuous allegiance to the Constitution. Conservatism as professed today is political cancer, feeding on raw emotion, void of rational debate, and equating compromise as weakness.
On most platforms Americans reject today’s conservative philosophy. Recent polling shows only 25% of the electorate now associate with the Republican Party, the lowest since Gallup started tracking affiliation. Polling also reveals key issues are liabilities for conservatives. 66% of Americans reject a ban on Muslims entering the US. 88% of Americans favor expanding firearm background checks. 66% of Americans think the US should enter into a global climate treaty. 58% of Americans are against blocking funds for Planned Parenthood. 56% support same-sex unions. Only 38% of Americans think we should find and deport undocumented workers. 63% of Americans support raising taxes on the super-wealthy and 69% of Americans believe the system is rigged for that same demographic.
Polling also reveals an information bias conservatives are fueling by disinformation. 56% of conservatives believe (incorrectly) that the unemployment rate is higher than when Obama first took office. The majority of conservatives believe (incorrectly) that Hillary gave a stand-down order at Benghazi. Even more baffling, 30% of conservatives blame President Obama for the Hurricane Katrina response.
This type of misinformation is used to create distrust between opposing opinions and reinforces conservative bias. In the past year we witnessed unapologetic fabrications from professed conservatives. Carly Fiorina incorrectly claimed “92 percent of the job losses in President Obama's first term belonged to women.” Ben Carson, a respected neurosurgeon, claimed that people go into prison straight and come out gay. Ted Cruz recently stated that 92 million Americans are out of workforce and implied they were still looking for work, equating to an economic situation in line with The Great Depression. Ben Carson also stated, "German citizens were disarmed by their government in the late 1930s," which allowed the Nazis to "carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance."
The most mangled distortions of reality were reserved for Donald Trump. Mr. Trump claimed "thousands and thousands" of Muslims in New Jersey were "cheering" when the World Trade Center towers came down. He claimed, "crime statistics show blacks kill 81 percent of white homicide victims." Donald Trump also claimed "the unemployment rate may be as high as 42 percent." In regards to immigration Trump created this whopper, "The Mexican government ... they send the bad ones over." Each of these dishonest positions are rarely challenged by today's conservatives and Mr. Trump's only recourse is watching his poll numbers climb.
Conservatives automatically dismiss even the minutest accomplishments made under President Obama’s administration. From 14 million jobs created to the reduction of the federal deficit, any achievement is met with suspicion and rejection. I have several conservative friends that actually claim President Obama is the worst president of their lifetime. Such hyperbolic rhetoric is borderline laughable not only due to the previous administration’s failures, but the arrogant posturing by dismissing presidential historians. And of course, any dissension of conservative opinion is automatically dismissed as liberal bias.
Recently Bob Dole was asked if Reagan could thrive among today’s conservatives. Dole responded, “Reagan could not have made it. Certainly, Nixon could not have made it, because he had ideas. We might’ve made it, but I doubt it.” Where Reagan saw the need for sensible immigration policy, today’s conservatives hold tight to a blatant distortions of immigrant impact. Where Reagan saw the need to fund the expansion of discretionary spending through tax increases, today’s conservatives see taxation akin to political heresy. Where Reagan was compelled to speak out about reckless gun laws, today’s conservatives actively unravel even the most basic of popular revisions. When Reagan was vocal about our need to tear down walls, today’s conservatives are content building barriers with their undisciplined rhetoric.
In 1993, conservatives Orrin Hatch and Bob Dole brought to the floor a bill advocating individual mandates, creation of purchasing pools (exchanges), standardized benefits, vouchers for the poor to buy insurance (Medicaid expansion), and a ban on denying coverage based on a preexisting conditions. This same platform (Obamacare) is now being disparaged by every “conservative” presidential campaign and congressional ideologue. In fact, 19 Republican-controlled states have rejected what they consider rampant federal overreach with little compassion to those who might benefit from the policy changes. Such decisions would be rejected by compassionate leaders like Reagan, who championed expanded healthcare and passed laws enabling universal access to emergency room care.
Ted Cruz embodies himself as the most conservative candidate in the Republican primaries. Based on today’s definition, this might be true. But Senator Cruz’s positions are reckless and polarizing and will be rejected by political independents that make up 40% of the electorate. Regardless of who eventually wins the Republican nomination, candidate’s flamboyant sound bites and policy-deprived platforms will become a liability in the general election. 2016 will be an exploitation of extreme conservatism and will reveal to the Republican establishment how removed they are from the ideas of President Reagan. But there is good news; today’s conservatism is dying, thankfully.