What these doomsayers miss is that, in many ways, the conservative movement is now stronger than it ever was. Rush Limbaugh, his radio show amplified by his web presence, is now joined on the air by countless other thoughtful conservatives and right-leaning libertarian voices, including Bill Bennett, Larry Elder and Laura Ingraham. The conservative blogosphere has joined the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, National Review and The Weekly Standard as sources of conservative opinion.But I'm pretty sure that the mechanism described above will only act to further split the Republican Party down its already-yawning ideological divide.
Should McCain lose, they will becoming increasingly powerful. Expect Rush’s audience to soar. Even our readership will increase, as gays who become disgusted with how the national gay groups fawn over a Democratic president (as did HRC over Clinton in the 1990s), will be looking for a place where their views are articulated.
I've been convinced that the foundation of intellectual conservatism is rooted in faith and religion. From the faith comes the religion. From the religion comes the unity that's necessary to hold the community together. Granted, there is a non-religious way to get strong families but it's immensely difficult and fraught with peril. (I know this from personal, rueful experience.) And even if many non-religious families hold together, they still lack the community cohesion that's necessary to crank the whole Hayekian conservative machinery to life.
Since I am non-religious, this kind of conservatism is never going to appeal to me, however much I agree with many of its philosophies about free choices in a free market, made by self-restrained men and women. I'm confident that a new intellectual foundation can be forged for the conservative movement, one that reconciles a more unrestrained libertarianism with a pragmatic, conservative policy.
But if it really is true that the winners in the intramural war that's now erupting are the talk-show pundits and the more ideological of the conservative blogosphere and press, then that new conservatism will drift away from the old conservatism. Neither branch in the split will be powerful enough to begin to change the debate in the country.
There are only two resolutions to this split. It's always possible that the libertarians and the social values crowds will renew their uncomfortable bargain. I really don't see this happening; the antipathy between the two camps has grown exponentially through this election. Still, I suppose that it's possible to reach a compromise where religion has a vastly diminished role in public debate.
The other possibility is that a new libertarian alliance is formed with centrists and conservative Democrats. That might restore the balance of a two-party government but I don't know how one brings along the religious right.
In any case, the battle promises to be furious. Ultimately, that may be the best thing that can happen to conservatism of either branch. The more vigorous the debate, the better the ideas that eventually emerge.