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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Con-Cons and the Real “Struggle for the Soul of the GOP”

In discussing the strategic and tactical differences within the GOP that exist despite agreement over policy and ideology, there’s something underneath the surface that always concerns me: the steady growth of a meta-ideology on the Right that is not at all new, but is rapidly emerging from the shadows. It generally calls itself “constitutional conservatism,” and I addressed its basic nature (not for the first time, but more definitively) yesterday at the Washington Monthly:

I do worry that the still-emerging ideology of “constitutional conservatism” is something new and dangerous, at least in its growing respectability. It’s always been there in the background, among the Birchers and in the Christian Right, and as as emotional and intellectual force within Movement Conservatism. It basically holds that a governing model of strictly limited (domestic) government that is at the same time devoted to the preservation of “traditional culture” is the only legitimate governing model for this country, now and forever, via the divinely inspired agency of the Founders. That means democratic elections, the will of the majority, the need to take collective action to meet big national challenges, the rights of women and minorities, the empirical data on what works and what doesn’t–all of those considerations and more are so much satanic or “foreign” delusions that can and must be swept aside in the pursuit of a Righteous and Exceptional America. I don’t think at this point “constitutional conservatism” has taken over the GOP, but its rhetoric and the confrontational–even chiliastic–strategy and tactics it suggests are becoming more common every day, even among hackish pols who probably don’t think deeply about anything and would sell out the “base” in a heartbeat if they could get away with it. Some of the moneyed interests bankrolling the GOP and the conservative movement probably just view all the God and Founders talk as a shiny bauble with which to fool the rubes, but others–notably the Kochs–seem to have embraced it as a vehicle for permanent domination of American politics. This is the real “struggle for the soul of the GOP” that’s worth watching, far more than the tempests in a Tea Party Pot in this or that primary.

The Con-Con self-identification has grown like topsy in just the last four years. It bears careful watching, because those who espouse this radical ideology will not be subdued by sweet reason, their own party’s “discipline,” or even temporary setbacks. They’re playing a long game, and a dangerous game.

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