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February 22, 2005

WILL THERE BE A SPLIT between libertarian and social conservatives? Ryan Sager says that libertarians were poorly received at CPAC, which produced this response from Ramesh Ponnuru, this reply from Sager, and this rejoinder from Ponnuru. Libertarians' influence, of course, has been reduced by the split over the war among libertarians, but I think that a shift toward religious conservatism is likely to cost the Republicans votes. As I warned in Reason, people on both the Left and the social-conservative Right are exaggerating the power of religious conservatives, and that poses a real risk for the GOP:

There’s no question that incidents like the Janet Jackson breast episode have angered a lot of Americans who feel that the entertainment industry doesn’t respect their values. And gay marriage polls badly even in the bluest of blue states. But there’s little reason to believe Americans eagerly cast their votes in November in the hope that busybodies would finally start telling them what to do.

In their book The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge explain how the Republican coalition could go wrong: “Too Southern, too greedy, and too contradictory.” Taking the advice of advocacy groups left and right is likely to send the Bush administration in that direction. Is Karl Rove smart enough to realize that?

I think that he is, even if some people at CPAC are not.

UPDATE: Mary Katherine Ham is pouring on the love:

As one of the conservatives in the audience at CPAC who didn't boo libertarians, I'm with Amy in thinking that relations are a lot better than those boos suggest. On the last day of CPAC, for instance, I sat at The Heritage Foundation's booth with a libertarian colleague, across the aisle from The Objectivist Center's booth, and next to Americans for Tax Reform. There are certainly differences between these groups, but there was no booing or throwing of objects (which could have been very bad, as the Objectivists always have a hefty edition of "Atlas Shrugged" handy). It was almost as if we were a coalition...

As a conservative, and a social conservative in most regards, I'm thankful for libertarians. As far as I'm concerned, people who love free markets, guns, and America are welcome in a coalition with me. Perhaps I'm more apt to embrace libertarians because I spend a lot of time with our real opponents-- my liberal, sometimes-dang-near-socialist friends. Debating (and I use the term loosely)20-something socialists will teach you to LOVE talking to a libertarian.

I also think the street-cred of "libertarianism" as opposed to "social conservatism" does a lot to attract young, counter-culture types to the center-right coalition who might otherwise be lost to loony leftism. That's a win for all us liberty-lovers. I know when I focus on the libertarian aspects of free markets, lower taxes and other conservative positions, I'm able to talk to folks who wouldn't go near me if I used the word "conservative" to characterize them. "Libertarian" overcomes a lot of stereotypes young people have of conservatives, and it's always made for more productive political conversations in my experience. That seems like a good thing to me.

So, consider this my bear hug for both social conservatives and libertarians. We need each other, and I think we'll stick together. At least from my perspective, out in the CPAC audience, there was a lot more getting along and good debate than booing.

Well, libertarian leanings sell better to people who care about liberty because they're libertarian . . . . But I'm glad to hear that people were getting along, and the point about civility and mutual respect is an important one. My experience is that I probably agree with the Left on more issues (certainly more "social" issues) than I do with social conservatives, but the Lefties, for the most part, have very little tolerance for disagreement on anything, while the Righties tend to stress areas of agreement. I suspect that this is a more effective strategy over the long term.

More thoughts here and here.

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