E.J. Dionne looks at the two sides of the Republican Party that President-elect Obama will have to deal with.
The ideological conservatives hold to a faith linking small government and tax-cutting to extreme social conservatism. That mix is increasingly incoherent and out of step with an electorate that is more diverse and more suburban than ever. Ideological conservatives talk obsessively about returning to the glory days of Ronald Reagan and sometimes drop Sarah Palin’s name as a talisman.
Dispositional conservatives have leanings and affections but not an ideology. They have had enough with rigid litmus tests, free-market bromides irrelevant to the current economic downturn and anti-government rhetoric that bears no relationship to the large government that conservatives would inevitably preside over if they took power again.
The dispositional conservatives want to check government’s influence on the economy but not eliminate it. They would call Obama to account but wouldn’t oppose him on everything. They accept that social problems, notably the growing ranks of those without health insurance, will require new action by government. They want solutions that are as unobtrusive as possible, but they do want solutions.
For Obama, a victory by the ideological conservatives could make his life unpleasant — they will attack him on everything — but also allow him to brush the right aside as a pack of irrelevant naysayers.
The less ornery dispositional conservatives would allow Obama to breathe easier in the short run. But they pose a bigger threat for the long term because they would reconstitute the right as a plausible alternative government.
We’ve already seen what the ideologues can do when they’re the opposition (Newt Gingrich and the Clinton impeachment) and when they’re in power (the W era). They’re amazing to watch and great for blog traffic, but they really don’t get things done for the good of the country, and when they actually do something, it’s an unmitigated disaster. Frankly, I’d much rather have what Mr. Dionne calls the dispositional conservatives if only for the fact that we could have a discussion about how to solve the problems we face without making me want to find a large polo mallet.