I spent the last week on the Atlantic Ocean speaking aboard a cruise ship. Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard asked if I would speak at their annual conference, which they hold on the high seas. As an aside, I had never been on a ship before. I managed not to get sea sick and was impressed with the operations and being able to see the Milky Way at night. But I still have a hard time understanding why someone would voluntarily go aboard a ship for a week.
One of the questions raised at the conference, however, came from my friend Steve Hayes, who interviewed me for just over an hour. He asked if the Obama years would long term be seen as a positive for conservatism given that the Republicans have become so dominant. To me, it depends on if they now abandon their principles or not.
Republicans now control more local, county, state and federal elected offices than at any time since Reconstruction. The share of state legislatures and gubernatorial offices is the largest since the 1920s. The states growing the most are all run by Republicans while the states shrinking the most are all run by Democrats.
The last eight years have certainly been good for Republicans, but that party just elected as president a man who was actively funding Democrats until 2011 and whose economic policies are not far removed from Barack Obama’s.
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In 2009, President Obama said his economic stimulus plan would “prime the pump” of the economy after years of President George W. Bush not doing so. Republicans unanimously opposed his stimulus plan. Now, Donald Trump is using the same “prime the pump” language as Obama, and Trump’s own plan is expected to spend even more money than Obama’s. Eight years after unanimously opposing Obama’s plan, the GOP will overwhelming support an even larger plan.
This is where principles matter. Our incoming president does not have very many. Those around him need to guide him. But more importantly, conservatives in Congress who believe in limited government and individualism need to stick to both. Conservatism cannot be something to prop up in opposition to Obama only to abandon it when the Republicans get in office.
The greatest successes the GOP had in the past eight years have been at the state level. Conservative governors have challenged Obama’s administration at every turn on every policy. They were successful in many court challenges and many of these governors saw the danger of taking more federal money with more strings attached. If they start taking money from a Trump administration, the strings will still be attached.
During the Bush administration, “conservative” became synonymous with “Republican.” Many conservative groups became cheerleaders for the GOP. The General Motors bailout, TARP, the prescription drug benefit, No Child Left Behind, etc. were all called “conservative.” Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard actually called George W. Bush a “big government conservative.”
Being so eager to dilute principle for party led to Harriet Miers, comprehensive immigration reform, and budget busting spending packages that significantly raised the national debt. Republicans hid behind war abroad, but their big spending was really on the domestic side.
Our nation is headed to $20 trillion in debt. By the time Obama leaves office he will have added more to the national debt than all other presidents combined. If conservatives abandon their principles there will be no one left in Washington with an incentive to stop us from becoming a bankrupt kleptocracy.
Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.