Last year, an interesting thing happened at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. The libertarian-leaning, Constitutionalist Ron Paul won the Presidential straw poll.
This year, he won it again, taking 30% of the vote to Mitt Romney's 23%. Former New Mexico Governor Greg Johnson, who also leans libertarian, came in third at 6%.
CPAC was also noted for inviting the gay Republican organization GOProud, which sparked boycotts from groups such as Concerned Women of America, the American Family Association, the Heritage Foundation think tank, and the Media Research Council.
What's so wrong with GOProud? Its list of federal legislative promotes market-oriented reforms, fighting "global extremists," and defending the 2nd Amendment. Nowhere are specific "gay" issues mentioned; GOProud's point seems to be that these proposals would benefit the gay community. Nevertheless, the presence of open homosexuals at CPAC was unacceptable to some groups.
Other telling events in the growing divide in the conservative movement include:
In other words, there is growing friction in the coalition that once called for lower taxes, social conservatism, and endless war against Muslims (and before them, communists). The primary concerns of neoconservatives and social conservatives are losing influence. Critics of the wars, Pentagon spending, the Patriot Act, and the War on Drugs are getting a respectful hearing in the conservative community when they were once marginalized.
As the New Mexico Independent reports, When CPAC attendees were given a choice between three statements that best expresses their "core ideology:"
Eighty-four percent chose "My most important goal is to promote individual freedom by reducing the size and scope of government and its intrusion into the lives of citizens."
Nine percent selected "My most important goal is to promote traditional values by protecting traditional marriage and protecting the life of the unborn."
And 6 percent chose "My most important goal is to secure and guarantee American safety at home and abroad regardless of the cost or the size of government."
That's what three years of trillion-dollar-plus deficits will do to an ideology. Beginning with the bailouts of 2008 through the Stimulus and Obamacare, it is easy to perceive that the biggest threat to American liberty and prosperity is the federal government itself, not Muslim "extremists" living in foreign caves, and not homosexuals.
That is why Ron Paul, who warned about the tanking of the economy before it happened, and the Tea Party movement are changing the conservative movement.
Take note, however, that even if you combine the votes for Paul, Johnson, and apparent social moderate Daniels (4%), that's still less than half of the 84% who say they are most concerned about individual freedom and the size of government. While the size of the domestic budget seems to be the prevailing issue among conservatives, most of them still seem to also embrace the "pro-life," "traditional marriage" social conservative line, and the anti-Muslim neoconservative line.
But their numbers aren't as overwhelming as it was even a couple of years ago. Many conservatives are re-thinking some issues.
They could learn something from the Ron Paul movement itself. It encompasses people from atheist anarchists to Nevada prostitutes to college students to fundamentalist Christians such as 2008 Constitution Party Presidential nominee Chuck Baldwin.
That's inclusive, because the Constitution is inclusive. There is, after all, nothing exclusive by acknowledging that Congress should declare war before it is fought, the Federal Reserve is unconstitutional and is impoverishing the people, that the federal government has no business creating health care, welfare, and education programs, or that it has no business making marriage laws, drug laws, or abortion laws.
The social conservatives and neoconservatives can rant and rave all they want. But they would rather the Republican Partylose in 2012 than earn any gay or Muslim support.
The "Paulians," however, hope that everyone supports the Constitution. This doesn't mean that everyone has to applaud everyone else's lifestyle. This also doesn't mean everyone has to agree with everyone on what the laws should be at the state level. What it does mean is that the federal government should leave you alone.
If social conservatives and neoconservatives hold on to their fears and resentments and refuse to make it the Constitution the foundation of the conservative ideology, there may very well be a decisive and permanent split with the Constitutionalists. This, in turn, may lead to a creation of a new third party, much better-funded and more popular than current third parties.
Whether within the Republican Party or outside of it, we will see a major shake-up in the next few years.