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The State of American Conservatism: Observations about the Florida Republican Primaries

Florida has recently been described a microcosm of America by its Governor. Indeed, in many rsspects, it does appear to reflect the attitudes and values of many American conservatives. One byproduct of this condition is that he Florida Republican Primary election this year revealed some interesting things about the values and priorities of American conservatism. A look at the numbers published by USA Today on the morning following the Primary is a good place to start.

My first observation looking at these numbers was this: American conservatives, gong into this election year, are more concerned with getting Barrack Obama out of office than they are about anything else – including the qualities of who they are replacing him with. When asked what the most important attribute of their chosen candidate was, 46% of Florida voters in the Republican Primary said “the ability to be Obama”. Less than half as many (20%) listed the second-most frequent characteristic – “having the right experience” (which – at least in my mind – translates into “ability to perform the work required”).

A closely related observation is that the least important characteristic identified was “moral character”. (Among the 4 characteristics most commonly cited by voters, moral character was listed as most important by only 16%). Clearly, the lessons of the Clinton years are completely lost on today’s conservatives.

While 31% of the Republican Primary voters identified themselves as “moderate-to-liberal” Republicans, over 40% of the Florida voters ended up in the Romney camp. This seems to me to depict exactly what percentage of even the most conservative elements of American voters have become convinced that Romney is the right choice this year, regardless of the underlying reason. Romney is clearly the choice of the most moderate-to-liberal of Republican voters. But even among the 69% of self-identified “conservatives” among the Florida Republican Primary voters, 41% went with Romney and 36% selected Gingrich, who is clearly the more conservative candidate. The implications for Gingrich are both obvious and ominous, but they are not the focus of this discussion. The observation that is more central to this review is that the mainstream of American conservatism is not – based on their actions – all that conservative.

This observations especially interesting in light of that fact that voters expressed broad levels of support (63%) for the Tea Party movement and it’s principles. The combination of a fairly liberal population of voters who say that they believe in Tea Party principles reflects a substantial degree of hypocrasy. As American conservatives, we’re not nearly as conservative as we would like to believe we are, or want others to believe that we are.

Finally, and I’m sure this is no real surprise to anyone, I surmise that more physically attractive candidates (based on facial features, hair color, and physical height, garner more votes than their competitors – even when they are technically weaker in terms of skills, experience, and capability. While this is reflected in this case by the fact that 41% of men were Romney supporters in the Florida primary vs. 51% of women, it has also been identified in a wealth of other studies. One of the most interesting of those to me was a comparison of the results after the famous Nixon / Kennedy debates, where radio listeners perceived Nixon to be the clear winner, and the television audience perceived Kennedy as the clear winner.

In summary, I believe the Florida primaries demonstrated that American conservatives are not nearly as committed to their principles as we are to defeating Obama. We are not nearly as conservative as we want to believe we are, and we are much more shallow than we would like to believe; looks and success seem to be trumping moral character and principle.

What do you think?

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