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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?

6 Responses to “The State of American Conservatism: Observations about the Florida Republican Primaries”

  1. Marie Luft says:

    Your arguments are “spot on”. However, I think Romney has the looks, success, moral character, and principle.

    • Thanks!

      I agree with you that he is the best looking candidate – I just think that shouldn’t matter (silly me). However, on the “Moral Character” front, I have to think twice. Here is a guy who was pro-abortion and is now pro-life; was pro-government health care and is now anti-Obamacare. Was pro tax increases and is now against tax increases. In other words, here is a guy who says whatever he needs to say to get elected. In my view, that’s not character, its politics. I see no evidence of character or principle in Governor Romney – only more evidence that the most superficial dimensions of the candidates – their wealth and their looks – really matter to the majority of voters. I watch Romney’s speeches and i see him look down at his notes, utter a one-liner, then smile at the applause while looking down at his notes to get his next one-liner, deliver that one-liner, smile at the applause while looking down at his notes to get his next one-liner, and on and on. When i listen to Gingrich I see a guy who looks me in the eye (via the camera lens of course) and actually speaks from what he knows. He doesnt need a teleprompter or talking points. He is just always the smartest guy in the room. I know he has baggage too, but I like him better than Romney. From my perspective: If you want the best character, you should be voting for Santorum. If you want the best capability, you should be voting for Gingrich. If you want looks and personal fortune, Romney is the best choice. If you want Obama for another 4 years, you should be voting for Ron Paul.

  2. Larry says:

    There have been over 16 debates between the candidates so if someone was really interested they could have watched them all and made a decision on who won/lost. To be a front runner a candidate would have to be at 100% performance for all the debates and each has had their problems – hot and cold nights. Actually, most voting folks have debate fatigue and I suspect that adding more debates won’t help anyone make a decision. So the Mitt-ster did well and truthfully looked presidential. Your point though is are any of these men truly conservative and I have my doubts about each of them. The key question you ask is are we shallow? Sure we are! Given the process of debates, primaries, TV appearances, endless political commercials, automated phone messages, talk radio pundits, press agents, Democrat operatives speaking opportunistically, NY Times, Wash Post, and general misinformation we are lucky anyone has even voted in Florida.

  3. Marie Luft says:

    I don’t understand how Gingrich can stand there and rail against the establishment when he was (and still is, to my mind) a part of the establishment. He can say he is/was a consultant … that’s making nice on the word lobbyist. I say he’s a liar. I am old enough to remember when he was speaker.

    • I think your observation is absolutely right, Marie. So we know that Gingrich sometimes lies and that Romney says whatever he needs to in order to win the election. Sounds like Santorum is our guy, huh?

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