Damn It Jim, I'm a Conservative not a Republican!
By John D. Turner
23 Jan 2006

I heard it again on the way in to work. A talk show host (who’s name I cannot remember), sitting in for Rush, spent several minutes of air time explaining how he is a Conservative, not a Republican, and that the two are not one and the same. He stated that while he almost always votes Republican, and almost never votes for a Democrat candidate, his voting is predicated on the fact that the Republican Party tends to at least claim to stand for values and ideals to which he adheres, while the Democrat Party, by its actions, demonstrates a complete antipathy to almost everything he stands for.

I have heard this time and again from almost every radio talk show host I have listened to, and the bulk of such hosts are overwhelmingly conservative. I have heard it from Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Walter Williams, Glen Beck, and Laura Ingraham, just to name a few. I have heard it from local talk show hosts, here in San Antonio, and in other cities I have visited. I have heard it from friends of mine, and I have said the exact same thing myself.

This talk show host said it very plain and framed the issue quite clearly. Speaking of the events that transpired in the Senate hearings for Judge Alito, he said that it reaffirmed for him exactly why it is that he can not support Democrat party candidates. Then in the next breath he mentioned that while Republicans claim to support his views and ideals, their actions with regard to their supposed support can be quite aggravating. This too, I have heard from numerous talk show hosts, listeners calling in to said talk shows, as well as friends. This too, I have said myself.

Conservatives stand for many things, and individuals may vary, but in general, conservatives support such things as smaller government (lower government expenditures, less regulation, fewer government entities, less intrusion by government into personal lives), lower taxes, protecting our borders and strong national defense in general, individual rights and responsibilities, moral absolutes, and freedom of religion (as opposed to freedom from religion). They tend to be pro-life, pro-second amendment, for judicial restraint and not judicial activism, pro-constitution, pro-family values, pro-marriage (as between a single man and a single woman), and support English as the primary and official language of the United States. They support a woman’s right to choose, but believe that the choice is to be made before the baby is conceived. Afterwards, the baby has an unalienable right to life, the same as everyone else.

Notice that being conservative says nothing about party affiliation. You can be Democrat and be conservative too, although the frustration level for conservatives in the Democrat Party has been extremely high, as the national Democrat Party appears to support none of the core principles that most conservatives espouse. For this reason, during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s many Democrats left the Democrat Party and changed their affiliation to Republican. As Ronald Reagan once famously stated, “I didn’t leave the Democrat Party, the Democrat Party left me.”

Conservatives in the Republican Party are feeling a renewed level of frustration as well. How can it be, they say, that Republicans control the House, the Senate, the White House, and most of the state Governorships, and yet still seem to be unable to advance a Conservative agenda? How, with this unprecedented grip on power, can we be running record budget deficits, increasing the size of government at unprecedented rates, and instituting new entitlement programs guaranteed to siphon even greater amounts out of the Treasury? What happened to Social Security reform? What happened to tax reform? What happened to fiscal responsibility? Even getting a conservative Supreme Court nominee through the congressional hearings and to an up or down vote in the Senate seems to be a major undertaking. Five years of Republican control, and what do conservatives have to show for it? Not much.

So where do disgruntled conservatives go? They can’t go to the Democrat Party; many of them left there in the first place. They can go to one of many of the small “third parties”. Good luck! With everyone’s vote spread around piecemeal throughout a dozen or small splinter parties, they are just about guaranteed to remain irrelevant and frustrated. The current political system is designed around two major parties. It would be extremely difficult for a third party to muscle their way in. As far as the two major parties are concerned, they can either put up or shut up. The Democrats don’t much care one way or the other. Conservatives are not a constituency group to which they cater. The Republicans see themselves as the only game in town. Conservatives can either vote Republican, join a splinter party (a little more of a concern, as they do tend to siphon off critical votes in close campaigns), or give up and sit it out on election day. They figure that most will hold their nose and vote Republican, as the alternative is even less palatable. And in general, they are correct.

But difficult does not mean impossible. Look at what is happening in Texas.

Texas has undergone a remarkable change. Once a state where a Republican couldn’t get elected if they were the only person in town, today every major statewide elective office is held by Republicans. The state legislature is also predominately Republican. At the Federal level, both Senators and most of the Representatives are Republican, a picture similar to that seen at the National level. And yet, as at the National level, we have a certain level of disgruntlement amongst conservatives at how things are being run by the Republicans. One of those disgruntled at the way the current Republican Governor is running things is Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the current State Comptroller of Public Accounts; a Republican. Or, more accurately, a Conservative.

Ms Strayhorn is an impressive character. This “one tough grandma” as she bills herself, is no stranger to politics. She is another of those who started her political life as a Democrat, then switched to Republican when she could no longer stomach her party’s drift to the left. Now it seems, she can no longer stomach the Republicans either, or at least the current Republican Governor, Rick Perry, whom she has referred to as "a weak leadin', ethics ignorin', pointin' the finger at everyone blamin', special session callin', public school slashin', slush fund spendin', toll road buildin', special interest panderin', rainy day fund raidin', fee increasin', no property tax cuttin', promise breakin', do nothin' phony conservative." An avowed conservative, she is officially running against both the incumbent Republican Governor, and the Democrat candidate as an Independent. What’s more, it is expected that not only will she do well in the race, but there is even an outside possibility that she may win.

Conventional wisdom holds that all she will do is split the Republican vote, handing the Governorship over to the Democrats. Conventional wisdom may be correct. Then again, in this case, it may not be. Ms Strayhorn is expected to pick up votes not only from Republicans, but from Democrats as well, who like her feisty character, and who agree with her views on issues. She may also pick up votes from conservatives who have “given up” on both parties and dropped out of voting all together.

It has been suggested on at least one local talk show here in San Antonio, that if she were to drop the “I” for Independent, and instead run with a “C” behind her name, for Conservative, that her vote count would be even greater. “Independent” is such a luke-warm, wishy-washy term, not likely to inspire people to make a large change in their lives or voting patterns. But, as I pointed out earlier, many people who vote Republican actually consider themselves Conservatives instead; they vote Republican only because that is the closest fit. What if they could support a true Conservative candidate under a Conservative banner instead? What about those Conservatives still holding their nose and voting Democrat, simply because they wouldn’t vote Republican if their lives depended on it? How about those Conservatives who have given up entirely and don’t vote at all?

Perhaps this is that rare moment in American history where the confluence of events could be such that a new major political party could arise from the ashes of one or both of the existing major parties. The last time that happened was when the Whigs disintegrated over the question of slavery, and the Republican Party was born.

It will be interesting to keep an eye on the Texas Gubernatorial election this year.

Bio: Carole Keeton Strayhorn