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Playing to party strengths
Jennifer Marisco's op-ed on the GOP convention: 2012 campaign topics.

 Even though Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was successful, the GOP has worked to distance itself from culture wars.
Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times/MCT
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Date published: 8/26/2012


--Since the announcement of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's running mate, much ink has been spilled over the new vice presidential candidate. But perhaps the most significant aspect of the Ryan pick is what it means for the future of the Republican Party. After all, even if the Romney-Ryan ticket loses in November, Ryan will become the heir apparent to Romney and the de facto leader of the GOP in the years to come.

For the Republican Party, the Ryan selection means fiscal conservatism will be the core philosophy and the unifying element in a time when intraparty fissures are becoming evident.

Ronald Reagan's "three-legged stool" of conservatism--fiscal austerity, traditional social values, and a strong national defense--has been a cornerstone of the GOP since his presidency. The stool still exists, but the fiscal leg has gotten longer recently. A Romney-Ryan ticket emphasizes this evolution.

After spending eight years out of power in the 1990s, Republicans returned to the White House in 2000 (albeit by the skin of their teeth) via George W. Bush. During the campaign, Bush aligned himself with "compassionate conservatism," which stressed attention to mitigating social problems and addressing social welfare. This softer version of conservatism became somewhat lost in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, which brought defense and national security issues to the forefront of political discussion. Defense spending rose accordingly.

But Bush's Keynesianism--increasing spending in the midst of a deficit--caused some hard-core conservatives to turn on him. Additionally, ongoing American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan created war fatigue and contributed to growing isolationist sentiment. By the time of Ron Paul's presidential run in 2008, there was a strong and vocal libertarian faction in the Republican Party.


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Jennifer Marsico is a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute, focusing on campaigns and elections, election reform, and government continuity issues.