Peggy Noonan makes some interesting observations about Iowa's Republican primary results, and Mitt Romney's bruising victory.
The Iowa results almost perfectly reflect the Republican Party, which, roughly speaking, is split into three parts—libertarians, social conservatives and moderate conservatives, who went for Ron Paul, Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney respectively. The three parts of the party have been held together by agreement on three big issues: spending (which must be cut), taxing (which must be reformed), and President Obama (who must be removed).
These three issues have force. Taxes and spending are the ties that bind, the top and bottom crust that holds the pie together. They're the reason the party is still the party, and not the splinter groups. The third element, Mr. Obama, is this year equally important.That strikes Noman as being both right and wrong. The interminable string of debates has revealed a party that is very broad minded. So, it's no surprise that Iowa voters spread their ballots over a number of ideologically distinct candidates.
The three categories--libertarian, social conservative and social liberal (rather than "moderate conservative," a label that masks rather than highlights the actual divide: social issues)--seem fairly to capture large blocs of Republican voters, but even more importantly, aspects of the conservative mind.
Most conservatives at some level want to be left alone by aggrandizing powers, to have as few external demands as possible placed on them so that they can choose their own loyalties, responsibilities, causes and expenses closer to home. They are leery of impositions that pose as grand social crusades, especially when the benefits redound to select actors and are administered by unaccountable bureaucrats in faraway places. Libertarianism appeals to this desire.
Most conservatives have a sense of limits, especially moral limits. They know that they are not God, so they don't claim a right to behave like one, especially in matters of life and death or longstanding moral convention. They recognize an order to reality, and know that a culture based on disorder is both destructive of the individual, and doomed. Social conservatism appeals to this self-knowledge.
Most conservatives don't want to be told what to do. They want the liberty to make sense of the world as they see fit, and don't want to be imposed upon by the particularism of others who see things differently. They resent having to genuflect to pieties not of their own choosing. Social liberalism appeals to this impulse.
Despite the results in Iowas, Noman doubts that the Republican Party is split equally between libertarian, social conservative and moderate voters. He suspects that, much as for the nation as a whole, the majority of Republican voters incline towards social conservatism while the people with Party power and voice incline towards social liberalism. Republicans in the heartland gravitate toward values, while people in the big cities like the one Peggy Noonan lives in gravitate toward fiscal autonomy.
Both groups have values, and both care about fiscal matters. But, liberal Republicans identify more with the moral values of liberal Democrats than with those of conservative Republicans. They seem to resent that someone else's scruples might prevent them from enjoying the fruits of their labor as they see fit.
Social conservatives share the fiscal concerns of nearly all Republicans, who know that there is no such thing as a free lunch and that when you dance to the music, you have to pay the piper. They are responsible people who know that both personal entertainments and financial dealings are subject to restraint.
Note that compromise on supposedly moderate grounds, by stressing only tax and spending issues, directly satisfies only liberal Republicans' critical concerns. What keeps social conservatives in the Republican Party despite getting the short end of the compromise is the Democratic Party's frightening devotion to the culture of death.
Were President Obama sensible enough not to have (1) Kevin Jennings queer the nation's schools, (2) Kathleen Sibelius force people morally disgusted by abortion to fund it, (3) Janet Napolitano snoop on returning veterans and pro-lifers, (4) Cass Sunstein nudge the economy and middle class over a cliff, (5) Van Jones green (i.e., communize) federal agencies, and, generally, (6) chip-on-the-shoulder deconstructionists steer the reigns of government, social conservatives might be more inclined to splinter than eat a pie the crust of which appeals but doesn't completely satisfy.
Tuesday's vote didn't evidence a Party split three ways at the soul. The real story was Rick Santorum's showing, the crucial aspect of which was evangelical support for a Roman Catholic. At the critical moment, evangelicals inclined towards a Catholic, which, if sustainable throughout the country, would be a rapprochement of historical significance.
Should the divide that separates followers of Christ evaporate in American electoral politics, America's political landscape would be rocked, and its culture reclaimed.