Last week, a Young Britons' Foundation delegation attended the National Conservative Students Conference, organised by the Young America’s Foundation in Washington DC. Over the course of the conference we heard from top American politicians, journalists and celebrities on the state of conservatism there.
It is fair to say that there is immense anger about the Presidency of Barack Obama. Fiscally, the largest deficits of George W Bush (around $400 billion) have been dwarfed by the $1.4 trillion deficit under Obama this year. The downgrade is regarded as a national disgrace, and the $830 billion fiscal stimulus has resulted in no new net jobs. Given this background, it is difficult to see how Obama could survive the 2012 Presidential election.
Nevertheless, despite Bill Clinton’s ‘it’s the economy stupid’ mantra, there is a sense that Obama might cling on. This would be a crying shame. Obama has borrowed $4.5 trillion over the past 3 years. Under his current baseline, the US government will further borrow $8-10 trillion over the next ten years - more money than they borrowed in real terms in the whole period 1776-1995. The next ten years will therefore see more expenditure than that required for all of the US revolutionary war, civil war, WWI, WWII and the Great Depression.
But there are two potential difficulties that a Republican candidate must overcome to defeat Obama.
The first is the polarised nature of the national debate, especially resulting from the prominence of the Tea Party movement. As with any mass grassroots movement there are components of the Tea Party, which had such a huge effect on last year’s Congressional elections, containing undesirables. The same has been seen with movements like UKUncut. But it is heartening overall to see a principled uprising against state expansionism and overspending, and a desire to return to the principles of the founding fathers of the US. Blaming the Tea Partyers for the recent downgrade, as Guido Fawkes has noted, is like blaming fire-fighting volunteers for the fire itself.
Nevertheless, many voters appear to have taken entrenched positions on the economic debate because of them, and as a result it will be difficult to persuade each from their respective camps. Obama has proven to be a masterful campaigner in the past, and will be sure to seek to tap into stereotyping the Tea Partyers.
The second important problem for the Republicans will be in nominating a candidate who is able to unite the US conservative movement. Conservatism in the US is a fusion of those whose primary concerns are social issues (marriage, abortion, gun laws etc), libertarians and foreign policy hawks. The common thread, much like the UK, is a commitment to more free-market economics. But the difference in priorities means that it will be tough for a candidate to unite the three strands, let alone win the swing voters. Nevertheless, the Tea Party influence has thankfully helped shift fiscal conservatism as the dominant position within the movement.
Today’s further fall in the stock market and the likelihood of a double-dip recession paints a depressing scene for a proud nation. In the run up to 2012, the US will be at an important cross-road. As Senator Marco Rubio told us last week, the people must decide how they want their country to look. With spending on Medicare and social security set to boom and tax revenues stagnant, the US is set for a mega debt crisis when lenders simply refuse to lend at these low interest rates. Doing nothing is not an option. Many on the left argue that the doomsday scenario can be averted through tax increases. The right argue for growth-inducing tax cuts coupled with reducing the size of the state. These are fundamentally different views where little compromise is achievable.
Many countries have chosen the former and traded off economic freedoms in favour of high tax, high regulation regimes. The US could follow suit. But let’s hope the US people vote to maintain the economic liberty which has served the country so well through its history. This can only be achieved through victory for a fiscally conservative Republican candidate in 2012.