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Republican failure shows conservative parties must adapt, like Alberta PCs, or die

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"Harpercrite" by William Prettie, used with permission

This too shall pass...

Now and then throughout history, as with Whigs and Communists, international political-ideological movements of enormous influence wither and disappear, often quite suddenly. It is rarely their call.

Neoconservatives -- or neoliberals, call them what you will -- embodied in the modern American Republican Party led into Tuesday's United States presidential election by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are now showing just such signs of fading into history.

It is said here that the Canadian neoliberals of Stephen Harper's so-called Conservative Party of Canada -- tied at the apron strings as they are to the American Republicans -- will not be far behind them.

Out of tune with the demographic realities of the United States, dominated by an extremist "Tea Party" rump of racists, homophobes, misogynists and market fundamentalists enamoured of a deeply destructive economic program and a nihilistic political strategy of obstructionism, a strong case can be made that Tuesday's reelection of Barack Obama, a very-small-l-liberal president with a weak economic record in his first term, may have been the last hurrah for this crowd.

Backed as they are by big money and deeply cynical strategic minds, there continue to be many reasons to fear the post-election defiance of the increasingly marginalized Republicans as they shout that they'll be back, and with brighter and better leaders than the hapless former Massachusetts governor and his pathologically lying vice-presidential sidekick from Wisconsin.

And like a cornered rattlesnake, they will still be dangerous. As Jonathan Martin wrote in Politico a few days before the election, quoting an unnamed Republican backroom operative, the party's loss of Tuesday's main event means its candidate in 2016 "will certainly be a card-carrying movement conservative with a track record to match."

But that would be precisely the wrong strategy for the American Republicans, certain to speed them toward the dustbin of history.

"If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn't conservative enough I'm going to go nuts," Sen. Lindsay Graham was quoted saying in Mr. Martin's story. "We're not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we're not being hard-ass enough," said the South Carolina senator, who blamed shifting demographics without much context for the party's looming troubles.

Four years with the American economy on the rebound -- a likely condition on which Obama's forthcoming policies may or may not have much actual influence -- will augur well for the term-limited president's constitutionally inevitable Democratic successor. If elected, whomever that candidate turns out to be, his or her challenger will be the third consecutive Republican defeated by the Democratic presidential candidate.

Inevitably, another centrist democratic president presiding over a buoyant economy with a philosophy that government has an important role to play will be one more nail in the coffin of the international philosophy of hard-line fiscal discipline that animates modern neoliberalism -- be it Republican, Conservative or Wildrose in flavour.

As we all know, in politics as in other enterprises, the smart money follows the candidate with the best chance of winning, and so what the New Yorker's Nicolas Lemann called in his election post-mortem "an increasingly unlikely coalition of business interests and social-issue populists" will surely begin to unravel.

And so it will in Canada too, as contributors and strategists observe the downward spiral of the American Republicans that inspire the Reform Party-dominated Canadian Conservatives under Harper.

Demographic trends in Canada are not precisely the same as in the United States, but with American cultural influence looming large and a population traditionally more in tune with social democratic concepts and programs, making Canada a place where "European style" is not necessarily an insult, it can be argued Conservative backers and voters here too will grow increasingly wary of Harper's Americanized fiscal fantasies.

Indeed, Conservative parties everywhere face the prospect of having to adapt to new realities, and if they do not, they will die.

Survival means moving back toward the centre -- precisely where the Tea Party driven American Republicans and the Reform Party derived Canadian Conservatives are disinclined to go.

Ironically, it is here in conservative Alberta that a conservative political party facing similar demographic and social realities (caused in this case by a decades-long influx of newcomers from more liberal parts of Canada) hit upon a formula that works in the form of softer, more centrist rhetoric and a genuine move to the centre on social policies.

The Progressive Conservatives under Premier Alison Redford are still a market-oriented party of business, as suits their corporate backers, but their success at the polls against the wild-eyed Tea Partiers of the Wildrose Party illuminates the best hope for a future for conservatives, be they American Republicans or Canadian Tories.

But those national parties are now so dominated by their radical wings that such a progression is unlikely -- and thus their demise is probably inevitable.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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