I’m going to get in big trouble for this.
My friend David Freddoso tried to define conservatism in relation to the Rudy Giuliani phenomenon with:
There is a long philosophical debate to be had over what makes a conservative, but conservatives in Washington have a rule of thumb for awarding the label to actual politicians: It’s the trinity of conservative issues: "Guns, Babies, and Taxes." My own minimum definition of a conservative officeholder or candidate is someone who is "good" on at least two of the three, and one of them has to be "Babies."
Except that JPod says, "it seems to leave out a few things, like, oh, national defense (unless you put that under "guns"). Not to mention crime." Liz Mair points out spending. Rep. Jeff Flake and Rep. Chris Cannon are liberals because they support a path to citizenship. (and a free market in labor, in addition to goods) So throw in immigration. John McCain’s first real apostasy was campaign finance reform. Most of his other major sins occurred after that. Fred Thompson is a liberal because he extends federalism (a conservative principle) to gay marriage. And Ramesh points out that, on the original 3 principles, Reagan was 0-3 for quite a while.
This is the Democrat-ization (that’s a big "D") of the conservative movement. That is, the transformation from the conservative movement from an organization around core of principles to a bunch of interest groups. This is the critical problem.
Because conservatism lost its coherence, it has also lost its brand.
It is a lot easier to have three litmus tests rather than 10. It is a lot easier to communicate 3 ideas than 10. In politics, less is more.
Erick Erickson says that the base is still focused on these:
We can certainly nuance here and there, and we can nit pick around the edges, but those are the three issues. You go to a Republican meeting in Bibb County, Georgia or East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana or Tipton County, Tennessee or Saline County, Illinois and those are three issues candidates must address.
But the base is not so happy right now. The party is angry because George Bush isn’t conservative enough. What does that mean? Taxes? Um, no. He cut those. A bunch. Babies? PBA. Judges. A huge number of executive orders. Probably not that. Guns? Well, he let the Assault Weapons Ban expire. Probably not the problem there. What are the problems? Spending. Immigration. Campaign finance reform. Etc.
When someone can count the conservative principles on one hand, I will know what it means to be conservative again. We aren’t there. We need new ideas. Some of that is a reorganization of our existing ideas. Some of it is new stuff. Time to start working.