What Defines a Conservative?

The New York Times piece, “G.O.P. Fight Now a Battle Over What Defines a Conservative” written by Jonathan Martin untangles the points of contention among the Republican presidential candidates at the most recent debate in Milwaukee. Martin maps the varying degrees of difference in each candidate’s standpoint from immigration and bank regulation to taxes and international (military) involvement. Most interesting was how meanings of what it means to be a republican were destabilized and redefined by each candidate.

On the issue of foreign policy for example, there have been massive shifts in Republican logic from ideas of international trade being good for big business and international alliances. The debate revealed recent fissures in this logic, with each candidate voicing drastically different viewpoints on the matter. Donald Trump and Senator Rand Paul (Kentucky) felt that the U.S. should not be responsible for fighting wars, while Gov. John R. Kasich (Ohio), Senator Marco Rubio (Florida), and former Gov. Jeb Bush (Florida) argued for no-fly zones to be imposed in Syria and Iraq – an opinion similar to that of former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton.   

Another zone of disagreement was on issues of taxes. On the question of “should taxes be progressive, or should everybody pay the same rate?” the candidates were evenly split: Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Cruz, Senator Paul and Mrs. Fiorina endorsed single-rate taxes while Mr. Trump, Gov. Kasich, Mr. Bush and Senator Rubio argued a system of graduated tax rates would be more effective.

The article sees this debate as the point at which there is an…

…abrupt transition from vague promises about making America “great again,” in Donald J. Trump’s phrase, to a new season of the campaign shaped more by the glaring policy fissures that are dividing Republicans over what exactly to do about the nation’s problems.

This debate unveils the many meanings of what it means to be a Republican, and what it means to be a conservative. Just as the Democratic party has been undergoing similar existential crises on what it means to be a Democrat, the Republican presidential candidates battle out their stakes in the playing field.

What do you think defines a Republican? What about a Democrat? Are there striking differences?

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