Not to be too pedantic, but for there to be a “future of conservatism in America” there first has to be a future in America. And that’s a more open question than my more optimistic comrades like to admit. The Brokest Nation in History has just told the rest of the world that it is incapable of serious course correction–and around the planet prudent friends and enemies will begin planning for a post-American order. So at some point reality will intervene–either in the form of total societal collapse or, one hopes, something marginally less convulsive. The first responsibility of conservatives between now and 2016 is to have an adult conversation with the citizenry–the one that Mitt Romney chose to eschew in favor of vague jobs promises punctuated by bold assertions that “I believe in America.” So what? What matters is whether reality still believes in America.
And, when reality strikes, will Americans turn to conservatism? The evidence from November is not reassuring. Romney dusted off the old surefire winner–”Ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago?”–and took it to read: “The economy’s dead. Vote Mitt.” A decisive chunk of lower-middle-class America agreed with him on the first part, and acted on its logic: “You’re right. So I’m voting for the party of endlessly extended unemployment insurance, universal food stamps, and increased Social Security disability enrollment.” If 1.7 percent growth is the new normal, this constituency will metastasize.