A political and then an empirical assertion
Political assertion: To be a conservative today is to support or tacitly support a well-advanced conservative movement that no conservative ought to support. The problem with the conservative movement is not any particular belief. The problem with the conservative movement is on the level of method. The conservative movement stands against even the attempt at pragmatic economic and public design. Its positions are pitched as absolutes, its ideas as principles. The intellectual world, to the movement, is a fake world: the result of liberal bias, always liberal bias. The conservative movement today stands against even the attempt to think about the actual structures of self-governance and economic self-control. The conservative movement deserves to be opposed by other conservatives.
Empirical assertion: There is evidence of a diminishment of conservative movement power, as measured by impact upon socialized and publicized knowledge. This evidence boils down to three recent events, and the choice Republicans made to distant themselves from conservative movement orthodoxy in often breathtaking fashion.
First piece of evidence: the three political debates in which the previously “severely conservative” Mitt Romney became “Massachusetts Moderate” Mitt Romney, distancing himself, when push came to shove (and a national audience tuned in), from any semblance of the conservative movement stance on taxes, spending, and jobs. He was unwilling to speak of the policies he pushed to win the primary. Romney’s strategic choice illustrates the analytical position the Romney campaign team was confronted with: according to the data, the actual conservative movement positions on taxes and spending were socially unpopular. The Romney campaign calculated — rightly, the data suggest — that they could not present conservative movement ideas in front of national audiences. So they didn’t.
Second, the GOP folded in the fiscal cliff negotiations so that, like Romney, they didn’t actually have to author particular spending cuts, which again are deeply unpopular with key social groups, i.e. voters and donors. The GOP rationalized “giving up” during the fiscal cliff in favor of taking the fight to the debt ceiling.
But, third, that debt ceiling fight is not materializing and probably won’t again for a very long time.
Meaning, for the third time in a matter of months, the conservative movement’s key ideas on taxes and spending have failed to even enter the public debate. In particular, Paul Ryan continues to be proven more powerful in the hype leading up to the fight, than during the fight itself.
The empirical evidence is not conclusive, but certainly heartening.