If you ever needed a reminder of how worthless the Republican Party generally is, last week's "fiscal cliff" vote saw a majority of Republicans joining with Democrats to increase taxes, push through pork-barrel spending, and add trillions to the national debt. This is what most Republicans do. It is what they have always done. They talk a lot about small government but then always vote to make it bigger. Sadly, this sickening hypocrisy has defined the GOP for almost the entirety of my adult life.
But a very small minority of Republicans didn't vote for the fiscal cliff bill. For some, the decision to cast a no-vote was done solely to win over voters in preparation for a future presidential run. For others, their vote was completely consistent with their overall limited-government record. The bad news is that there are very few of these Republicans. The good news is that one of the best might be getting back into politics: Mark Sanford.
Sanford has always been a conservative's conservative. When he was the governor of South Carolina, I don't think there was a political figure I cheered for more often with the exception of Ron and Rand Paul (both of whom I would later work for). When Sanford made national headlines by standing up to President Barack Obama by refusing to accept federal "stimulus" money for South Carolina, conservatives across the nation cheered, although he was met with a mixed reaction from the GOP back home. (Truth be told, Sanford was never popular among the members of his own party in the Palmetto State.)
Of course, we all know what happened next. After Sanford admitted to having an affair with a woman from Argentina, I wrote the following:
"Here was a Republican who could have easily taken the same career path of most Republicans, but instead spent much of his time fighting his own party, taking the GOP to task at both the state and national level for betraying its conservative principles. Sanford took the hard road, standing up for limited government when no one else would. He was decidedly an unconventional Republican for all the right reasons. And yet last week, by his own actions, Sanford ended up in the same sort of tawdry, sleazy, and politically predictable place typically reserved for less sincere, less principled, and simply, lesser men."
There were many who lamented and criticized Sanford's moral failings. But few, if any, doubted Sanford's unshakable conservative political principles.
A few days before Christmas, reports began to emerge that Sanford might run for South Carolina's 1st Congressional District to replace newly appointed Sen. Tim Scott in a special election. Sanford was immediately labeled the frontrunner — and rightfully so.
The potential reemergence of Sanford at this particular moment is significant for the Republican Party and the nation. If the Democrats are explicitly the party of higher taxes, debt, and economic ruin, the conventional GOP model has proven itself wholly ineffective when it comes to putting up roadblocks to thwart these efforts.
More often than not, as the fiscal cliff vote reminds us, Republicans have been complicit in our ongoing fiscal demise. Democrats and Republicans can both agree that our debt is our greatest threat. But every time they have the opportunity to do something about it, both parties simply agree to continue adding to that debt.
But there is a small resistance to this insanity, represented by most of the Republicans who voted against the fiscal cliff bill. Their philosophy is not complicated. In fact, it can be summed up in one word: No.
No to more taxes. No to more debt. No to more programs. When Democrats make excuses for why we need more government, real conservatives tell them no. When Republicans join Democrats in making excuses for more government, real conservatives tell them no.
Ronald Reagan's favorite president Calvin Coolidge once said, "The greatest duty and opportunity of government is not to embark on any new ventures." Barry Goldwater, Reagan's political mentor and founder of the modern American conservative movement, wrote in 1960: "My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel the old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden."
This is conservatism 101. What is needed more than anything else in Washington are real conservatives who understand what that term means and who have the ability to say "no" to more government. There are very few Republicans who understand this definition or have this ability.
But there are a few and they are needed — desperately. And Mark Sanford is one of them.