Last week was a study in contrasts for North America’s two powerful right-tilting parties.
The irony is that the success stories are all on the side of the border where one would least expect to find them.
In Washington, the Republican Party is in full circular-firing-squad mode, with far-right fundamentalists demanding government shutdowns, debt defaults, and eagerly launching internal purges to root out and destroy moderates within their ranks.
The GOP hasn’t won a presidential election since 2004 and hasn’t controlled the US Senate since 2007. The party has been forced to lean on hardball electoral tactics — gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts — just to maintain control of the US House.
Speaking last week, during the bitter depths of the messy Republican retreat on Obamacare, former Florida governor Jeb Bush made the startling suggestion that his party might want to develop an actual agenda for governing the country.
“We just can’t be against what’s in front of Washington, D.C,” Bush pointed out, in an interview with MSNBC. He, like others in his party, have lamented the wholesale collapse of the GOP’s popularity among Hispanics, the young, and women.
The party of No has begun to look like the party of No Future.
In Ottawa, meanwhile, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has led his nation since 2006. His party has racked up so many center-right legislative victories, that it’s left many observers wondering if there’s much left of his original agenda worth doing.
Canada is arguably the most stable, prosperous and (gasp) well-managed western democracy, with a rapidly shrinking national deficit, lower corporate taxes, and a booming energy sector. The Great Recession that hobbled America barely registered north of the border.
Mr. Harper has also just inked a major new trade agreement with Europe that could push Canada ahead of the US in the global free-trade movement.
All this has been accomplished while boosting the Conservative Party’s electoral support, including strong growth among the nation’s immigrants and moderate suburban voters.
Along the way, Mr. Harper has angered and alienated some of his more hard-core supporters. Social conservatives, hard-line free-marketeers, and anti-environment factions want a tea-party like revolution in Canada.
Instead, the Conservative Party has chosen to build an actual governing movement. This from the Globe and Mail.
Mr. Harper has tempered his firebrand past in the interests of putting together the broadest possible coalition of conservative supporters, from New Brunswick Red Tories to 905 Sikhs to Prairie farmers.
That means he can only move the dial a bit to the right each time; sometimes he even has to dial it back. It also means, if breaches are not to be publicly exposed, imposing a smothering discipline on the caucus and the party machinery.
Mr. Harper has begun to face some of the discontents and challenges of a party that has been, for a very long time, comfortably in power. There are signs of drift and increased in-fighting.
But those are problems his counterparts in the US — Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell — would very much like to experience.
The irony is that many American conservatives still view Canada with horror. They point to its government-run healthcare programs and lingering reputation as a more liberal society as the very future they are fighting to avoid.
The truth, meanwhile, is that Canadian conservatives probably have a great deal to teach their counterparts, not just in Washington but also in places like Texas and Georgia and Kansas.