Conservative optimism? Long explains why it’s a rare condition

If you’re both conservative and pessimistic about Tuesday’s elections, Rob Long knows how you feel. The National Review contributing editor and Ricochet.com editor devotes a TIME column to the inherent clash between conservatism and optimism.

It’s a new feeling, then, for Republicans to watch a presidential campaign come to a close without that nauseating pool of dread in our stomachs. And it’s a new feeling, at least for some of us, to watch a race that seemed doomed a few months ago—a race, let’s be honest, in which our party nominated a smart and good man but one who is also a zillionaire Mormon former governor of Massachusetts who says things like “Good gracious” when he’s peeved—tighten until it’s not unthinkable that we could, you know, actually win this thing.

These are all new feelings, and Republicans hate new feelings. Giddy optimism, to us, is just a Jedi mind trick. Surging polls? The banana peels we’ll all slip on when Obama ekes out slim but decisive victories in seven states. Obama’s buying ads in Michigan? Another head fake to keep Romneyland off balance. We can’t help but feel energized and excited by Romney’s momentum, but we wouldn’t be Republicans if we didn’t worry, deep down, that we’re being punked.

It’s the chief irony of the GOP that its greatest hero, Ronald Reagan, always looked at the glass as half full, while the keystone principle of conservatives is that things are inexorably getting worse. Reagan managed to thread that particular needle, but for the rest of us, optimism is a lost cause. “Things go bad” is our motto, and the best we can do is to try to beat back the tide. Our leaders will be stilted and clumsy and barely able to slow the drift toward full-on European-style socialism—and that’s the good news. That’s if they actually win an election. What we expect them to do is lose.

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