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The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians and the Battle to Control the Republican Party Hardcover – August 1, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0471793328 ISBN-10: 0471793329

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley (August 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471793329
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471793328
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #213,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


* ""...impressive.... The story of the impending break-up is excellent material, and the author tells it well."" (The Economist, October 2006)

""fun and lively book that should be distributed to every card-carrying member of the GOP. "" (New York Post, September 24, 2006)


"Sager picks up where Bruce Bartlett left off with Impostor. The Elephant in the Roomtells us how libertarians and the Christian conservatives are at swords' point over Bush's 'big government conservatism.' Anyone who want to understand this important debate should get a copy of Sager's book."
—John B. Judis, coauthor of The Emerging Democratic Majority

"Ryan Sager offers an eloquent, elegant argument that the GOP has lost its way—an argument that even those of us who disagree with many of his criticisms and object passionately to many of his characterizations must take with the utmost seriousness."
—John Podhoretz, author of Can She Be Stopped?

"An insightful and eminently readable account of the current conservative crackup. Anyone who wants to understand American politics today needs to read Sager's chronicle of the ongoing civil war in the conservative ranks."
—Paul Begala, co-author of Take it Back

"This funny, sobering, smart book reminds Republicans that having beliefs isn't good enough. You have to act on them. Winning isn't enough; you have to win with a purpose in mind. Ryan Sager sounds a real call to arms. The party would be wise to hear it."
—Peggy Noonan, columnist, Wall Street Journal

"Two feisty American factions are at daggers drawn. No, the fight is not conservatives versus liberals. Rather, it is libertarian conservatives versus "social issues" conservatives. In this illuminating examination of the changing ideological geography of American politics, Ryan Sager suggests that the conservatives must choose between Southern and Western flavors of conservatism. He prefers the latter."
—George F. Will, syndicated columnist

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Customer Reviews

The writing is entertaining and an 'easy read' while covering what could be a dry subject.
J. S. Hamilton
Instead, I think the Republican party may well be on its last legs if it continues to pander to Southern Evangelicals at the expense of the rest of the party.
Prof. CJ
This may sound harsh, but the only word I can use to describe the libertarian philosophy is, well, shallow and materialistic.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By R. Dailey on November 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Sager makes a clear and easy-to-follow argument for how to keep the GOP coalition together in the years ahead. As a Republican who has no memory of conservative icons like Barry Goldwater, I appreciate Sager's summary of the history of the modern conservative movement. From this historical perspective, he argues that the GOP has veered away from its previous commitment to small government and liberty.

At its core, the book primarily seems to address the question of how the GOP can retain social conservatives without alienating voters in the more libertarian regions of the country. He suggests that a consensual return to 'liberty' and 'federalism' as the GOP's core values can allow social conservatives and libertarians to get what they want out of the party. This would involve asking social conservatives to focus their attention on state-level politics rather than on national politics (judicial nominations excepted...maybe). This would position the GOP to strengthen its hold on the libertarian Intermountain West.

This approach seems reasonable. But the chapters on anti-Communism and anti-Clintonism left me with a nagging question: Had social conservatives and economic conservatives only been bound together by common enemies? After Communism and Clintonism both vanished, the two groups have awakened and realized that neither has much to gain from the marriage anymore.

Those of us economic conservatives generally expect social consevatives to conduct themselves in a pragmatic manner. We want them to barter their 'values' in the way that we make financial decisions. But I just don't think that the Religious Right operates in that way. And their fundraising efforts largely depend on having nationl visibility.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on March 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In a 1975 interview with the libertarian magazine "Reason," Ronald Reagan said, "If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. ... The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is." If you agree with Ryan Sager's argument in "The Elephant in the Room," you'd have wonder how at home Reagan would feel (or for that matter how welcome he would be) in the GOP of the late Bush-43 era. If, as the Gipper more famously also said, he didn't leave the Democrat party in the 1940s, but rather it left him, it seems pretty clear the Republican party has left his substance (as opposed to his image) behind too.

I think would be hard for any reasonable observer to disagree with Sager's basic thesis, which is that largely-irreconcilable tectonic forces are tearing Reagan's GOP coalition asunder. The small-government, low-tax, personal-freedom libertarian wing -- the wing of Goldwater, Reagan, and generally western Republicans -- is being steamrolled by cultural conservatism (aka "the religious right"), which the author identifies as primarily a southern-Republican phenomenon. In one of the most arresting political images I've come across in some time, Sager describes "the situation at home [within the GOP] looking like an episode of 'COPS,' with the shirtless social conservatives wrestled to the ground and handcuffed outside the trailer, and the libertarians deciding whether to press charges" (p. 183).

The problem as Sager sees it, of course, is that the social-cons aren't "handcuffed" at all, but in fact are still free to slap the western libertarian-conservatives around at will.
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49 of 63 people found the following review helpful By John on September 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Great, funny, informative, witty book on what has happened to the Republican party since 1995. This book describes the history of conservatism since 1945, and how there used to be balance between the libertarians (who value individual freedom and limited government), and the social conservatives (who value tradition and religion). These two groups complemented each other and were like the yin and yang of the GOP: they kept the party in balance.

Since 1995 (roughly), the libertarians have lost power in the GOP, and the GOP is increasingly a party of: massive governmental spending (spending under Bush has mushroomed and is the worst since LBJ in the 1960s), southern Christian fundamentalism, and unlimited government that we all are supposed to "trust" (the Patriot Act, etc.).

Bush, DeLay and company have basically wielded power the way that liberals traditionally have (meaning: not trying to limit it, but trying to maximize the power of the federal government over society). Government spending and debt is out of control, and the government is increasingly playing "nanny" to us all (the Terry Schiavo case is a good example). Things like mandatory governmental counselling for any married couple with minor kids wanting a divorce shows the degree to which the GOP wants to use the federal government to intrude on all of our lives and play "nanny" to us all.

As a former Republican who voted for Reagan and who values individual initiative and choice, I am appalled by what the GOP has become. People like Tom DeLay cast aside 50 years of conservative distrust of government to declare that he was in essence put in power to enact the will of God. If that is not scary, I don't know what is.
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