“I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.” — Jim Demint
“(Arlen Specter) is what the party needed to be. They need to cultivate more Specters instead of deriding him as a RINO.” — Michael Smerconish
First of all, I love Jim DeMint. He’s my favorite Republican on Capitol Hill. But, the idea that we’d be better off with 30 principled Republicans than 60 country club Republicans is nuts. That’s because even if you have 30 perfect conservatives in the Senate, you may be right on every issue, but you will also lose every battle that matters for the future of this country.
As to Smerconish’s comments, I think they’re indicative of what’s wrong with the David Frum, Ross Douthat, Meghan McCain, Peggy Noonan, Kathleen Parker, David Brooks wing of the party. Arlen Specter isn’t a RINO and the GOP needs to emulate him? Not only is Arlen Specter to the left-of-center, he just left the Republican Party. How in the world can any sane Republican say that’s what we need to be copying?
Right now, the Republican Party is psychologically out of whack. If you want to understand why that is, first of all you need to understand that the GOP is, at its heart, a conservative party and it has been at least since Reagan.
The majority of Republican voters are conservative and we provide most of the money, the volunteers, the ideas, the energy, and the enthusiasm. We conservatives are involved with politics because we have principles and ideals we believe in deeply and want to see them implemented.
Cutting to the chase, we conservatives feel deeply betrayed by what has happened over the last 8 years. The GOP managed to get control of all three branches of government and other than a couple of great Supreme Court Justices, the Right has very little to show for it.
We suffered through Bush’s selection of Harriet Miers, the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, the GOP trying to force amnesty and open borders on the country, growing deficits, increasing government, a GOP sponsored takeover of banks, a President who refused to defend himself or conservatism publicly, and a “Republican elite” in DC who often seemed to hold their biggest supporters in contempt.
Let me give you a comparable example:
Imagine you’re the owner of a small business and you have a problem employee (the Republican Party). He shows up late. He takes two hour lunches. He won’t do his work. He makes fun of you to the other employees. It gets so bad that it affects your business and you start to lose money, but unfortunately, with the job market in your area, replacing him would be almost impossible.
Now, after a few months of this, how much patience are you going to have with this guy when you ask him why he isn’t doing what you told him to do? Zero, right?
Well, that’s where conservatives are with the Republican Party. We’re not interested in excuses. Exhortations to “be reasonable” aren’t going to work. After eight years of being sneered at by arrogant incompetents who owe their jobs to us, we’re not really in the mood for compromise.
Which brings us to the moderates in the GOP. Make no mistake about it, the GOP needs moderate voters and moderate politicians. We cannot expect a hard core conservative to win a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 2. We can’t expect a Republican senator from Vermont or California to be as conservative as a Republican senator from Oklahoma or Georgia. Yes, people like this can make conservatives pull their hair out at times, but it’s impossible for us to have a majority or get things done without them.
However, the flip side to this is that moderates are not the majority of Republicans, they’re not ideologically coherent as a group, and they simply don’t bring enough manpower, money, or energy to the table to drive a successful political party. What that means is moderates have to be the Robin to our Batman. Conservatives, who have stronger beliefs, more numbers, and just bring so much more to the Party are not going to happily fall in line over the long haul in a moderate Republican Party. Conservatives have to be in charge — and this can work.
How? Let me give you a comparable example:
Imagine you’re the owner of a small business and you have a pretty good employee (the Republican Party). He generally shows up on time. He generally gets back from lunch on time. He does fairly good work and although you disagree with him at times, you understand that he respects your opinion, wants to make you happy, and is trying to do the right thing. Although he’s not perfect, he is making you money and anyway, in the job market in your area, replacing him would be almost impossible.
Now, after a few months of this, if this guy shows up 10 minutes late or does something you don’t like, you may gently chide him to do better, but you’re not going to throw a screaming fit. Heck, if he gets in a financial scrape, you may even give him a two week advance on his salary to help him out. That’s because he’s an asset to you, not a liability.
This is how the Republican Party — and for that matter, the Democratic Party — manages to function properly. The moderates live off the money, energy, and efforts of their more motivated brethren — but that only works when conservatives are motivated. When the Right isn’t fired up, the money, volunteers, and enthusiasm dry up and ironically, the people hurt worst by that are the moderates who generate none of these things on their own.
That’s why moderates can’t effectively run the Republican Party. That’s why it’s foolish for moderates to attack conservatives. That’s also why it’s naive to believe that the Republican Party can simply ignore what the base wants on illegal immigration, fiscal conservatism, or the size of government.
That brings us to where we are today. The conservative base of the GOP feels like it has been used and abused by the Republican Party. Until that changes, we’re not going to cut the party a lot of slack, we’re not going to be very interested in helping moderates, and we’re going to be deeply suspicious of the party.
The way to change that perception is to admit that the party lost its way, reach out to the base to convince them that it has changed, and then to prove the party is getting back to its conservative roots by voting that way. When conservatives become convinced that the GOP is “on their side” again and making a good faith effort to do the right thing, we’ll be much more tolerant of moderates in blue states, we’ll cut the party more slack, and we’ll get fired up again. Having a far left-wing radical in the White House will help on that count, too.
But in the interim, conservatives should remember that if we want to win elections, we need to add people to the Republican Party, not get rid of them and moderates should remember that the beating heart of the GOP, like it or not, will remain conservative for the foreseeable future.
Update #1: Just a little addendum to this post. Despite negatively quoting Jim DeMint at the start of this piece, he is, as I said, my favorite Republican on Capitol Hill.
That’s because while other Republicans have started figuring out that it’s to their advantage to be more conservative since George Bush left office, Jim Demint was showing leadership on conservative issues while Bush was still in office because it was the right thing to do for the country.
As to his comment, I believe he was trying to take a page from Reagan’s famous pale pastels speech and perhaps erred a bit in how he phrased it.
Here’s an excerpt from Ronald Reagan’s famous 1975 speech to CPAC, at a time when the Republican Party, like today, was taking a tremendous beating and many people were counting conservatism out,
Since our last meeting we have been through a disastrous election. It is easy for us to be discouraged, as pundits hail that election as a repudiation of our philosophy and even as a mandate of some kind or other.
…Bitter as it is to accept the results of the November election, we should have reason for some optimism. For many years now we have preached “the gospel,” in opposition to the philosophy of so-called liberalism which was, in truth, a call to collectivism.
Now, it is possible we have been persuasive to a greater degree than we had ever realized. Few, if any, Democratic party candidates in the last election ran as liberals. Listening to them I had the eerie feeling we were hearing reruns of Goldwater speeches. I even thought I heard a few of my own.
Bureaucracy was assailed and fiscal responsibility hailed. Even George McGovern donned sackcloth and ashes and did penance for the good people of South Dakota.
But let’s not be so naive as to think we are witnessing a mass conversion to the principles of conservatism. Once sworn into office, the victors reverted to type. In their view, apparently, the ends justified the means.
…I don’t know about you, but I am impatient with those Republicans who after the last election rushed into print saying, “We must broaden the base of our party”–when what they meant was to fuzz up and blur even more the differences between ourselves and our opponents.
It was a feeling that there was not a sufficient difference now between the parties that kept a majority of the voters away from the polls. When have we ever advocated a closed-door policy? Who has ever been barred from participating?
Our people look for a cause to believe in. Is it a third party we need, or is it a new and revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people.
….A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency, or simply to swell its numbers.
I do not believe I have proposed anything that is contrary to what has been considered Republican principle. It is at the same time the very basis of conservatism. It is time to reassert that principle and raise it to full view. And if there are those who cannot subscribe to these principles, then let them go their way.”