This is a long, link-heavy, almost “stream-of-consciousness” jumbled post. So be warned….
There seems to be a civil war going on. Hard to the right Conservatives who reluctantly jumped aboard the straight talk express- not because they were for McCain so much as they were against Obama (and for Palin)- are now angrily throwing McCain under the straight talk bus.
A small camp of conservatives blame the Palin pick. She rejuvenated the base but turned off independents, whether through legitimate concerns of competence, or fabricated, pro-Obama media irrationality. Nevertheless, by Sept 10th, she helped McCain come up 8 points from behind, only to lose that groundswell with the timing of the economic collapse.
Why did John McCain lose?
Let’s start with those “headwinds” into which he was flying.
The president of the United States, the leader of his party, was at Nixon-Carter levels of approval, 25 percent, going into Election Day.
Sixty-two percent of the nation thought the economy was the No. 1 issue, and 93 percent thought the economy was bad. Two-thirds of the nation thought the war McCain championed was a mistake, and 80 percent to 90 percent thought the country was on the wrong course.
As a political athlete, measured by charisma and communications skills, McCain is not even in the same league with Barack Obama. He was outspent by vast sums, and his political organization was far inferior.
It is a wonder McCain was even competitive, dealt such a hand.
8 years of President Bush and the relentless media drumbeat pounding into voter consciousness the myth that it’s been nothing short of 8 years of absolute failed policies from Bush lied, people died, Hurricane Katrina, to today’s economy, the legacy of Bush as it stands today, was an albatross around the neck of the McCain campaign. McCain offered up more of the McSame, if you vote him into office.
If movement activists within the Party wish to throw CINOs under the bus, don’t just end it there with McCain. Throw President Bush under there, as well.
President Bush, admired for his personal honor and deep faith, was respected by many conservatives, but he was hardly a conservative himself. No man who nominated Harriett Meiers to the Supreme Court could be considered a true conservative. Anyone who could embrace the vision of Ted Kennedy for our national education policy was not a true conservative. Anyone who could create a new entitlement for prescription drugs was not a true conservative.
Bush was simply a decent man who was not a Leftist Democrat. As McCain found out, being a decent man who is not a Leftist Democrat means nothing at all to the Left. Both men, like Bob Dole and like George H. Bush, are good Americans, admirable people, and men blissfully unaware that the Left is not just waging battles on issues like more socialism but are rather waging war on our entire way of life. Bush, Dole, McCain, and Bush Sr. were not wicked failures because they were not conservatives. They were more like Chamberlain at Munich: They did not grasp the true depth and nature of their adversary and, they thought, their adversary might be reasonable.
For some liberals, this is clearly just a tactical pose. Bush is unpopular, so they hope to discredit conservatism by marrying it to Bush, just as Barack Obama succeeded by painting John McCain as a Bush clone. This is the moment, as Obama might say, to permanently block the right-hand fork in the road so the country can only move leftward.
The view on the right is very different, and the debate about the Bush years will largely determine the future of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.
Bush’s brand of conservatism was always a controversial innovation on the right. Recall that in 2000 he promised to be a “different kind of Republican,” and he kept his word. His partner in passing the No Child Left Behind Act was liberal Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. Bush’s prescription drug benefit — the largest expansion of entitlements since the Great Society — was hugely controversial on the right. He signed the McCain-Feingold bill to the dismay of many Republicans who’d spent years denouncing campaign-finance “reform” as an assault on freedom of speech. The fight over his immigration plan nearly tore the conservative movement apart.
This is not to suggest that Bush was in fact a liberal president. Politics is not binary like that. There were conservative triumphs — and failures — to the Bush presidency. He appointed two solid conservatives to the Supreme Court. He tried to privatize Social Security, though that failed for sundry reasons.
His much-touted “compassionate conservatism” was rejected by many on the right as a slap to traditional conservatives and an intellectual betrayal of Reaganite principles. It was a rhetorical capitulation to Bill Clinton’s feel-your-pain political posturing and an embrace of the assumptions that have been the undergirding of liberalism since the New Deal. That is, the measure of one’s compassion is directly proportionate to one’s support for large and costly government programs.
And Bush admitted as much. In an interview with the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes, Bush explained that he rejected William F. Buckley’s brand of anti-government conservatism. Conservatives had to “lead” and to be “activist,” he said. In 2003, Bush proclaimed that when “somebody hurts” government has to “move.” This wasn’t a philosophy of government as much as gooey marketing posing as principle. Ronald Reagan would have spontaneously burst into flames if he’d uttered such sentiments.
Dissent from Bush was muted for years, in large part because of 9/11 and the Iraq war. Conservatives, right or wrong, rallied to support their president, particularly in the face of shrill partisan attacks from Democrats who seemed more interested in tearing down the commander in chief than winning a war. But the Bush chapter is closing, and the fight to write the next one has begun.
Conservatives have criticized Bush for straying from conservative principles of fiscal responsibility, smaller government (when will Republicans begin walking the talk? Did even Reagan?), and on the issue of immigration. But they have also rallied to his defense against the political onslaught of those on the left who have inexplicably painted him as a far right conservative.
David Brooks examines whether traditionalists or reformers hold the magic formula to winning future elections.
Traditionalists own the conservative mythology. Members of the conservative Old Guard see themselves as members of a small, heroic movement marching bravely from the Heartland into belly of the liberal elite. In this narrative, anybody who deviates toward the center, who departs from established doctrine, is a coward, and a sellout.
This narrative happens to be mostly bogus at this point. Most professional conservatives are lifelong Washingtonians who live comfortably as organization heads, lobbyists and publicists. Their supposed heroism consists of living inside the large conservative cocoon and telling each other things they already agree with. But this embattled-movement mythology provides a rationale for crushing dissent, purging deviationists and enforcing doctrinal purity. It has allowed the old leaders to define who is a true conservative and who is not. It has enabled them to maintain control of (an ever more rigid) movement.
Ann Coulter sees Brooks as part of the problem.
Hugh Hewitt is more level-headed and pragmatic about it:
It is a fine column and sure to get e-mailed around, sparking snarky comments along the way.
But it vastly understates the complexity of the situation within the conservative movement and the GOP today, and largely because most of the names it names are Manhattan-Beltway media or organizational elitists. Many of these folks are my friends and colleagues and they do great work, but they don’t and can’t drive a movement or a party. Leaders and activists do that, and they do it from outside of New York or D.C.
Some have had it “up to here” with the Republican Party as a whole and are ready to kick the GOP to the curb, as well, going independent.
The argument goes that the reason we lost is because we, as a political party, abandoned our conservative principles and ran too far to the center; not only this, but the Party itself has diluted itself of conservatism. Some purists seem to want to purge the Party of RINOs (laughably inaccurate label…what they should really mean is “CINO”: Conservative in Name Only. But I digress…) and wishy-washy center-right conservatives (like myself).
The thing is, most purists angry about the watered-down brand of conservatism they’ve been getting for the last decade, still came out against Obama if not exactly for McCain. Purists alone inhabit too small a tent to win elections. They need the center-right moderates as well as the independent voters to win in elections where the country is evenly divided. The Democrats this year, simply had the superior-packaged candidate who campaigned against Bush-fatigued Americans (Conservatives tired of defending a good president who’s governed too much to the center but has kept us safe; Liberals on the relentless assault who blame a fascist president for endangering us, taking away civil liberties, torture, credibility and standing in the world, etc., etc.) as well as the illusion of being a centrist moderate with promises of bipartisanship and “reaching across the aisle”.
2008 was not a landslide victory, nor indictment of conservative ideology.
An ideology that has been allowed to be defined by the opposition as a movement of racists, bigots, religious zealots, close-mindedness, selfish, for the rich and against the poor.
Hispanics and blacks share some of the same values as echoed by conservatism; yet they still vote against the Republican Party which has been characterized by Democrats as racist, xenophobic, and against the middle class and poor folk.
Regarding the label RINO:
Those who make war on RINO’s, however, ought to confront an obvious question: would you really prefer that such people drop the Republican designation? How does it help if politicians or office-holders with whom you disagree leave your party and join the opposition? When alleged “RINO” Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the GOP and joined the Democrats, it gave them control of the US Senate. When another RINO, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, lost his Senate seat in 2006, it also gave the Democrats control; if Chafee had won, we’d still have a Republican majority and GOP committee chairs. The truth is that no successful political party has ever been built on ideological purity. You can construct a majority coalition by bringing people into your party, not by driving them away. It’s childish and self-destructive to wage war based on some notion of “real conservatism” with those who want to align themselves with your side. Ronald Reagan himself used to say that “if somebody agrees with me 70% of the time, rather than 100%, that doesn’t make him my enemy.”
The definition of what constitutes a “RINO” seems to have expanded in 2008 by the angry right who lionize Reagan and claim ownership of his legacy. For many of these so-called, self-fashioned “Reagan footsoldiers”, Ronald Reagan would not be Reagan enough for them today, by their own measuring rod standard of conservatism.
Hugh Hewitt’s 2004 book, If it’s not Close, They Can’t Cheat, is a primer on how to win elections. And it doesn’t advocate for rooting out RINOs or movement activists and fanatics. It does advocate for a strategy on how to win elections by building a coalition of regulars, occasionals, principled pragmatists, movement activists, and fringe fanatics.
….insistence on personal taste is disastrous for political parties. There are only two real choices in America- Republican or Democrat. To demand more is to be disappointed before you begin, and to hand a victory to the set of choices most repellent to you.
Let me emphasize that if you walk away from politics because you can’t have everything your way, you are helping the people win who are least like you and most opposed to your views.
Majorities matter. Majorities matter. Majorities matter.
Sometimes when a purist Republican calls my show and denounces thir or that RINO (Republican in name only), I despair of ever teaching anyone the importance of majorities. For some reason, conservatives and especially evangelicals are stubborn when it comes to the importance of majorities.
These conservatives will talk sanctimoniously about voting on principle, or sitting an election out to “teach the Republican Party a lesson”.
These purists cannot bring themselves to vote for Republicans who don’t share their particular views, even if the election of a Republican majority in Congress hangs in the balance.
In short, the loss of one vote- even though it was the vote of the most liberal Republican senator- caused enormous damage to the Republican agenda, the president’s agenda, and the conservative agenda. Confirmations stalled. Bills died. The platform from which the agenda could be spotlighted and sold collapsed.
That’s how government operates. In a majority rule system like ours, either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party is in charge.
Some conservatives put fingers in their ears and make noises in an attempt to avoid the message, as though shouting ever changed words printed on a page. They don’t like the system. They want it their own way.
Just as there’s no dealing with tantrum-throwing two-year-olds, there’s no dealing with some voters. No appeals to reason and no number of repeated demonstrations of basic math matter to them.
These are not real conservatives. These are not even real single-interest voters. These are self-centered and selfish voters
you should always ask yourself if the candidate you support in a primary is electable in a general election. You have to look ahead to the general election’s likely opponent and ask if your candidate has the capabilities to win the contest that matters. It is no victory to support a candidate who wins a primary, only to lose the general election.
Yet those who don’t take into consideration a candidate’s electability can smugly feel good about themselves, “at least I stood on principle.”
From Hugh Hewitt’s 2004 book, If It’s Not Close, They Can’t Cheat, pg77:
Republicans need to keep a majority of Senate seats in Republican hands; thus, we need liberal GOP senators as well as very conservative GOP senators and all those in between.
Which brings me to the subject of incumbents, especially those of your own party that you don’t like much.
Throughout 2003, a small group of conservative activists attempted to rally support to the insurgent candidacy of Pennsylvania Congressman Pat Toomey, who declared against incumbent Republican Senator Arlen Specter- a liberal Republican.
The Toomey candidacy came very close to unseating Specter, but it failed by a few thousand votes because serious conservatives understood that Specter keeps the Senate in GOP hands. Even had Toomey won in the primary, he would have been left open to withering attacks in the general election- with no money and Specter “moderates” practicing paybacks- as well as leaving disaffected the GOP voters who have stood with the iconoclastic Specter for many years.
Similar efforts have been launched in the recent past, including one against John McCain by Arizona conservatives who believe McCain to be insufficiently pure.
All such efforts against incumbents of all ideological shades are ill conceived and harmful, with one exception: where an incumbent is too weak to win reelection.
This happened in 2002 in New Hampshire where Senator Bob Smith, the Senate’s oddest Republican duck and an unreliable Republican- he bolted the party once, only to return later- was trailing the likely Democratic nominee in polls. A congressman, John Sununu, took on Smith in a primary and won, and he went on to hold the seat for the GOP in the fall 2002 elections. It was the sort of challenge to an incumbent that made sense, but it is rare.
Neither Specter nor McCain is a weak incumbent in general elections. Conservative purists should not only leave both men alone; they should enthusiastically support their reelection efforts. All the money and effort that goes into campaigns to push them out would be far better spent on helping folk like John Thune in South Dakota, a more conservative candidate than either McCain or Specter, but also a Republican running against a powerful Democrat- Tom Daschle.
Please absorb this basic fact about American politics: majorities, not individuals, govern. Without an understanding of this, the GOP’s return to near permanent minority status- and the powerlessness it includes- is all but guaranteed.
John Hawkins has had enough of Mitch McConnell. Many movement conservatives have long had enough of John McCain and were absolutely livid when he won the Party nomination. Still, most of them were smart enough to come to bat for him as a vote against Obama, if not for McCain. But since he lost the election, rather than sharing collective blame, the fingers are pointed to where the buck stops.
Ann Coulter reignites her disdain for McCain:
How many times do we have to run this experiment before Republican primary voters learn that “moderate,” “independent,” “maverick” Republicans never win, and right-wing Republicans never lose?
After showing nearly superhuman restraint throughout this campaign, which was lost the night McCain won the California primary, I am now liberated to announce that all I care about is hunting down and punishing every Republican who voted for McCain in the primaries. I have a list and am prepared to produce the names of every person who told me he was voting for McCain to the proper authorities.
We’ll start with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Then we shall march through the states of New Hampshire and South Carolina — states that must never, ever be allowed to hold early Republican primaries again.
Personally, I’d rather throw Ann Coulter under the bus (but won’t, because I’d rather have her within the Party even more than she wants wishy-washy moderates out of it). She’s an uber-conservative who oozes purist ideology. Yet rather than successfully get across the conservative message, her system of delivery only succeeds in alienation. Anyone think she could win an election? For the most part, I see her as part of the problem, not a solution. It’s not that I don’t share in much of her conservativism; it’s her intolerance for those who don’t live up to her standards and interpretation of it. If she wants the perfect presidential candidate who she can agree with on 100% of the issues, she should run for office. If she only wants those in her party with whom she agrees with 100% of the time as the only true conservatives, then she will inhabit a lonely small tent of election losers, relegating the Republican Party to an irrelevant 3rd, 4th, or last party (What was McCain’s lifetime ACU ranking again? Around 82%. Apparently not good enough for the party purists).
No movement in U.S. political history has ever benefited from a purification process; purges always weaken or destroy a party’s vitality and viability, as even 1930’s Communists could attest. Nothing is more obvious in the American political process than the proposition that you win elections by attracting wafflers, moderates, dissenters, and independent spirits to your side; you lose elections by driving away such uncertain souls.
Of course, far right conservatives want to attract such voters in order to win based upon conservative ideas; for some inexplicable reason, though, they don’t seem to want them within the Republican Party. Not unless they are turned on by conservative ideology to the degree that they too become conservative purists.
Purists ruin movements, though. They lose elections. There just aren’t enough voters out there who think narrowly enough to satisfy the Party purists. It’s unlikely, too, that they will ever find their dream presidential candidate because the only way to find someone who will agree with them 100% of the time, would be to run for office themselves.
The following point is going to find disagreement amongst those who are hard to the right, like Coulter and Limbaugh and who fashion themselves as “Reagan conservatives”, claiming we’ve strayed from his brand of conservatism:
The greatest conservative of them all, Ronald Reagan, always understood this principle. At the moment of his greatest triumph, when he finally captured his party’s nomination in 1980, he didn’t turn to a “pure conservative” or a “true conservative” as his running mate. Instead, he chose party unity and selected George Herbert Walker Bush, a prime example of the Ivy League, country club Republican many right-wingers instinctively despised. Reagan also used Bush’s friend and aide, the notorious moderate James Baker, as his chief of staff. Unlike his mentor Barry Goldwater (who lost in a landslide), the Gipper understood throughout his career that a party that achieved “pure conservative” status would become a “pure loser” in competition for swing voters.
Moreover, history shows conclusively that a bitter defeat never pushes a conservative party farther right, or pushes a liberal party further left. Instead, political organizations that experience harsh rejection from the electorate move instinctively, inevitably toward the center in quest of precisely those middle-of-the-road voters who abandoned them in the previous contest. After outspoken conservative Barry Goldwater led the GOP to an overwhelming defeat in 1964, the nominees that followed (Nixon twice and then Gerald Ford) clearly represented the more moderate wing of the party. When unapologetic liberal George McGovern brought the Democrats a ruinous 49-state drubbing in 1972, they followed with a long series of relatively centrist, purportedly non-ideological candidates (Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore), reliably shunning the strong leftist contingent within their coalition.
There’s been some disagreement between me and others regarding how Senator Obama ran his campaign. I agree that his big spending proposals and party platform were not “centrist” by any means; and anyone who looked at his skimpy voting record in the U.S. Senate, his record in the Illinois State Senate, and his history of associations to radical activists and gravitation toward Marxist ideology, would fear him as a radically far left liberal. Furthermore, I don’t see the Democratic Party as moving toward the center to win elections, but more and more, being overtaken by Moveon.org and becoming the party of Michael Moore and George Soros.
However, Obama’s image in how he portrayed himself to the American public- in how the media was complicit in suppressing anything that suggested differently, for the most part- was as a radically “centrist” liberal candidate. (Consider his inflexible record on abortion; you’d think Catholics would overwhelmingly vote against him; McCain’s record on supporting conservative judges and protecting the unborn is solid).
Here’s a useful checklist of Obama’s campaign promises, btw.
There is simply no historical model for the process of party defeat, purification and rejuvenation that some deluded conservatives recommend. Consider the sad state of the Republican Party during the 1930’s and ‘40’s. In 1928, Herbert Hoover represented the most moderate, or even progressive, nominee since Teddy Roosevelt in 1904. When Hoover got crushed by FDR in 1932, the Republicans didn’t turn back to solid conservatives in the Coolidge tradition. Instead they kept nominating moderates (Alf Landon, former Democrat Wendell Wilkie, New York progressive Tom Dewey twice, and then the non-ideological General Eisenhower) in the often forlorn hope that they could woo wavering independents or conservative Democrats away from the New Deal coalition. Not even five consecutive defeats on the Presidential level led the Republicans to shift to a more conservative, ideologically rigorous posture.
I believe in conservative ideology. I don’t believe the American public rejected conservatism; nor did they reject the watered-down brand of conservatism that McCain represents to so many angry conservatives (for those who argue there wasn’t a conservative- other than Palin- in the bunch). After all, Palin was on McCain’s ticket; and although she energized the base and gave us our own rock star, she failed to attract the all-valuable independent votes as her character was savagely dragged through the mud and she was portrayed as not only ignorant, but as a far right Bible-thumping conservative hillbilly nut rather than the outside-the-beltway reformer willing to take on and weed out corrupting influences from her own political party. She, more so than Obama, is a true Washington outsider, living amongst the Joe Six-Packs and Joe the Plumbers; not the Joe Six-Terms.
Some of the nation’s most influential conservatives (on talk radio and elsewhere) have begun promoting the odd idea that John McCain lost the election because he ran as a “moderate” and a “maverick” rather than a “true conservative.” According to this argument, the GOP nominee could have won the White House had he only “taken the gloves off” and run to the right, without apology. This logic suggests that candidates fare better when they display ideological rigor and consistency, and that Republicans can never succeed by going after moderate and independent votes.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to test this theory. McCain appeared on the 2008 ballot with some of the nation’s most outspoken, hard line conservatives, who won nomination for governor or US Senator. If the argument is true that you can win more votes by appealing to right-wingers, rather than aiming for the center, then conservative Senate and gubernatorial candidates should have out-performed McCain, particularly in solidly Republican Southern or Midwestern states.
In fact, the results from Tuesday show that McCain did better than his conservative running mates—and in some cases, much better. In New Mexico, for instance, the Presidential nominee ran three points ahead of the hard-line, anti-immigration candidate Steve Pearce, who ran for an open Senate seat. McCain also drew three points more than incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss in Georgia, six percentage points more than Senator Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, five points more than re-elected Senate leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, two points more than Senator Roger Wicker in Mississippi. The McCain-Palin ticket also drew twelve points more in Virginia than former governor Jim Gilmore, running for an open Senate seat, ran thirteen points ahead of conservative challenger John Kennedy in Louisiana, and three points more than impassioned, eloquent right-wing Congressman Bob Schaffer in Colorado (running for another open Senate seat). Joel Dykstra, a militant pro-life leader in the South Dakota legislature, challenged ailing Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, and drew only 38% of the vote, in a state McCain carried easily with 53% — a huge fifteen point difference in their strength at the ballot box.
In fact, McCain ran well ahead of Republican nominees for Senate and governorships almost everywhere – except in those cases when statewide GOP candidates had cultivated their own reputations for independence, centrism, and ideological flexibility.
For instance, Senator Susan Collins of Maine beat back a well-financed Democratic challenge and drew an amazing 61% in her state – where McCain got only 40%. Likewise, Gordon Smith in Oregon (who may still retain his seat after the long tabulation process concludes) advertised his willingness to work with Democrats (including Barack Obama) and ran four points ahead of McCain. Lindsey Graham (derided by anti-immigration activists as “Lindsey Graham-nesty”) won easy re-election with 58% — four points ahead of McCain’s own strong showing in the Palmetto State. And in Minnesota, in a complicated three-man race, independent-minded Norm Coleman seems to have earned a squeaker victory in a state that McCain lost by a full ten points.
In other words, uncompromising “movement” conservatives performed far worse than the GOP’s “maverick” Presidential nominee—even in some of the nation’s most conservative states (Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota). On the other hand, Senators (and gubernatorial candidates like Washington’s Dino Rossi) who stressed their independence, bi-partisanship and non-ideological approach to the issues (Collins, Graham, Smith, Coleman) drew more votes than McCain in their states – even when those states were as conservative as re-elected Senator Graham’s South Carolina. In any event, there’s scant evidence that McCain (who generally ran more strongly than his statewide counterparts) in any dragged down local candidates in his losing but gallant campaign. If anything, some of those local candidates seem to have dragged down McCain.
In other words, the undeniable facts about the recently concluded election offer a complete, consistent, and powerful rebuttal to the misguided notion that running to the right as a “true conservative” pays off more than going after moderate and independent voters. In every state of the union, no matter how bright red its hue, comparisons between McCain’s results and those of statewide Senate and gubernatorial candidates suggest that Republicans do better when they target the rich cache of votes at the center of the political spectrum. The exit polling for 2008 showed that only 34% of voters called themselves “conservative” (and McCain won an overwhelming 78% of those votes). Meanwhile, 45% of this year’s voters said they were “moderate.” This means that even if a candidate secures every available conservative vote he’d still lose in a landslide without a strong showing among moderates and independents. (McCain lost self-described moderates to Obama by a modest margin, and thereby lost the election).
First of all, the comparison is drawn between McCain’s bid for the presidency, and senator’s and representative’s bids for congressional seats. This is an apples and oranges comparison in that congressional politicians have a localized base to which they must appeal; be it a state or a district. A presidential candidate must appeal to the whole nation or at least enough to garner 271 electoral votes. There is a world of difference between local and national level constituency bases.
There is a difference, but I’m not sure if there is a “world of difference”.
Appealing to the quirky, restless, independent-minded voters who see themselves traveling down the middle of the road shouldn’t require compromising core conservative principles. Appealing to the political center shouldn’t involve abandoning ideals but it may require adopting a more cooperative, pragmatic, non-ideological tone. Conservatives have already found the right substance on the issues but they still need to learn to adopt the right style in presenting it.
Of course, John Hawkins asks 15 good questions of those who think the GOP should campaign toward the center:
#1) If both the GOP and the Democrats support bigger government, how does the country survive long term given the size of the debt we already have and the deficits we’re running right now? In other words, how can running massive deficits possibly be sustainable over the long haul?
#2) If the GOP were to officially become a big government party, wouldn’t there be a real danger of having a large third party spring up that would represent the considerable number (I’d say a majority, at least in the abstract) of Americans who do want smaller government and less spending?
#3) If the GOP becomes a big government party, how do you see us differentiating ourselves from the Democratic Party? Do we spend almost as much as they do, but not quite as much? Do we spend even more? Do we favor deficit spending, but just on different things? Isn’t there a real danger that Democrats — since their base tends to generally be OK with excessive spending — could simply outbid us on anything we offered to the American people?
#4) Since the majority of the GOP’s core supporters don’t agree with “moderate” positions like big spending or amnesty, feel very strongly about it, and feel those positions harm the party politically, how can the party continue to hew to those positions over the long term without being permanently at odds with the people who should be their strongest supporters?
#5) Let’s do the math on amnesty: there are roughly 12-20 million illegal immigrants, most of whom are Hispanics. Hispanics broke 70/30 for the Democrats in 2006 and 69/31 for the Dems in 2008 according to the latest exit poll data. If the split stayed at 70/30 and 12-20 million new illegals were made citizens, that would mean the Democrats would add another 4.8 to 8 million potential new voters as a result of amnesty. The top end of that scale is a larger margin than what Barack Obama won by in 2008.
Additionally, even if the GOP improved our numbers with Hispanics — which we certainly need to do — we’ve never come close to getting 50% of the Hispanic vote. With all that in mind, isn’t amnesty political suicide for the GOP?
#6) Some people tend to assume that Hispanics vote almost entirely on the illegal immigration issue, but I would assert that there is very little objective evidence for that. George Bush and John McCain are the two biggest proponents of amnesty in the Republican Party and neither of them is particularly popular with Hispanics today. In fact, according to exit polls, against a candidate who was thought to be weak with Hispanics, John McCain only got 31% of the Hispanic vote. So, what objective evidence convinces you that Hispanics vote largely on illegal immigration and that if the GOP supports amnesty, it will get us over the 50% threshold with Hispanics?
#7) Given that the mainstream media overwhelmingly supports the Democrats, it’s extremely important for the GOP to have the support of conservative talk radio hosts, magazines, and the RightRoots. Since the new media is overwhelmingly comprised of conservatives, how does a moderate GOP gain their genuine support over the long haul?
#8) Follow-up question to #7: If the GOP can’t get the new media back enthusiastically on its side — which is likely to be the case unless there are changes on spending and illegal immigration policies — how does the GOP get the base fired up? In other words, if Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, etc., etc., are telling everyone who’ll listen that the Republicans stink, how does the Republican Party work around that?
#9) Setting aside the conservative media, obviously the conservative movement is lacking energy and passion right now. Many people, myself included, would say that this has a lot to do with the position that the GOP has been taking on immigration and spending issues. How does the GOP get conservatives supporting the GOP again, instead of just opposing the Democrats, if the party continues to pursue big government policies and amnesty?
#10) If amnesty, big government, and deficit spending are winning issues for the Republican Party, why did we take such a huge beating in 2006 and 2008 despite pursuing those very policies?
#11) Over the last two elections, moderate Republicans haven’t quite been wiped out, but percentage wise, they’ve suffered much higher losses than conservative Republicans. If moderate Republicans can’t even win elections in moderate districts now, why would we want to adopt that losing philosophy across our whole party when conservatives are winning at a much, much higher clip across the country?
#12) As moderate columnist David Brooks has said,
There is not yet an effective Republican Leadership Council to nurture modernizing conservative ideas. There is no moderate Club for Growth, supporting centrist Republicans. The Public Interest, which used to publish an array of public policy ideas, has closed. Reformist Republican donors don’t seem to exist. Any publication or think tank that headed in an explicitly reformist direction would be pummeled by its financial backers. National candidates who begin with reformist records — Giuliani, Romney or McCain — immediately tack right to be acceptable to the power base.
So, there are no moderate think tanks, no moderate donors, the new media is overwhelmingly conservative, the Republican base and activists are overwhelmingly conservative — shouldn’t that tell people something about whether the idea of a moderate GOP is workable?
#13) Follow-up question to #12: If a moderate Republican Party is workable, how do you make it work without the new media, think tanks, money, or an excited base on your side?
#14) John McCain was the most moderate candidate the GOP has run since Richard Nixon. In fact, he’s the standard bearer of the “moderate Republican” wing of the party and yet the media trashed him, he had trouble raising money — and other moderates, including prominent moderate Republicans like Colin Powell and Christopher Buckley, voted for Obama. In the end, McCain received almost 4 million less votes than Bush did in 2006. Doesn’t that suggest that moderate Republican candidates may have trouble raising money, retaining moderates, and generating the enthusiasm from the Republican base that will be needed to win?
#15) When the Democratic Party was out of power, the party moved to the left, not to the center. They obstructed the GOP at every opportunity, put hard-core left-wingers in charge of everything, and ran an extremely liberal candidate in 2008. Granted, they also had moderate Democrats that they ran in states and districts that leaned red, but those people are almost completely locked out of power and their agenda is largely ignored. Since that strategy worked so well for the Democrats, doesn’t it make more sense for the GOP to pursue the same strategy instead of continuing the move to the center that has done so much damage to the party over the last two elections?
There were a number of reasons why conservatives lost this election (glass ceiling of the first non-white president, campaign money, biased media, 8 years of Bush); I don’t think blaming RINOs and moderates is the answer to our woes. I’m not so sure this self-bleeding is necessary, although introspection is usually beneficial. The GOP definitely could use a makeover. In terms of physical image (more Palins and Jindals and Steeles and a few less “old white men”, as superficial as it may sound), and in terms of ideological image. Basically, that WE should be the ones defining who we are; not the opposition party. Through the media, through Hollywood and pop culture, through k12 and university indoctrination, liberalism has saturated the hearts and minds of many Americans while stifling and distorting conservative ideology.
Matt Lewis offers up a few suggestions:
One thing we probably can all agree on is that to win elections again, the GOP must embrace the Internet and technology. As such, I have joined in an effort to encourage the next GOP Chairman to modernize the party and to embrace technology.
Both Barack Obama and Ron Paul took full advantage of the internet as a vehicle to spread their message and gather campaign contributions.
But tactics are not enough. To win the future, conservatives must — in my opinion — also find ways to make our timeless classical liberal principles relevant to the 21st century. This, in my estimation, is the most important intellectual discussion we can engage in for the next months (or possibly years). And since we are in the brainstorming phase of this process, let me throw it open to you: If we were creating a new contract with America, what 10 bullet points would you include?
Following are a few of my thoughts…
– The GOP must become the Party of science and math. This might include new energy ideas, a major investment in educating our children to compete with China in science and math, space exploration, etc.
– The GOP simply cannot continue to lose the Hispanic vote to the degree we lost it in 2008. I am not suggesting we support Amnesty. Instead, I am making a factual statement based on math.
– The GOP must embrace the future. Part of this means accepting that some industries and jobs will go away as high-tech jobs and industries arise. We must develop smart ideas regarding how workers can be re-trained and given the technological information to improve their lives — not just survive the changes.
Some voters smugly brag about how they don’t vote for any party; that they vote on principle, and vote for the individual. I believe that of the two parties, the Republican Party is the one that best represents my politics. I vote on principle as well by voting Republican, top to down, on a general election ticket. That’s because I believe that my party is what’s best for my country (Hence, the title of this convoluted post.). That is, until such times as the opposition party becomes more conservative than the one I’m currently in. It takes a majority vote to influence legislation in Congress, and the Party with which I agree with most of the time, is the Republican one.
Hugh Hewitt, If It’s Not Close They Can’t Cheat, pg 74:
it is much easier to remind voters why they want to hold their noses and vote for the party despite misgivings over the individual.
When you explain the importance of majorities, use a familiar example, like a church congregation or a homeowners association. Ask your friends if, faced with a vote of a congregation to keep or dismiss a pastor or of an HOA to allow or reject a home addition or other remodeling project, they want to be on the winning side of the vote. They will answer “yes” if they are anything other than permanently irascible.
Once they say they want to have a majority on their side in any particular situation, then ask them if they care about the various motivations behind the votes of those who agree with them.
Most people might pause, but in practice the answers are almost invariably “no”. If your friend wants the pastor to get tossed out, he doesn’t care why others are voting for the pastor to get the boot. It doesn’t matter why others in the majority are voting no. What matters is the tally that conclusively ousts the minister.
If you want to add an upstairs level to your home, it doesn’t matter a bit if the three votes on the five-member homeowners association board denying your plans are cast for different reasons. The result is a unitary one: no building that second story. The majority dictated the result.
A former fetus, the “wordsmith from nantucket” was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1968. Adopted at birth, wordsmith grew up a military brat. He achieved his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles (graduating in the top 97% of his class), where he also competed rings for the UCLA mens gymnastics team. The events of 9/11 woke him from his political slumber and malaise. Currently a personal trainer and gymnastics coach.
The wordsmith has never been to Nantucket.