June 10, 2010

8 reasons the GOP hasn't just shot itself in the foot

Writing in The Daily Beast, Peter Beinart argues that with the recent spate of conservative Republican victories, beating out seemingly more electable moderate candidates, the GOP has shot itself in the foot. That view is myopic. Here's why.
Here's an important excerpt from his article;

Republicans are not hungry. They're not willing to submerge their anger for the sake of winning elections. They either don't think they need to compromise their ideological purity to beat Democrats this fall or they don't care. In either case, they may be blowing their shot at a midterm landslide.

Strong stuff.  It goes further, the article caption calls the quest for ideological purity a fetish.  The entire article misses a number of points because it is not a detached review from the outside looking in.  It is clearly, because of the construct of the article, a view of one side looking at the other, and trying to find a hole to capitalize on.  I can think of 8 reasons the GOP hasn't just shot itself in the foot.

(1) It's not really a quest for purity  

The GOP isn't, as Democrats would like to portray, it some monolithic entity with a single view of right and wrong.  There are pro-choice conservatives, there are libertarians, there are social conservatives there are national defense conservatives, there are economic conservatives, and many other sub-groups. In other words unlike the GOP is normally portrayed, it actually is a fairly big tent.  There are therefore, competing versions of what purity represents. If this were not the case, there would be no Olympia Snowe types in the party.  

That the electorate has swung back to the ideological right since the Democrat super majorities is merely being reflected in many, but not all Republican primary races.  Where a moderate Republican stands a better chance of winning the general election, such results have been evident.  In the case of the Carley Fiorina victory, Beinart argues that the more moderate Tom Campbell had a better shot at beating Barbara Boxer.  Polling would indicate that's true.  But the true Tea Party Darling, Chuck DeVore ran a distant third.  The California GOP primary voters clearly moderated their anger enough to make a compromise on Fiorina - someone who they would seemingly believe can win, but is still 'pure' enough. 

(2) Republicans' time in wild wasn't too short as Beinart beleives

Given the ever-quickening pace of the news cycle and indeed day to day life, to argue that the GOP has not been out of power long enough to put victory ahead of anger is wrong on two counts.  Aside from being blatantly about naked power grabs which contradicts the point of the Tea Party movement and the conservative movement in general, the cycle itself has shortened.  Ideologically speaking that anger is an energy that can be harnessed in an anti-incumbency atmosphere.  It needs to be harnessed when the opportunity exists.

But it does not need to come at the price of subverting the anger for the sake of a power grab.  That is inherently self-defeating in the case of the conservative movement.  It's not about winning, it's about doing what's right.  The right and center seem to have agreed on what that means for the nation (more on that later).

Another quick point is that the 'time in the wilderness' needs to be shorter given the urgency of the debt crisis the country is facing and that it has been vastly accelerated by the current administration.

(3) Activists can win

Barrack Obama proved less moderate candidates can win by running to the center and moderating their message during a general election. That every candidate runs to the edges in the primary and back towards the center in the general election is as old as dirt. Beinart seems to believe that Tea Party candidates, or conservative candidates in general, are unable to do this because either (a) they are too stupid (that trick is the exclusive domain of Democrats) or (b) they won't be able to control their anger and will let slip their true nature. 

His argument that the GOP has become too activist-directed is perhaps the most myopic point of Beinart's article. The country's mood has an anti-establishmentarianism nature too it. He argues that a party needs to harness the anger of it's activists and subvert their desires into a more pragmatic hunger for victory. That sounds inherently undemocratic but that is beside the point. Pragmatism itself, is not the point either. 
In such a climate, the GOP may not need to moderate their general election message anyway as much as historically needed and in fact doing so might even hurt their turn out in such an energized electoral climate.  

Time will tell which tack the GOP takes in the general and whether they have chosen correctly, but the point still holds - Obama won.  He is a far left President.  That means those on the edge can win.  The only real question is whether the GOP can repeat his victory but in the opposite direction.

(4) The country is more engaged than ever before

When I say the country, I'm talking about middle America. Not those who have always been proactively engaged - the organized left.  This is net new hyper-engagement. These are the people who voted in the past but put up with the ever increasing liberal burden when they lost elections and legislative battles in the past.  In a country where a great deal of polling indicates an appetite for repeal of Obamacare, these people are working towards legislative goals unlike before.  In a sense they are newly engaged electorate just like Obama brought in for his electoral victory.  The difference is they are working harder - voting isn't enough any more.  Protesting matters.  Talking to others matters. Grassroots work matters.  These are all net pluses that will benefit the GOP, not harm it.  This movement conservatism is a re-connection with the Reagan roots and the Contract With America conservatism that has won in the past and is still valid today.

(5) The latest primaries are not all the primaries

I've touched on this already but the latest round of primaries are not all of the primaries.  A number of more centrist Republicans have won in addition to the Tea Party victories by the likes of Rand Paul in Kentucky.

Dan Coats recent victory in Indiana is a prime example.  From CNN;
Next week, the spotlight will move to Indiana, where former Sen. Dan Coats is hoping to win his old seat. The former Republican lawmaker, who is the establishment candidate in the race, is facing off against a number of opponents in Tuesday's primary, including former Rep. John Hostettler and state Sen. Marlin Stutzman.
Conservative Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina has endorsed Stutzman, who is also the favorite of local Tea Party groups in Indiana.
Beinart is looking at the latest primaries as if they were the ONLY results to date in primaries. They aren't. The Tea Party candidates have won some and lost some. To craft a thesis around one subset of observations is inherently dangerous for the robustness of that thesis.

(6) Generic polling still supports big GOP gains in November

The weekly Rasmussen poll of likely voters on the generic Congressional ballot will either bear Beinart out or debunk him in the coming weeks.  If these latest results frighten the center, it will become obvious.  But looking at the greater trend Republicans still seem to be in very good shape right now.  The GOP generic lead are at some historically loft numbers relatively speaking.  The Rasmussen polling and other polls like Gallup have shown a swing of Independent voters away from Democrats and towards Republicans without knowledge of who the specific candidates might eventually be. Because that swing has been precipitous over the last 16 months (in the case of Rasmussen a 17 point swing), the anger towards incumbency and the Democrat agenda is likely much, much deeper than the fear of ideological purity of a grassroots movement.

Those results seemingly reflect more a repudiation of the current environment by independents than an embrace of originalist views. But the commonality of the outcome between those independents and the conservative base is unmistakable when looking at that shift. While future in elections Independents may react to an ideological over reach from the 'activists' just as they have by the current Democratic hegemony, I'm sure for victory in 2010 that's a chance we are willing to take. Maybe we can temper our radical enthusiasm with a focus on fiscal sanity long enough to prove we aren't Democrat-lite but a real alternative to an unabashed bankruptcy-inducing spendocracy .

(7) America needs fiscal discipline now more than ever

As just noted, spending is out of control.  That Bush doubled the deficit is meaningless in light of the fact that Obama has quadrupled it.  He did it first is not excuse to double down on it.  The anti-incumbency discussion people keep going back towards overlooks the simple fact that people aren't anti-incumbent, they are anti-incompetent.  The country is heading down the same path as Greece, at a slightly slower pace, towards national insolvency.  Most Americans right, center or even left, love their country and do not want to be involved in a fire sale to China and other bidders.  Saving GM is less important than saving America.

The electorate wants fiscal sanity.  With every bit of news that the new health care law is a little more expensive than the last announcement and more expensive than promised adds to that anger over lack of fiscal 
discipline.  The Democrats' love for health care reform has sealed the nation's fiscal fate and therefore Democrats' fate with voters who recognize what the likely end game for this new program is.

I said I found 8 reasons, there is one more.

(8) Peter Beinart is an associate professor of journalism and political science at City University of New York and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. His book "The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again" plainly underscores the point where he's coming from.

Enough said. 

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