It’s hard for me to even calculate the amount of words that have been used to debate the merits of defund vs delay vs some other strategy. The amount of energy complaining about Ted Cruz or the amount of flyers calling for John Boehner’s head have reached apocalyptic proportions . Truly things are a mess. And no doubt, each faction believes some other faction is responsible for the chaos. In fact, many have moved on from even debating that issue and are presenting as fact the need to “learn our lesson” and know “who not to listen to next time.” Lots of “I told ya so” going around from both sides. Either from people that rejected Cruz from the beginning now hoping people will view him as an inexperienced and unreliable flake. Or people that believed Cruz was right but knew the GOP would eventually cave leaving us with even less than we started.
To prevent any possibility that this will be seen as me trying to pretend I’m above the fray, let me stipulate at the outset that I was on board with the Cruz view on this from the beginning. I believe, and still believe, that the people claiming this outcome was “predictable” aren’t self-reflective enough to understand that it was specifically their opposition that helped make it so predictable. Most importantly, I reject the idea that fighting is not a strategy even in the face of almost certain defeat. Primarily because each battle is not the entire war and each struggle has impact on the most important part of winning for conservatism: getting people on your side.
Now, if you were on the other side of the debate, I beg you not to get too glued to that second paragraph. I’m only trying to establish that this is not an attempt to sound impartial and guiltless. I’ve been right in the thick of all this and have done my fair share of blaming.
What I want to talk about is where we go from here. I was in DC over the weekend and met with a few friends for drinks & dinner. Eventually, perhaps inevitably, the conversation gravitated towards this debate. They seemed mostly upset with outside groups who they viewed as doing irreparable damage to the relationships that had existed in tandem with one another for decades and they were offended on behalf of staunchly conservative Senators who were some of our only dependable “no” votes during the Bush years of government growth that were now being targeted for primaries.
And while we had various disagreements on the reliability of certain members and the effectiveness of Republicans over the last 13 years, one underlying truth kept coming back up: We mostly agree.
We all say this a lot, but I don’t know that we always think about how true it is. We do mostly agree. We all want lower taxes. We all want a government that pays for itself without borrowing. We all want a strong national defense. We all want secure borders. We all want entitlement reforms. We all want Obamacare dismantled. We all want less abortions and, God willing, eventually none.
Certainly there are areas where there is major disagreement. Not everyone agrees on what to do with the illegal aliens already here even with a secure border. Not everyone agrees on what a reformed tax code would look like. Not everyone agrees on exceptions for abortion laws nor do we all agree on other social issues like gay marriage.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this: we need to build a coalition around what we agree on in order to move conservatism forward and roll progressivism back. We’ve seen 100 years of the slow creep of socialism and every time we find a victory, it has a way of being undone eventually and with dire consequences. Consequences conservatives usually end up taking the heat for. So we must coalesce around our areas of agreement with an understanding that we’ll still be fighting each other on some other issues without having that interfere with our join efforts.
What prevents such a coalition from existing is precisely what this entire debate has been about: tactics and strategy. As a group, we couldn’t be farther apart from one another on how to accomplish our objectives.
We have to stop pretending that “disagreement on tactics” is some minor problem. It is in fact the problem. And that problem has gone on for so long that various sides have taken to personally attacking one another in an attempt to discredit them so that “our” tactic wins. Not to play the squishy moderate here, but this has frankly been a problem on both sides of the debate on the right.
If, as everyone claims, we have this foundational agreement with one another but simply disagree on tactics, the various parties involved must do something that is unheard of these days: they must sit down together. We have got to find out where we agree and come up with a realistic, doable strategy. And, although this seems to upset people, we absolutely do need to, upon coming to such an agreement, hold our Senators and Congressman accountable to it. That’s not excommunicating bad players, that’s simply leadership.
And we can’t do this as some vague contract with voters to get them to stomach coming out to vote for Republicans one more time. That won’t work again. The grassroots and many regular voters are way too outraged at government largesse and ineffectiveness to be convinced by a “we promise” document. But they easily coalesce behind tangible, understandable ideas. This was shown in 2010 with the united opposition to Obamacare and the clear goal of a Republican majority existing to prevent tax increases and set the stage for a 2012 presidential victory (that of course never came to be). It was even proven with Romney, a man that so many in the grassroots despised. Yet they came out and “held their noses” to vote for him because the enemy was identifiable, the cause was understandable, and the strategy was something they could wrap their brains around.
In our current situation, we have leadership coming from certain actors that many in the so-called “establishment” don’t care for. And that’s fine, but, to borrow a phrase, “lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Present an alternative that the people understand and support and you’ll find a coalition of the willing ready to jump on board.
But it has to be a strategy and a tactic that all sides of this debate can agree to, not simply what I’m currently seeing which is a bunch of people saying “well if you’d listened to me…” Well, I can’t speak for anyone else but I’m listening now. Wow me. Show me the plan and how it is more than “vote for us in 2014!” And, importantly, come up with that plan by sitting down with the various groups and people that you’ve been fighting with.
If there are players unwilling to sit down to do this, I say call them out publicly for it. Because the one thing I can promise is this: if we can’t sit down and hash out an agreement on strategy & tactics to achieve our shared goals; if we can’t find enough common ground to do something that will energize a base as well as attract moderates; if we can’t, as a movement, coalesce around smaller government, put aside our differences, stop pretending to have a wisdom unachievable by the grassroots, stop pretending to be the arbiters of conservatism calling any detractors “RINOs”, and start working with one another to find and elect the right people with the right plans… then 2014 is going to be a blood bath.
Like it or not, we are each other’s only hope.