“Extraordinary times call for bold risk and leadership. These are extraordinary times. If we fail, we are no worse off than we were before. But if we win, the rewards will be much, much greater.”
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey showed true and very real leadership yesterday at CPAC. To understand why, and I hope conservative groups and tea party activists read this post several times, you need some context.I get asked all the time where the good guys are. We all know some guy somewhere who we want to enter the arena. We want one of our guys there. We know the guy would be miserable. Most often the guy never steps up and volunteers. Most often we settle for something less than even second best. But sometimes, just sometimes when the moon hits the water just right, our guy enters the arena. Our guy decides he will take the slings and arrows, suffer the insults, and risk embarrassment and defeat, because he decides we are right — if good men sit on the sidelines because politics is rough, dirty, or aggravating, the lesser men will win.That’s not to say the lesser men are bad men. Most are very good men. But while anyone who steps into the arena for any excuse under the sun has some amount of ambition, often times it is the most ambitious of men — ambitious for their own advancement — who enter the arena, make the compromises needed to win, and then immediately set to work to win re-election, not to change the country or stand on principle.At this point, I hope you are following along and paying close attention — particularly if you work for a conservative group or are an active tea party activist.Let me repeat myself first. Sometimes, just sometimes when the moon hits the water just right, our guy enters the arena. Our guy decides he will take the slings and arrows, suffer the insults, and risk embarrassment and defeat, because he decides we are right. Good men sometimes need to take a risk, be bold, and enter the arena come what may.But then you know what? The conservative movement’s system breaks down around them.The activist and the organization say, “Well, let’s see how much money he can raise before we get on board.” Then they say, “Well, he doesn’t poll as well as the other guy so let’s sit on the sidelines.” Or worse they say, “Let’s go with the safer bet. Too much risk.”The guy we wanted to enter the arena does enter and we decide for a multitude of factors that we are either not going to support him yet, if at all, or impose tests on him to get our support.This is not to say that the decision is binary. Often there are multiple good people who get in. Conservatives often split their vote between candidates and get the moderate elected instead of making the tough decision to take a risk on the right guy who just seems risky.Now, to be clear, in most election cycles we need to see that a candidate can raise money on his own to prove himself viable. But, just like the perfect candidate entering when the moon hits the water just so, there are times where when groups come out early and take risks of their own, their reward in the perfect candidate getting elected is much better. Some years, some times, however rare, there are times to take the risk on supporting the underfunded guy from whom conservatives will reap huge dividends for the long haul rather than the safer, easier choice who, because he is safer and easier, feels no strong sense of loyalty to us and our cause.Look at Marco Rubio.The polls in February of 2009 had Marco Rubio at 6% running a race where everyone knew popular Charlie was getting in. The GOP lined up behind Charlie. Alleged conservatives, or at least conservatives who like to play to the Republican establishment, went with Crist. Crist had better money. Crist had better polling. Crist was popular. No one knew Marco Rubio.Now these guys who played it safe and went with Crist are scrambling to get in Marco Rubio’s good graces. People like Jim DeMint, Mike Huckabee, and others showed real leadership and got in even at a time when Rubio’s poll numbers sucked and his fundraising was terrible.Rubio took a risk. He entered the arena with the odds against him. And now he is going to be rewarded. DeMint took a risk. He boldly defied his Senate GOP Leadership, endorsed Rubio, and will most likely now have a reliable teammate. The great risk will have great reward.But Rubio is becoming an anomaly. Conservatives got out and rallied for him early. His support grew and grew. Now he leads. But there are other candidates out there who are as great a risk to endorse early as Rubio was — and remember he was a state legislator who had never run statewide, with single digit polling, barely any money, running against the entire GOP machine in Florida and a popular governor who had won statewide.Rubio was not inevitable, but conservatives took real risks.In Pennsylvania, again Jim DeMint showed real leadership. He came out for Pat Toomey when everybody else went with Specter. Now it looks like Toomey has a serious shot at winning. Conservatives took real risks in going with Toomey. But with that great risk is coming a great reward.That’s not happening so much any more.In South Carolina, Nikki Haley struggles to get momentum. Republicans like Sarah Palin and others could come in and endorse her. But then if she loses these potential 2012 Presidential candidates might have to face a South Carolina Governor who they didn’t endorse. But Haley is the one who is most right on the most issues. She is the dream candidate with the compelling narrative.In Indiana, Marlin Stutzman is running against a congressman who lost re-election and a Senator who left office more than a decade ago. Stutzman has a great narrative. Granted there are also a few others in the race, but Stutzman is best positioned and conservatives should not divide up their vote risking someone else getting elected. But again, conservatives are sitting on the sidelines in what should be a no brainer race. Every conservative group is waiting for every other conservative group to go first in endorsing Stutzman. They want him to raise a million first, or just half a million. They wait and take no risk. And if they keep waiting, they will be out of any hope for a reward on a candidate who will be with them out of sheer gratitude.Then there is Utah. The most conservative state in the union has the 8th most liberal Republican Senator. Bob Bennett has said the constitution is an outmoded document of an agrarian society. Bennett has said Senators have no need to follow the constitution given the number and variety of interpretations of the constitution. Bennett proposes an individual mandate on insurance and drafts a health care plan conservative groups target as worse than Obamacare.Enter Mike Lee. A young guy and popular in Utah, he is going to challenge Bennett. Mike Lee is entering the arena to take down a sitting incumbent Republican Senator who can quickly and easily raise money.And yesterday Dick Armey endorsed Mike Lee. Dick Armey was willing to take a great risk knowing that if Mike Lee wins, conservatives will be greatly rewarded by Utah’s Senate delegation moving right.I actually am a political realist. I’ve run too many campaigns over the years not to be. I know that in most years we need candidates to prove themselves before we take risks on them. But this is not like an ordinary year. We have a real chance as conservatives to move the Senate and House GOP to the right. But we need to take risks. We need to make the tough choice to choose one man among several to be our nominee. We need to be willing to say, “If we put our weight behind him now, the money will come.”Extraordinary times call for bold risk and leadership. These are extraordinary times. If we fail, we are no worse off than we were before. But if we win, the rewards will be much, much greater.So take a chance. Take a risk. Support people like Nikki Haley, Marlin Stutzman, Mike Lee, Pat Toomey, and Marco Rubio.Remember — this time last year, Marco Rubio could not win.Except he will. Let’s not make Marco Rubio an anomaly.