This morning I was reading an excellent post by Jennifer Rubin on Contentions, The Politics of Addition. In it she talks about the McDonnell win in Virginia, purity tests, reaching out to moderates, and so forth. While I agree with most of what she said, I think there's something missing, a dynamic at work that is making everyone basically talk past one another.
I think there’s a very powerful “one size fits all” misconception that is apparently hardwired into human nature somehow. Because it pops up everywhere in multiple guises.
Take Sarah Palin, for instance (of course, you might not want to take her). But I like her. Especially now when she’s not running for anything but is, instead, serving the extremely useful function of Great Scourge Against Self-Appointed Guardians of What is Elite and Good. In other, words, the condescending, non-comprehending, thickheaded establishment.
In that role, her disparaging of the media is very effective. For one, because it’s demonstrably true and they need to be called to account. For another, it rallies the troops. Plus, it makes her the lightning rod that allows the Bob McDonnells of this world to stay focused on the issues that resonate with their voters. (Conservative pundits like Jennifer Rubin can also fulfill this role, though with a more focused audience.)
As a candidate, though, especially a national candidate—not so much.
So the role makes a difference in the choice of approaches.
Should we avoid having doctrinal purity tests? Of course not. All of us have them. They just differ from each other. And we differ on whether and how we talk about them. I am against throwing all standards and principles out in service to party dominance. Sorry. Don’t buy into it. There’s no excuse here in Texas, for instance, for electing moderate Republicans to statewide office. Run the best conservatives and tell the moderates “no thank you.” Will that work in Connecticut or New Hampshire? Probably not. But nominate the most conservative electable candidate you can and convince the voters that the conservative solutions will work for them. Even if you don’t win, you’re educating the voter. Lose in a winning way. But pouring resources into the re-election campaigns of a Jim Jeffords or Lincoln Chafee or Arlen Specter isn’t a winning proposition—either for the Party or for the conservative cause. It isn’t the Republican Party—because it’s the Republican Party—that’s going to turn America around. It’s conservative ideas and values. We don't need to purge the Party. We do need to win the debates.
The takeaway from the McDonnell campaign isn’t the electoral power of the Big Tent. It’s understanding current problems in light of long-term principles and applying those principles to those problems. The other key lesson is listening to the voters, knowing what they (not you) believe are the most critical issues, and then convincing those voters you have the (conservative) solutions to those problems.
Small application of the above: Yesterday Orrin Hatch was tweeting about how current iterations of healthcare reform and financial regulations were harming small businesses. Which, of course, is true. So I tweeted him, “What you have to help public understand is these policies hurt ALL OF US.” And I pointed out “I'm still underemployed because of them...”
This is what he started tweeting (don't know if in response to me, or that he'd planned it anyway):
- At the same time the President held a jobs summit, Dems pushing a $2.5 T tax-and-spend health care bill that will be a major job killer.
- This bill is especially harmful to the small-business community which is the job-creating engine of our economy
- Here are the top five reasons why the Senate health care bill is a job killer:
- 1) Disproportionate impact on small businesses - every dollar lost to new taxes will be a dollar taken away from job
- 2) Job-killing employer mandate
And then he tweeted three more good reasons to oppose the bill.
We shouldn’t be throwing anyone under the bus except bad candidates. And what constitutes a bad candidate differs according to the situation.
What we need to be doing is fighting for our ideas, listening to people, hearing them, and responding with solutions they will understand and embrace.
Out in the world where I live, we call that selling. I think it's the future both of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. And I think it's the only available hope for America's future.
Cross-posted to thinking out loud...