Right now, there are three kinds of conservative insurgent, and they are best explained through the lens of the Kentucky Senate primary.
- The first is the depressed conservative insurgent. This person is so troubled by Matt Bevin’s loss that they cannot currently be made to feel better. They had pitted all their hopes in taking down the biggest fish the Establishment had to offer, and now do not know where they need to go from here.
- The second is the angry conservative insurgent. So disgusted with the results, this person has decided to either stay home or, worse yet, support the Democrat in the race against McConnell, hoping still to take him down and win that seat at a later date with a real conservative.
- The third is the reconciled conservative insurgent. This is the conservative RedState is supposed to represent with the slogan “Conservative in the Primary, Republican in the General.” This person is planning to push ahead and support McConnell, despite his victory over the preferred conservative candidate and despite McConnell’s hostile attitude toward conservatives in general.
These are not permanent labels, as I have a feeling the first two will largely come around to the position of the third. But, those who don’t will undoubtedly feel justified (and rightly so, in some instances) in openly sitting out. The ones who would rather vote Democrat than keep the Establishment pick, however, are cutting off their nose to spite their face.
But, the issue of Matt Bevin, and other conservative insurgents around the country, is one conservatives need to examine closely and quickly. Bevin is a fine man and, I still believe, would be a fine candidate capable of holding his own in Kentucky and in the Senate. The problem that Bevin and other insurgent candidates face is one that Dan McLaughlin touched on earlier. It is a problem of experience, both in the candidate and in the candidate’s staff. The fact of the matter is that McConnell, a crafty old turtle, struck first and hard. Dishonest attacks or not, he did the damage early in defining who Matt Bevin was before Matt Bevin could.
The strategy of conservative insurgency should not be an empty strategy. There need to be effective tactics to make up the grand scheme. It is not enough to simply say the right things and have the right credentials. A candidate and their staff must be smart enough to get out ahead and put forward an offense that can easily cut off the attacks of the Establishment. Part of the problem is money, of course – McConnell has decades of warchest building under his belt – but it also has its roots in the use of the money.
And, it is no fault of Bevin’s, or any other candidate (most of the time) who is running against the Establishment candidate/incumbent. It is simply a lack of experience, which is the double-edged sword of incumbency. On the one hand, they are appealing because they are not a politician. On the other hand, they struggle because they are not a politician. Some of the non-politicians make it, but it is through shrewd planning and careful positioning, rather than just being the most conservative guy on the ballot, that helps them win.
As for our three types of conservative insurgent… The first risks indecision and questioning of their own beliefs, the second risks giving a seat to a Democrat who could actually hold it (incumbency is still a pretty big factor in winning elections), and the third will wait for the next battle to pick, rather than trying to fight them all and getting stuck in bad ones. The strategy of conservative insurgency, you see, is not just one the candidates must fight. It is one the voters must fight as well, and, often times, just as hard.