Yesterday’s news that a Republican candidate for U.S. Congress from Montana body-slammed a reporter has me pensive once again about where I and other conservatives like me belong.
Greg Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault for lifting The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs by the neck and slamming him to the ground hard enough to break his glasses, all because Jacobs asked for a response from the candidate regarding the CBO’s scoring of the American Health Care Act. Newspapers have pulled endorsements in what will hopefully not be the last of the repercussions for Gianforte’s conduct. (Hat tip to Andrea Ruth for such a fantastic job following this story.)
One congressional candidate, who is already facing swift and harsh backlash — some social media defenders notwithstanding — is only one straw, but it’s just the latest in a series that has made it harder and harder to take the Republican Party seriously anymore. Founder of the Gianforte Family Foundation, whose mission it is to “support the work of faith-based organizations engaged in outreach work, strengthening families, and helping the needy,” Gianforte also has worked with Focus on the Family and donated over a million dollars to a creationist museum. He is a poster child for political engagement by a conservative Christian entrepreneur.
And this becomes his witness.
Liberals punch people and set fire to tires in order not to provide a platform to views they don’t like too, so violence as a solution to ideological challenges is largely the order of the day in American politics. Without a doubt, it is a pervasive problem across the spectrum.
Yet in spite of the if-it-bleeds-it-leads bias toward reporting the outrageous, I argue that the biggest problem in the American political system is that there is an overwhelming lack of seriousness. It infects the GOP at least as much as any other party, and when it sufficiently debilitates its host, the host sees only escalating absurdity as the way forward.
I remain a registered Republican. Certainly I approve of a greater number of GOP politicians — Ben Sasse, Mike Lee, my own state of Michigan’s lieutenant governor, Brian Calley, for example — than of any other party, but that is mostly due to the fact that the only rival to the Republican Party in size is the Democratic Party. Before I’m a Republican, I’m a conservative, but the movement and its party manifestations over the past five, but especially two, years have threatened to return it to the laughable status it maintained prior to the work Bill Buckley and so many others did to make it intellectually respectable — and elect Ronald Reagan.
Kristen Soltis Anderson at The Washington Examiner recently highlighted the fact that young people are abandoning the GOP ship like it just hit an iceberg. In 18 months, 23 percent of those 18-29 defected from the party and have not returned. As no course correction appears forthcoming, there’s no reason to expect that to change any time soon.
From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that Christians under forty are marching out of the Republican tent, because they are finding it difficult to reconcile their faith with a party whose titular head shows a callous disregard for the very minorities and vulnerable people we conservatives told ourselves our policies best served. One isolated (but nationwide) incident might have been written off as the last electoral gasp of a generation unable to cope with the changes in America — 50- to 64-year-olds left the Democrats at a greater rate than any other age bracket — except that the GOP leadership morphed from being “concerned” about Donald Trump into monkeys that see and hear no evil.
Too many at the grassroots level have likewise transformed. News that is sometimes fake, but more often spun — predigested for those with weak stomachs — serves as the blindfold and earplugs that block out the pervasive moral and intellectual vapidity. The party in Washington is unserious because those who are “engaged” (I use that term loosely) are unserious, and demand nothing more. Rather than think deeply about the myriad problems and challenges America faces, those who claim to take them seriously just get angrier, while also becoming less connected to reality and other people.
What do those of us who increasingly feel like a minority do? If we leave, where do we go? The Democratic Party continues its insistent on abortion on demand, it elevates issues like an endless menus of genders from which to choose over basic budget math and common sense, a loud and influential faction mocks Christianity and its most compelling member is a 75-year-old self-described socialist.
Speaking of Bernie Sanders, he happens to be the only prominent member of his party both to insist that there is a space for pro-lifers on the left and to unequivocally condemn the violent reactions of campus liberals who protest speeches by conservatives. Yet to embrace him is to embrace a man with a budget proposal that would have added $21 trillion to the debt in just a decade — an anathema to conservatives, as well as anyone who realizes that this is so much money it could be piled in stacks of $5 bills and still reach the moon five times. We’re not about to leave a sinking party only to advocate for sinking a party under crushing debt. Be serious. The problem is bipartisan.
The Democratic Party’s adamantine stance in defense of the increasingly misnamed Affordable Care Act is completely unironic in the face of double-digit premium hikes. The alternative? Republicans spent 7 years promising us free-market, conservative solutions to problems in the healthcare industry, only to offer “Swampcare” in various editions, which, in greater and lesser degrees, buys every Obamacare premise about the nature of the problems and solutions, and gives us just a little less of what we had before, as though the solution to the nauseating taste of Budweiser is Bud Light.
If silliness pervades both major parties, are there other options? The Libertarian Party confidently nominated a successful two-term Republican governor of a center-left state, implicitly assuring us that James Weeks II stripping down at national convention was just an anomaly. Then Gary Johnson took a golden opportunity and turned it into a reminder of why the LP is such a distant third electorally, with this. And this. And this. They can’t be serious.
Evan McMullin, my favorite presidential candidate in the general, finished third in his home state of Utah — his best showing — despite the fact that the GOP there was hemorrhaging his fellow Mormons. Since the election, he’s appeared to be more an opportunist than a serious leader, embracing interpretations of President Trump’s every action that put him in the worst possible light, no matter how implausible or inconsistent. He isn’t serious.
The Constitution Party is irrelevant. The problem proves to be not just bipartisan, but multi-partisan. (Perhaps the new Federalist Party is the place to be? At this point, it’s far too early to predict the success of that venture.)
I am partial to the view that the path partially is to be found outside of party politics, but the degree to which politics is downstream from culture is up for debate, as is the question of how politics itself influences culture. Besides, the insanity reaches outside of party politics as well, the Seth Rich conspiracy theory being only the most recent example. To find our place outside of a party is simply to act on the knowledge that conservatism isn’t a party. Eventually, though, a political movement needs an electoral outlet.
To return for a moment to the GOP, I’m agnostic and ambivalent as to whether it is part of the long-term future of serious conservatism. If it ceases entirely to be the party of Lincoln, Coolidge and Reagan, what merit does it hold as a vehicle for the movement? It’s the short term that presents a problem.
It seems as though any moron can run for office these days. When anyone can captain the Titanic, it’s much more likely to hit an iceberg. The pertinent (and seemingly eternal) question is whether it is possible to wrest control and correct course in time. If not, on which liferaft do we take refuge as we abandon ship?