JACK SPENCER: Forget the facts, just blame conservatives
There's a question often asked and with more than a hint of frustration. When will conservatives see that pushing the Republican Party to the right causes it to lose elections?
It is interesting to note who usually asks this question. Generally, it is asked by either the mainstream news media or establishment Republicans.
When the question arises in the main stream news media, it's really touching. Isn't it wonderful that the left-leaning news media is so concerned about Republicans losing elections? Not only is it concerned, but it seems determined to never cease in voicing its desire to reverse the situation.
Shakespeare's line from Hamlet; “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” could be appropriate here. Perhaps what the (Republican-leaning or Democrat-leaning) establishment really fears most are solid, articulate conservatives who see government the way Thomas Jefferson saw it; as a necessary evil.
After all, “conservative” is not a dirty word in politics. Nearly every Republican candidate strives for the conservative label. Many Democrats go out of their way to say “I'm actually rather conservative on many issues.” Meanwhile, most candidates in both parties run away from the “liberal” label.
As it is with all who view the world from the vantage point of a governing class, establishment Republicans are jealous of their status. They've fought and clawed their way into a circle of insiders. They reside tantalizingly close to the center of power and resent anyone who might topple them from their lofty perches.
Disrupting the apple cart would not serve the best interests of establishment Republicans. Ronald Reagan's mantra that government is the problem, not the solution, is anathema to them. Often they despise conservatives to the core, far more so than the radical left. To them, conservatives should know their place. And “their place” is to just shut up and vote the party ticket.
Let's make this real simple.
The argument that Conservatives mess up elections would be easier to swallow if there was much empirical proof that it was so. But there isn't. And that's the answer to the original question. Conservatives aren't about to believe they're a problem for the Republican Party based on what they've seen happen in the last two election cycles.
If GOP candidates with broad-based conservative messages had lost the presidential races in 2008 and 2012, the dynamic might be different. Had that been the case, there would at least be some cause to doubt that a solid conservative message would resonate.
Instead, what we've seen is two moderate (establishment) Republicans get soundly defeated.
A predictable side-effect of the advent of the TEA parties, has been confusion over purity. Establishment Republicans complain that the “right wingers” demand that Republicans remain pure. This means conservatives insist that those who claim to be conservatives actually vote the way conservatives would want them to vote. In other words, if a lawmaker gets elected as a conservative, he or she better act like one.
What has actually happened is that, during the early months of President Barack Obama's first term, a lot of conservatives woke up. Many of them had never before taken a good, hard look at the political world. For anyone, regardless of their political leanings, that is an eye-opener. Political insiders don't like that level of scrutiny and accountability. If a similar awakening took place on the left, establishment Democrats would start feeling uncomfortable as well.
Yes, the wave of conservative awareness that began in 2009 complicates the lives of establishment Republicans. But the real question is – has that new scrutiny really led to election loses?
It sure didn't lead to losses in 2010. In fact, the re-energized conservative movement helped Republicans win many seats they might not have won otherwise. In addition, a lot of those seats were retained by Republicans in 2012.
Michigan's 2012 U.S. Senate race provides an object lesson in the hypocrisy of the situation. In spite of efforts by a coalition of TEA Parties, former U.S. Rep Pete Hoekstra captured the GOP U.S. Senate nomination. Hoekstra, the establishment candidate, went on to get thoroughly trounced by incumbent U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow in the general election. It was 20-point margin slaughter.
The truth is that no one was likely to beat Stabenow in 2012. It was the wrong year. Had she been up for re-election in 2010, she probably would have been in trouble. However, imagine what the news media and establishment Republicans would have claimed if it had been the TEA Party's choice, Gary Glenn, who got drubbed as badly as Hoekstra got drubbed.
Is there any doubt that establishment Republicans and the news media would have blamed conservatives for nominating the “wrong candidate”? Where are the admissions by establishment Republicans that -”Jeez, a more conservative choice might have done a little bit better - or at least probably wouldn't have done any worse.”
Conservatives – like everyone else, gravitate toward candidates who speak for their point of view on issues. This isn't just a question of “do and say this if you want my vote,” it comes from the belief that good issues shouldn't be ignored. We're not talking about low support fringe issues here; we're talking about issues that consistently poll well for the conservative side of the argument.
As long as the Republican establishment shows a preference for avoiding the issues their conservative base wants brought up, the tension within the party will continue. This has little or nothing to do with the “purity” issue, establishment Republicans make such a fuss about. What it is really about is not wasting potentially powerful weapons.
Winning is the best antidote for fending off criticism. Considering the mediocre track record establishment Republicans have amassed of late, they have no grounds for criticizing conservatives.
Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Capitol Confidential, an online newsletter associated with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP). MCPP provides policy analysis. The political analysis represented in this column does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mackinac Center.