It’s the End of the Party (as We Know It)

By Robert Wallace
America’s Right

The feud between moderates and conservatives in the Republican Party has been simmering for years, and now an otherwise unremarkable special election in New York has become the focal point.

Moderate Republicans are on the defensive as establishment candidate Deirdre Scozzafava quit the race yesterday and endorsed Democrat Bill Owens today. Conservatives are on the war path, emboldened by Doug Hoffman’s success. Talk of a third party revolution is sweeping the blogosphere.

Both sides are missing the point.

The Scozzafava-Hoffman contest looks like a proxy for the moderate-conservative battle, but it isn’t. Scozzafava wasn’t just socially liberal, she was fiscally left-wing as well. Hoffman may have won endorsements from champions of conservatism like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, but the dollars that funded his advertisements came from the fiscally conservative Club for Growth.

The battle between Scozzafava and Hoffman was never about moderates versus conservatives and, likewise, the fate of the Republican Party isn’t about intellectual, fiscally conservative moderates versus blue-collar social conservatives either.

We’ve got the whole picture sideways.

Something Has Gone Wrong for the GOP

Let’s start someplace where everyone can agree: the Republican Party got its clock cleaned in both the 2006 mid-term election and again last year in 2008.


Something is wrong with the party. It’s bigger than John McCain vs. Barack Obama. It’s bigger than George W. Bush’s rampant unpopularity. And it’s not going to go away just because Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama are finding every way possible to annoy the American electorate. The Republican Party is dead-set on proving that, just because people hate the Democrats, it doesn’t mean they can’t hate the Republicans even more. It is more fundamental than any specific policy from abortion to Afghanistan.

The problem with the GOP is a crisis of credibility with the American people.

Promises Broken

More and more in recent years, political observers and ordinary Americans alike have noted that the two parties are beginning to look suspiciously similar. It is in that similarity that the GOP can discover the key to unraveling where the party went wrong and, more importantly, how it can get back on track.

The interesting thing is that America is a center-right nation. Poll after poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly identify themselves as conservative. It’s been a consistent fact for decades, and yet not one but both parties have been moving to the left. Why is that? Why are both parties moving to the left (away from the electorate) towards larger government? And why is the Republican Party paying a higher price even though they have moved more slowly in that direction?

The answer to the first and second question has very little to do with politics and everything to do with human nature. Progressive ideology is essentially elitist. The basic idea is that if the smartest people in the country have more power, they can influence the rest of the populace for the better. It’s the same principle behind everything from Margaret Sanger’s eugenics of the early 20th century right on down to Cass Sunstein’s “libertarian paternalism.”

Government is the conduit through which the elite influence the regular schmoes. And the more influence they want to have to improve society, the bigger government gets. When government gets bigger, the primary beneficiaries are elected officials and their hangers-on. That would include staff, lobbyists, consultants, and pollsters. These guys–the political class–all stand to gain as government gets bigger, less transparent, and less accountable.

So you see that, for the Democrats, the incentives between ideology and self-interest are in perfect alignment. This is why the progressives have found their home in the Democratic Party, and it is why the American public tends to be more forgiving of their policies — they can wrap their power-grabs in rhetoric about “social justice” and “global warming” and “hope” and “change” and obtain support from an increasingly dependent people.

That’s not to say they don’t believe the rhetoric. I have little doubt that many progressives are completely sincere. They don’t realize how compromised they have become by the perverse incentives of fixing society while increasing their own power and prestige and retaining the moral high ground. It’s like a three-for-one deal.

The old Lord Acton maxim that power tends to corrupt applies to all human beings equally — Democrats and Republicans alike. But unlike Democrats, the Republicans who came to power in 1994 had a political ideology that was fundamentally incompatible with big government. As a result the cancer of lust for power spreads more slowly through the GOP machine than through the Democratic machine. This is why the GOP has moved more slowly towards big government.

The reason that the American public have penalized them more heavily for it should be clear by now. We can give the Democrats a pass as well-intentioned but uninformed. The GOP has no such excuse. They are supposed to be the party of personal liberty and limited government. Democrats can survive in a center-right nation by appealing to our better nature (“we are our brothers’ keepers!”) and by promising bread and circuses via government largesse. But when GOP leaders attempt to expand their own power through “compassionate conservatism” they are rightfully rewarded with scorn.

The Wrong War

The in-fighting in the Republican Party has been categorized as a contest of rational pragmatists versus hot-tempered idealists. That should tell you that something is fundamentally wrong. What’s the point, after all, of pragmatically implementing the wrong ideals? What’s the point of having the right ideals, but not being pragmatic enough to find a way to implement them? Choosing between pragmatism and idealism is like choosing between fuel and oxygen — you need both to keep a fire going.

Right now the pragmatists of the party–whether intentionally or on accident–are enabling the cancer of power-seeking to continue to thrive within the GOP.

Exhibit A: Patrick Ruffini

Patrick is a regular contributor to TheNextRight. This is his reaction (from his Twitter feed) to the news that Scozzafava had dropped out of NY-23:

Brainstorm: what if Republicans were to withdraw from a series of hot Congressional races and run as conservative independents a la #ny23?

In other words, his brilliant idea is to take a bunch of Republicans, re-brand them as independents, and see if that gimmick is good for 5 or 10 points with the voters. I don’t want to waste time thrashing the tactical merits of this idea (he called it a “brainstorm,” after all), but rather I’d like to focus on the reality that the very definition of enabling is to allow people to carry on the same behavior without having to change. This kind of nonsense will doom the Republican Party. You can’t start to recover until you admit you have a problem.

The decimation of Dede Scozzafava’s campaign in the face of an unknown conservative running as an independent should be a large step for the GOP in acknowledging and admitting that problem.

Exhibit B: Matthew Gagnon

Now, I thought Ruffini’s idea was amazingly bad (in every sense of the word), but then I read Gagnon’s piece. He’s another one who has a knee-jerk reflex to protect the party status-quo. His argument consists of listing off the GOP presidential candidates since 1948 and classifying them as either “moderate” or “true conservative.”

As it turns out, the only true conservatives Gagnon found were Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Since the moderates didn’t always lose and the conservatives didn’t always win, though, his point was that moderates are better than conservatives. I know . . . the logic is so tortured that tonight, somewhere, a thousand statisticians are quietly crying themselves to sleep.

In Gagnon’s defense, he was responding to the claim that “real conservatives always win.” Clearly this is equally silly–Hoffman hasn’t even won yet!–but at least I’ve never seen anyone attempt to back it up with pretend evidence.

My point is not to berate Ruffini or Gagnon personally. I know little or nothing about them, and I’m quite sure that they could be smart, capable, decent people. But no matter their intelligence or moral fiber, these kinds of reflexive “defend the party!” antics are counterproductive.

On the other hand, writers at TheNextRight have been waging a war of sanity against WorldNetDaily for some of their off-the-wall, credibility-busting craziness. Not only do I generally support TheNextRight in this campaign, but it highlights the idea that if the more vocal elements of conservatism win out, then we’re probably going to see the cause of conservatism fail even faster.

You see, the American people may be fundamentally conservative, but that doesn’t mean they are automatically interested in conspiracy theories or hysteria. Very few people believe that President Obama is going to equip a Civilian Defense Force with steel-toed boots, brown shirts and riot gear in order to drag conservative bloggers out of their beds at night and take them to secret FEMA re-education camps. You want to win with the American people? Talk instead about the common thread of conservatism: individual liberty and a limited federal government. I say “thread” and not “threads” because individual liberty and limited government are not separate things; they are two faces of the same coin. The issues that have ordinary, apolitical Americans sitting up and worrying about the future of their country are the government takeover of the financial, automotive, and health care industries and the astronomical levels of debt we’re taking on. These issues–the size and scope of government, the rights of the people, and the nation we will pass on to our children–run to the beating heart of conservatism.

The GOP needs a return to the principles of limited government enacted through lower spending, stricter ethical standards, and greater transparency. It’s no coincidence that these principles coincide with the financial crisis we find ourselves in. We need the power of the free market more than ever, and the existential danger of out-of-control debt has never been more pressing since the earliest years of our nation.

NY-23

You may be wondering where NY-23 fits into all of this. Let’s be clear on one thing: we don’t need a third party to replace the GOP right now. The GOP has cancer, but I don’t believe it’s terminal. What the GOP needs right now is chemotherapy. And that’s exactly what NY-23 was: a round of chemotherapy.

When the pragmatists aren’t arguing that all is well in Zion they fall back on the argument that a cure would be worse than the disease. If third-party candidates run they will just spoil the race for the GOP and the most liberal guy will win. That’s the bogeyman they have been using to keep conservative Republicans in check. That’s the idea which the mainstream media will start to tout the advantages of, just as they herald moderate Republicans like John McCain and Colin Powell.

But Doug Hoffman didn’t spoil the race for liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava. A look at the polls shows who the obvious spoiler in this race was. (Click to enlarge.)


If 2010 has a horde of ill-prepared, under-funded, decentralized, inexperienced third-party candidates cropping up in every contest, the resulting chaos will almost certainly hurt the GOP and the conservatives. What happened in NY-23 was the exception and not the rule, the product of its own exclusivity; such a race simply cannot be maintained on a nationwide level. If you think things are bad now, try going back before World War II. That’s what a real minority party looks like.

But if we don’t have any third party candidates, the pragmatists will continue to enable the political class of the GOP and the cancer–unchecked–will kill the party. It will take longer, but it will be just as inevitable.

Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling wrote that “[s]trategy. . . is not concerned with the efficient application of force but with the exploitation of potential force.” As satisfying as it would be to vote every politician out of office in 2010, that is not Plan A. We don’t need to replace everyone in the GOP as long as we put the fear of God back in them. Sure, I’d love to have paragons of virtue in every elected office but–failing that–I’ll settle for any old politician as long as they have a deep and abiding sense of accountability to the American people.

The key to making that sense of accountability deep and abiding–to efficiently exploit potential force–comes down once again to matters of credibility. The political class of the GOP must know that conservatives are willing and able to kick ass and take names.

I look forward to the day when the time for political threats within the party has passed. Just as with chemotherapy, I’m not eager to see any more third party candidates than are absolutely necessary because each one carries a substantial risk of losing to the Democrats or further fracturing the coalition we’re desperately trying to rebuild before a 2012 contest that could leave us with a radical lame-duck president. But a coalition rebuilt on any foundation other than limited government and personal liberty is a coalition built on sand and not worth supporting in the long run.

I believe in America, and therefore I must believe that the GOP needs conservatives (of all stripes) more than conservatives need the GOP. But it will be better for everyone–the Republican Party, conservatives and, most importantly, America–if we can figure out how to cure the patient we have rather than start from scratch with a fragile new embryo in the form of a new party. We’ve seen the damage caused by this administration now, with re-election at the back of their minds — imagine for a moment how much damage Barack Obama and his progressive radicals could do in the intervening years of confusion and disorganization.

But if the elites of the GOP would prefer to remain masters of their dwindling domain rather than to accept the burdens of greater accountability and reform, then they should understand just how credible the conservative third-party threat is. We did it in NY-23. We don’t want to do it again, but we can. And if we have to, we will.

—————
Robert Wallace is classical liberal studying economics in graduate school. He and his wife work as business analysis consultants, and they live as undercover conservatives with their two small children in a socialist bastion of a college town. He has been writing for America’s Right since December 2008.

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Comments

  1. JEFF SCHREIBER says:

    New party … put the elephant down …

    Did you care to READ Robert's piece, or did you just see the headline and write a comment?

    Robert is absolutely right — now is NOT the time to start from scratch. Doing so will cause this president to become a lame duck president. Doing so will ensure power for the Democrats for a generation.

    My God, people. THINK for a minute. We have the people and the power to make the GOP exactly what we want it to be and use THAT party as the political vehicle for conservatism. Finally, we have that. Starting from scratch because Alex Jones or someone else tells you to is exactly the WRONG way to rescue America.

    If you don't believe me, perhaps you'll finally understand when the media absolutely explodes with favorable coverage of third-party viability. When the New York Times and Washington Post and MSNBC are goading conservatives into splitting off, will you finally believe that it's the right thing to do?

    Good grief. On the right, we're supposed to be grounded in reality, not fantasy. Wake up, people.

  2. Gail B says:

    Not for me to argue with the two best political analysts on the planet.

    Jeff and Robert are right!

  3. Jan says:

    Absolutely excellent writing Robert. I will have to tell you that I am less concerned about the letter at the end of a name than I am about the values they are bringng to the table. The GOP needs to wake up. It may be wishful thinking but I would like a conservative candidate show up and propose term limits. Credibility may increase just with that statement alone. As long as these politicians benefit more from the special interests than they do from their constituents they will listen less to us and more to them. The American people need to get involved in the process and not just stand by watching – which is what has been happening for too long.

  4. blad_Rnr says:

    Robert, Jeff:

    You wrote: "The problem with the GOP is a crisis of credibility with the American people."

    When have we ever had a truly conservative president? Reagan was NOT financially conservative. Not in a million years. He ballooned the deficit during his administration to fight the Cold War and never got it back to where it should have been.

    That's the problem with the GOP: outside of Ron Paul no one is REALLY financially conservative. They really don't want a limited government. They vote for all kinds of measures and entitlements that are killing this country. Do you really think they will simply find the errors of their ways and suddenly start wiping out vast numbers of government offices and departments??? That is what it is going to take, and they won't because those are potential votes for the Democrats.

    People don't change. We need NEW people. People like Lindsay Graham and Mark Sanford don't care. The question should be, How do we wipe out these morons and put in fresh blood? People who truly want our government a third of the size it is now.

    We had three-four parties for over a hundred years. Maybe that's a good thing. It differentiates those committed to conservatism from those GOP'ers who only want status quo.

  5. ADIOS says:

    Put that elephant down.

  6. Boston Blackie says:

    Robert AND Jeff -
    You are both on the money as always, we can not afford a third party startup. The democRATS are hoping just for that. Look at the Ross Perot effect, I will never say anyone who voted for him wasted their vote because I will never criticize anyone's choice as long as they DO VOTE and not sit on the sidelines(I will however,try to change their minds or point out why they shouldn't have made that choice). If the GOP had embraced Perot, maybe we would not have Bill Clinton around to erect a statue of himself as well as Hillary. We need to force the issues with the GOP, we must be heard. As Robert said, we must cure the patient. 2010 and 2012 are TOO IMPORTANT.
    FYI – Support Scott Brown(R) for senator from mASSachusetts, he is up against the extreme leftist trying to replace Kennedy.

  7. NEW PARTY says:

    Lets vote on what our new party's mascot should be.

    Eagle?

  8. SCREWED EITHER WAY says:

    The only cure…. two words:

    T E R M . . . L I M I T S

    Our process of governance is in a loop; you computer programmers know what I am talking about.

  9. cher-pa says:

    This country will landslide towards any Candidate that has the balls to stand up and take OUR COUNTRY BACK.

    That means standing up to Hollywood the Mainstream media,Code pink,Reverse racists, Illegal immigrants,net neutrality,George Sorros,Tree huggers and all 1960s brain dead librals.
    The only one right now that has those qualifications is Sarah Palin.The left knows it and they will do anything to bring her down.I hope to God she runs in 2012.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I see graphs and charts…

  11. sharon says:

    Good piece Robert. Personally I go to the tea parties because I do not trust the GOP, I don't care what the democrats do, that is their problem. I mean how does a true republican vote for stimulus and a supreme court justice that cannot give a yes or no answer on the 2nd amendment? The current GOP would cave into health care and the like if we were not out there fighting.. and that is a fact.

    The GOP has not reflected my values in a very long time. They appease me because they know they have my vote.

    It is my recollection that the left gave the name "birthers" to Americans that just want some questions answered. Personally I do not care much about the birth certificate. I'm a Dualer, maybe the left should get the name right.

  12. Rix says:

    The article is good, but it is based on a flawed assumption, which in turn is derived from a flawed data collection technique. Calling oneself "conservative" is *not* the same as voting for a conservative candidate. A jobless black mom with seven kids will call herself "conservative" because she goes to church weekly. A Latino drug pusher will call himself "conservative" because he is against abortions. A Jewish magazine editor will call herself "conservative" because her mom and dad were wed under a chuppah by a rabbi and she intends to follow suit. An Italian UAW member will call himself "conservative" because he drinks the same brand of beer every day for the last fourty years. You just CANNOT ask a person whether he or she is a conservative without explicitly specifying what the term means!

    For the last twenty years, the country's demographic layout was under continuous assault from a number of directions. Blacks and Latinos multiply in urban districts like fruit flies, turning block after block into a third-world ghetto. "Humanitarian" welfare immigration goes on, bolstered by indifferent attitude of the INS and DHL, draining our healthcare and education resources. Continuous stream of illegal migrants steadily erodes the South and the coastal areas. School system and then univerisities tirelessly brainwash the new generations of voters, and one cannot deny that their efforts bear fruit. Now, with the economic crisis approaching the level of the Great Depression, a few millions of Americans will become benefactors of Social Security system, thus becoming its staunch supporters. Leaving God's miracles aside, where would that "conservative majority" pop out from, this air?

    It is time to abandon wishful thinking, get out of denial and admit that the country has already been stolen from under our feet. Then, and only then, it will be possible to take it back.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Well put Jeff,

  14. Anonymous says:

    This article seems to contradict itself when the point is the GOP has in effect been mimicking the Dems in policy – if we are to cure the ills of the GOP and its misguided path then the individual must be focused on and we must vote for he/she who epouses small government , debt reduction , freedom protection , free market – etc and how do you go about this except to vote for the right person no matter his party – if the GOP intends to play semantics this will only anger the American people more – and we have had it – ENOUGH – we want REAl RED BLOODED hard working Americans hell bent on preserving our liberties and not feeding us BS to get elected- we can smell the foul -no disguises please!
    How do you propose to cure the cancer in the GOP except through we the people clearly accepting for potential candidate representatives only those individuals who sign a pledge or agree , that the belief of the GOP is 1. small government 2. protection of ALL constitutional rights 3. decrease deficit. 4. stop spending . = get rid of fat in government – cut their jobs not ours !!! Protection of life of the most innocent and vulnerable !
    They have double talked us to death as politicians do – so the answer is we have to be more wise and accept only those who have honor towards the people they represent and belief in their OATH , PLEDGE .And this may mean not electing a GOPer-the lesser of two eveils is getting us no where unless the GOP has a cleansing !

  15. Anonymous says:

    How about these brilliant analysts explain to us why we need parties at all.

  16. INTELLIGENCE OF THE GUT says:

    I'll take cher_pa for my battalions S2 officer.

  17. THOMAS says:

    Rnr – I agree – we need people in elected positions to gut the system of its waste and excuse the expression to do away with the raping of our system to suit the pockets of wolves in sheeps clothing -

  18. Anonymous says:

    Rix is right.

  19. JEFF SCHREIBER says:

    I hope that Scozzafava's decision to leave the race and endorse Owens will reinforce a lesson which John Edwards should have learned a long time ago…

    Pulling out never works.

    (Sorry, folks. I couldn't help it.)

  20. Rix says:

    Jeff Schreiber:

    > I hope that Scozzafava's decision to leave the race and
    > endorse Owens will reinforce a lesson which John Edwards should
    > have learned a long time ago…
    >
    > Pulling out never works.
    >
    > (Sorry, folks. I couldn't help it.)

    Jeff, when you mentioned John Edwards in the context of "pulling out never works", did you refer to his child from that extramarital affair? :)

    (Sorry, folks. I couldn't help it, either.)

  21. JEFF SCHREIBER says:

    Rix — that's, uh, kind of the point I was trying to make.

    From this point forward, I'll be certain to translate all of my jokes–good and bad–into Russian.

    :)

  22. Anonymous says:

    Mrs Edwards now needs to pull out, of that marriage.

  23. ZDRASTVUITYE says:

    Spaseeba

  24. Mrs Stalin says:

    Та шутка была забавна.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Even Barney doesn't pull out.

  26. SHOULDA THROWN THAT ONE BACK says:

    John Edwards was a trial lawyer, now he's a lying trawler.

  27. TROJAN says:

    After analyzing my last joke, I feel it would have been exponentially funnier if I had said 'Barneys date'.

  28. Gail B says:

    Jeff said:

    "From this point forward, I'll be certain to translate all of my jokes–good and bad–into Russian."

    Jeff, don't forget about the tall old lady who was not raised with hints from her mother. Sometimes I have to be "hit upside of the head" with an explanation!

    Ummm–did anyone mention that Hoffman is a Republican who ran on the Conservative Party of New York?

  29. Robert Wallace says:

    Cher-pa reads the article, and his solution is Sarah Palin. Blad_Rnr reads the article, and his solution is Ron Paul.
    Do you guys see a problem here?
    I see two.
    The first is a problem of principles. America didn’t have one Founder Father. It has dozens. Thomas Jefferson couldn’t have done it alone. George Washington couldn’t have done it alone. Sam Adams or Patrick Henry or Ben Franklin couldn’t have done it alone.
    What makes you think your chosen Messiah can? It’s unrealistic, un-American, and silly.
    But, worse than that, you guys get so caught up with your individual heroes that you refuse to support anyone who doesn’t live up to that mythical standard.
    Well I got news for you: there’s 1 Presidential seat, 1 VP seat, 435 seats for representatives, and 100 seats for senators. Then there’s the Cabinet and other executive appointments along with scores of staffers, advisers, and facilitators.
    You think one person can do that?
    Forget one person. We need thousands of people. And if you can’t lift your vision from “one” to “thousands” you’re just going to end up getting in people’s way.
    You’ve got your favorite candidate. The one who makes your heart flutter. That’s great. Keep supporting them, but don’t act like crabs in a basket, keeping everyone else from getting ahead until your guy goes first.
    There’s plenty to go around for everyone, and we need to start focusing on coalitions and not cults.

  30. Anonymous says:

    This issue with Conservatives and the GOP reminds me of one of my favorite movies. In the original "Highlander" movie, the "quickening" referred to the awakening of a group of immortals.

    To those wannabe "immortals" in Congress, I quote: "The sensation you're feeling is the Quickening." – Ramirez

  31. Rix says:

    Come to think of it, there was an attempt to re-align a major conservative party strikingly similar to what Robert suggests. In Israel, when Likud shifted sharply to the center under war-hero-turned-centrist (sounds familar, huh?) Ariel Sharon, a group of young and enthusiastic right-wing purists led by Moshe Feiglin attempted to wrest control of the party from its "fat cat", center-leaning leaders who, shortly before, squeezed out Benjamen Netaniahu for being "too radical". Feiglin brought tens of thousands (a lot, by Israeli measure) new members, mostly his supporters, under the party tent. The "coup" failed miserably when more experienced and wily party veterans skilfully used Likud's convoluted system of multi-stage primaries to push the newcomers aside.

    Same, I fear, will happen if the Tea Party movement attempts to reform GOP from inside: our money and enthusiasm will be used to achieve partisan goals that have little in common with ours. Those like myself stupid enough to send money to Newt already had the questionable pleasure to watch how it happens.

  32. Anonymous says:

    It's MUCH easier to birth an elephant, than defibrillate one.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Until the party quits trying to wash, rinse, and repeat, Newt, Huckabee and Romney, they will continue to have this issue. They had their turn, they lost to McCain. End of story.

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