By Ed Willing
Breitbart regularly slams traditional conservatives as “timid” and “sold out.” (Never mind they helped make trump president.)
We’ve become so used to fighting liberalism at every turn, for so many years, that even after we’ve won, we are paranoid beyond reason believing it’s behind every corner. This mentality is strong, especially in the conservative tabloid world. But, it’s just not true.
John C. Cooke wrote a piece a year ago in the National Review, pointing out that while the trump movement liked to slam the GOP for liberalism and call all Republican leaders RINO’s, results said otherwise. He said that in fact, under Obama, the Republican Party was more united than ever. That it grew notably more conservative. And, contrary to conventional anti-MSM wisdom, Cooke noted that the GOP was fairly successful in resisting the Obama administration and managed to grind most of their work to a halt after the historic 2010 elections. So much so that party moderates felt angered by the conservative wing, and the Democrats called us the “just say no” party. Cooke went on to state:
Without the GOP manning the barricades, Obamacare could well have been single payer, and, at the very least, the law would have included a “public option.” Without the GOP manning the barricades, we’d have seen a carbon tax or cap-and-trade — or both. Without the GOP manning the barricades, we’d have got union card check, and possibly an amendment to Taft-Hartley that removed from the states their power to pass “right to work” exemptions. Without the GOP standing in the way, we’d now have an “assault weapons” ban, magazine limits, background checks on all private sales, and a de facto national gun registry. And without the GOP standing in the way in the House, we’d have got the very amnesty that the Trump people so fear (it’s fine to oppose Marco Rubio for his support for the “Gang of 8″ bill, but it’s not fine to pretend that it didn’t matter that the Republicans ran the House when the reform bill left the Senate; it did).
I’m certainly no swish, and I have been called a purist so many times I could probably bottle my sweat and sell it as water. Heck, I didn’t vote for Bush 43 in 2000 because I felt he was too moderate for me. To my college mind, Newt’s GOP and the Democratic Party were “two wings on the same bird of prey.” Pat Buchanan was my general, and I was his dedicated youth director for the northwest states during his presidential campaign. (In a bit of irony, Buchanan’s campaign helped make Bush president by appearing across from Gore’s name on some Florida ballots. So, you’re welcome.)
And the next several years kind of proved I was right, as the GOP pushed the Karl Rove idea of a “permanent majority,” and gave us sweeping legislation like No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and the Patriot Act.
But, can you imagine any of those passing today? No.
The reality is that in 2003, Tennessee Senator Bill Frist was made Majority Leader, and was considered the conservative conscience of the Senate. Ron Paul was alone in his libertarian tantrums in the House. The president openly talked about “Compassionate conservatism,” while pushing for immigration reform with Edward Kennedy and John McCain.
Of course, that majority was anything but permanent, and by 2006, they were out of power. It was a demoralizing loss of opportunity. By 2008, we lost the presidency to the most ideological socialist Democrat to run for office in 75 years. Democrats (and actual “RINO’s”) gave us bailouts, the American Recovery Act (“Stimulus bill”), the Solyndra failure, and ultimately the Obamacare fiasco. Being a conservative in that time was a lonely life.
But we got to work. We began to organize, host rallies, start get-out-the-vote (GOTV) campaigns, establish alternative media sites and work on our messaging to voters. Also, many of us began to run for office and join our local Republican Party chapters.
By 2010, we shocked the political world with the greatest elective swing since the 1920’s, and by 2014, the Party was arguably the most conservative it had been in 100 years.
Yes, you read that right.
The Senate now boasted leaders like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul. The House has an entire caucus of virtual libertarians from Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows and Jeff Duncan, to Thomas Massie, Matt Salmon and Justin Amash. Ron Paul who?
While some faces have changed, the content of the Congressional brain trust has not. Of course, John Boehner was no friend to this conservative upstart movement, but… where is he now? Exactly. Now, we have Paul Ryan, arguably the most conservative Speaker of the House since Nicholas Longworth, House Speaker under Calvin Coolidge.
Hang on, calm down.
For all those who despise Paul Ryan, you’re spending too much time reading conservative tabloid media. (Disclaimer: Paul Ryan is my congressman.) Can anyone name another Speaker more conservative than Ryan? Sure, he’s taken votes we didn’t like. And yeah, he speaks in kind words of his Democratic colleagues. But so did Longworth, who famously began the “Bureau of Education” club with Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, and had a close friendship with his liberal counterpart, John Nance Garner. (To Ryan’s defense, Nancy Pelosi is no John Nance Garner… that’s where the parallels should end.)
Then, it stands to reason that we are more conservative today than in the past. To prove my point, name any other time… any objective memory of the late 90’s will remind you of why Bush was considered a “conservative” candidate. Before then you have to go back to the Eisenhower years to find another Republican House Speaker, and they were hardly “conservative.” In fact, those years gave rise to the Russell Kirks, William F Buckleys and Milton Freidmans of the world for a reason. Back then, they were nobodies. But, they were gentlemen. They were intellectuals. They were respected by their peers, even the ones who disagreed with them.
Because such behavior is ok. It’s possible to be principled, and civil. To win half a loaf, because it’s better than none. And for decades, it worked. But, in today’s social media-driven world, we hate all things that don’t perfectly agree with each of us. And the more we talk about what each of us thinks, the more we disagree with each other. It’s just exhausting keeping up with the outrage. If anything, it’s not the GOP that’s betrayed conservatives, but it’s conservatism that betrayed itself.
It’s funny to me, that until a few years ago no one had even heard of “cloture,” but now millions think they know what they’re talking about when they post cloture lists on Facebook. Few understand that politics is the art of compromise. They don’t grasp that in government, at least half the people disagree with you on most things, and even more disagree with you on some things. There is no “good policy,” only the best policy you can pass. So, you must win incrementally, rather than all at once. This strategy has worked for progressives for 150 years. In fact, that’s partly why they earned that name. “Progress” is a relative term in regards to policy, but as a strategy, it means you accept baby steps toward the goal, and moving the needle little by little. And they got as far as they did through patience, and small wins. Why can’t we?
This is a hard bargain in today’s populist conservatism. We are more interested in media-hate and talk of swamp draining than political progress. We so badly want to hear yelling from our leaders, and watch the bridges burn that we no longer care about objectivity, morality or even our conservative values. We don’t want “fair & balanced,” we want “conservative, all the time.” Or, in many circles today, “toe the line, always.”
Right now, in the age of trump, we risk losing all the progress we made the last 15 years or so in the Republican Party, and the last 60 years in the conservative movement. And part of the moderate wing is likely happy about that. They see a light at the end of this dark tunnel. The conservative movement used to rail against the Establishment, until the Establishment became us. Now, for lack of a higher enemy, we rail against the norms of political society, because we need something to rage against. But that subjective rage will make us weaker, and our numbers smaller. That in turn will lead us to less influence at the levers of power.
I just hope we can gather ourselves before it’s too late. The progressive buzzwords trump talks about don’t mix with the conservative policies of Congress, and his morality doesn’t mix with ours. We’ve allowed a single man to flip the poll numbers of what policies and dictators we like and don’t like, and his vile, unstable demeanor legitimizes every lie the left ever said about us all these years. But, we won in November. At least just enough. To many, that’s all that matters. And in a little more than a year, we’re going to find out if it was worth the risk.