Recently New York Times designated conservative columnist, David Brooks, advised Republican candidates to avoid talking about their “conservative bona fides.” Instead, Mr. Brooks wrote, Republicans should talk about other things, like balanced budgets and small business-led job creation. Mr. Brooks didn’t seem to understand that economic prosperity and job growth are not distinct from conservative principles. They are the result of them. This sort of muddle qualifies as cutting edge conservative thought in today’s New York Times.
The Brooks recipe for GOP victories in 2010 and 2012 is for our candidates to be non-combative, non-ideological, and non-conservative. This, of course, will ultimately make them non-winners, which is why many in the media offer Republicans the same advice.
Yet all across Washington the self-appointed pooh-bahs of the national Republican Party think they’ve found the key to their return to power: distancing the GOP from the conservative movement. Former Bush administration strategists — the same ones whose bungling helped make Nancy Pelosi House Speaker and Barack Obama president — recently told Politico that “conservative activists” fueled by the tea party movement and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck were the source of the party’s electoral woes. Even National Review has fallen prey to this mentality. William F. Buckley’s once esteemed magazine just published an article urging Republicans to run “non-ideological campaigns” and applauding one candidate for allegedly choosing to “soft pedal” his conservative beliefs in favor of non-controversial issues, like fixing highways. This is the equivalent of The Nation urging its readers to stop being leftists.
The Republican Party, we are being told by the Brookses, the David Frums, the John McCains and the Lindsey Grahams of the world, needs to broaden its base by being ashamed of what we believe in, rejecting “angry” conservatives, and moving to the center. As the great man himself would have said, there they go again.
Every few election cycles the Republican elite — spurred on by a mischievous liberal media — is vercome with the impulse to turn away from the conservative movement. This impulse is as predictable as it is foolish. Predictable because national Republicans, with their flexible ideals and campaign gimmicks, never have been comfortable with people who actually believe in something other than holding power. And foolish because we have seen time and again that the only way for Republicans to win elections is to champion conservative principles proudly.
Nearly three decades ago, the “move to the middle” moderates lived in fear that an unelectable right winger like Ronald Reagan might win the party’s nomination. Their view was famously captured by a liberal historian who said that Reagan’s selection proved that Republican voters “had a death wish.” Instead we had a revolution.
After the Reagan years ended, the “sensible centrists” of the party retook control, guiding the party to a repudiation of Reaganism in favor of something “kinder” and “gentler.” That apparently meant support for higher taxes, a failure to articulate a conservative vision, and the ushering in of the Clinton presidency. Republicans returned to the wilderness and minority status again. Then Newt Gingrich and his conservative revolutionaries challenged the “middle of the road” party leadership and enunciated a conservative philosophy that led to a massive electoral victory in 1994.
George W. Bush reclaimed the presidency for the party in 2000 by pledging support for tax relief, limited government and a strong national defense. But his advocacy of the curious term “compassionate conservatism” troubled more than a few. By the end of the administration, as I reported firsthand in my book SPEECH*LESS, Vice President Cheney and other conservative holdouts were viewed as curiosities or troublemakers, who needed to be sidelined and silenced.
Meanwhile GOP moderates and ideologically soulless strategists seized the reins. In their quest to curry media favor and move up in public opinion polls, they led the administration to support even bigger government spending, federal bailouts of failing companies, and a questionable deal with North Korea. The administration also came exceedingly close to announcing its support for a “cap and trade” proposal to combat global warming. Top White House operatives were deployed to help electthe chairman of the Senate RINO caucus, John McCain. And those same operatives, predictably, dumped all over his conservative running mate, Governor Sarah Palin, once the election was lost. With an administration drifting away from conservative principles toward incoherence, President Bush left office with a 22 percent approval rating. Most troubling, the number of Americans identifying themselves with the Republican Party hit an all-time low.
Yet national Republicans learned exactly nothing from this. Instead they blamed Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and grassroots conservatives who had nothing to do with the party’s failures. But it was far easier for the strategists to blame conservatives than it was to blame themselves.
The new party chairman quickly went to work at labeling Rush’s rhetoric as “angry” and “divisive.” And across the country, national Republicans sought to cast conservatives aside in election races. In Florida, Republican leaders lined up en masse behind the disappointing Charlie Crist for an open Senate seat over an actual conservative, Marco Rubio. In Texas, they are seeking to unseat conservative Governor Rick Perry in Texas. In New York State, party leaders installed DeDe Scozzafava as their congressional candidate, someone so liberal that conservatives had no choice but to support a third-party candidate. Scozzafava repaid the national Republican leadership who campaigned for her and sent her hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions by dropping out and endorsing the Democrat in the race.
Once again, Republicans find themselves stuck between moderates running the show in Washington and frustrated conservatives who want their party back. We rightfully fear that the people in charge of the party are going to blow it all over again.
We can’t defeat Chuck Schumer or Blanche Lincoln or Harry Reid in 2010 by promising just to manage the welfare state a little better, or to keep federal spending in tact but just spend a little less. We know the road to victory is not to pretend to be Democrats-lite. To longtime Human Events readers, the struggle ahead for the party is really just the same old story. But as Margaret Thatcher once put it, “Of course it’s the same old story. Truth usually is the same old story.” It is time for conservatives who understand those truths to retake the party once again. It is the only way to have a lasting Republican resurgence.