In an op-ed in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, liberal political analyst Juan Williams observed that Republicans have lost more power in the Senate and decides that the GOP has only itself to blame for its defeat because, as in 2010, the party allowed conservatives and the Tea Party to prevail.
The curious reality is that party activists who cry out for more conservative voices in Washington are pushing Republicans in the Senate into political irrelevance. Under pressure from the right, the GOP has nominated candidates with little or no appeal to moderate voters.
Williams apparently believes that, with less pressure from conservatives, there would have been more Republican negotiation “with the White House on health care,” fewer “blocked budget deals,” and “immigration reform” would have gotten off the ground. The fact that Democrats kept Republicans out of any discussions on health care, that there were no “budget deals” because Senate Democrats rejected any budgets passed by either the House or President Obama, and that Obama never even attempted to lead on immigration reform all seem to escape Williams’ attention.
It is this same type of “logic” that assumes that with less conservative and more moderate Republicans, more “compromise” could be happening in order to get the “fiscal cliff” catastrophe resolved. Like many liberal thinkers, however, Williams focuses on conservatives’ pressure on Republicans not to raise taxes, while he fails to note that Democrats have yet to produce any spending cuts as part of the grand “compromise.”
And, like many of his colleagues, unable to get his arms around how clear, common-sense conservative principles could possibly be what Americans might want over the vagueness of moderation, Williams resorts to imagery of conservatives and the Tea Party as “scary” and even “dangerous:”
Scaring incumbent Republicans from the right wing of the political spectrum is proving to be effective at keeping them in line. GOP senators know the danger of moderating their views—there is a political penalty attached to any political compromise with Democrats.
Though the recent election has been disappointing for conservatives, conservatism as a philosophy is powerful, but not because it is “scary” and “dangerous.” Rather, its power emanates from the fact that it is a philosophy that most Americans embrace, even if they don’t call it “conservatism.” Conservative philosophy—limited government and the power of the individual—could not be so powerful if it were not so prevalent.
So, Williams seems to be straining when he concludes, after admitting to the power of conservatism, that this philosophy is causing Senate Republicans to become “irrelevant.”
Obviously, not every conservative Republican candidate has been successful, and some have not been successful because they have not been able to effectively articulate the nature of conservative thinking. However, it is also true that, between both the 2010 and 2012 elections, eight solidly conservative U.S. Senators have been elected, nearly 20 percent of the total number of Republicans in the Senate. Clearly, enough Americans thought having solidly conservative Senators was very relevant.
Similarly, in the House, the recent election found moderate Republicans at a loss. Only about five percent of “Tea Party” candidates were defeated, while fifteen percent of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership lost their positions, including Rep. Robert Dold (IL), who vehemently opposed Tea Party conservatives and even openly supported Planned Parenthood funding.
In addition, with now thirty Republican governors and 26 state houses under Republican control, even with all those “scary” conservatives around, it hardly seems like Republicans are becoming “irrelevant.”
Right now, it’s unclear how conservatives will win the Senate or the White House. To be sure, however, they intend to keep trying.