In politics, when you suffer a defeat, there are two ways to go. You can a) figure out how not to lose again or b) start the search for “traitors” in your own ranks. For Republicans, the choices, a) or b), matter a lot, because the shutdown/default fight will come up again early next year.
Unfortunately, right now, many of the leading voices on the right seem less interested in winning against the Democrats than in purging their fellow Republicans. These loud conservative voices have proven that they can win Republican primaries, but they can’t win general elections against Democrats. So the choices, a) and b) matter: It’s the choice between growing by winning, and shrinking by purging. Republicans should think clearly on this choice, because they have barely more than a year, now, to restore their brand in time for the November 2014 midterm elections.
I’ll get into more detail on those choices in a moment, but first, let’s review the dimensions of the defeat that the Republicans have suffered in the past few weeks, culminating in Wednesday’s Congressional vote to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the government.
On Thursday, October 17, the lead headline in Politico was, “Obama wins.” Underneath that were two more headers of a similar tone: “House GOP gets nothing” and, next to that, “Obama’s victory lap.”
Okay, so that’s the libs at Politico, and that’s their opinion.
And perhaps the same holds true for Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News, who was still piling on horror stories on Thursday night. Quoth the anchorman on the shutdown: “It’s hurt a lot of Americans, some of whom can never recover what they lost.” He continued, “Politically, it’s widely regarded to be big loss, and a self-inflicted wound, mostly for the Republicans.”
Yeah, yeah, that’s more pro-Democrat shilling from the MSM. But such reporting moves public opinion numbers–that’s been proven.
The polls, indeed, have been painful. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released last week showed that 53 percent of Americans put the blame on Republicans in Congress, while a mere 31 percent said it was President Obama’s fault. For comparison, in the 1995 shutdown, things were better for the GOP: 44 percent blamed Republicans, 33 percent blamed President Bill Clinton.
Indeed, according to the poll, Obama’s approval rating has risen during the shutdown; even approval of Obamacare has risen. How could that be? A bum poll? More likely, people have been using the pollsters to send a message. Virgil recalls that in 1998, Bill Clinton’s approval rating surged during the impeachment process. Republicans couldn’t believe it, and they kept on impeaching. But in fact, the voters were signaling that they didn’t want to see him impeached, and, come November of that year, they proved that they meant it: The Democrats scored an historic upset in the 1998 midterms.
Perhaps most ominously, looking ahead to 2014 we note that the same poll’s generic ballot–national Republican vs. national Democrat–showed that by an eight-point margin, Americans say they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress to one controlled by the GOP.
Meanwhile, other polls show the same thing. The Pew Center found that the tea party’s image has taken a turn for the negative–far more negative. Today, 49 percent of Americans view the tea party unfavorably, while just 30 percent view it favorably. That’s a 19-point deficit, more than double the eight-point deficit of just four months ago.
And Gallup found that just 28 percent of Americans approve of the Republican Party, down 10 points in the last month, leaving the GOP fifteen points lower than the Democrats.
It’s quite possible that all three of these polling outfits lean liberal. Yet even so, they seem to have a better grip on reality than the poll released by Mike Needham of Heritage Action back in August, which purported to show that the voters would blame the Democrats for a shutdown. Indeed, as recently as October 11, Needham told a skeptical Steve Moore of The Wall Street Journal, “I really believe we are in a great position right now.”
It may be unbecoming to say, “I told you so,” but Virgil will risk it. Back on October 5, here at Breitbart News, he noted that the anti-Obamacare/pro-shutdown forces consisted of the House GOP (most of it) plus Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Ranged against them on the other side were the Establishment Republicans, the entirety of the Democratic Party, and the MSM. In other words, Virgil concluded, “It’s a lopsided fight”–against the shut-downers.
So now let the recriminations begin. Let’s start with the a) choice: “figure out how not to lose again.”
Here’s a sampler from those who say we shouldn’t go down this same losing road in 2014.
First, the distinctly conservative editorial page of the Manchester, NH Union Leader sniped, “Virtually everyone, including Ted Cruz, knew this would not work. They did it anyway.”
Ross Douthat, a right-of-center writer for The New York Times, added this:
The decision to live with a government shutdown for an extended period of time–inflicting modest-but-real harm on the economy, needlessly disrupting the lives and paychecks of many thousands of hardworking people, and further tarnishing the Republican Party’s already not-exactly-shiny image–in pursuit of obviously, obviouslyunattainable goals was not a normal political blunder by a normally-functioning political party. It was an irresponsible, dysfunctional and deeply pointless act, carried out by a party that on the evidence of the last few weeks shouldn’t be trusted with the management of a banana stand, let alone the House of Representatives.
Okay, Douthat is not the most conservative guy in the world, but he thinks like a party-builder; back in 2009, he coauthored a book, the title of which speaks for itself: Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream. It seems reasonable to think that it wouldn’t have hurt Mitt Romney–and a lot of other Republicans–to have absorbed its message.
Moving from observers to operators, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, told National Review that the Defunders should “apologize.” He also remarked “It’d be a good idea if they stopped referring to other Republicans as Hitler appeasers because they opposed the strategy they put forward which failed.” The reference was to Ted Cruz, who has compared Republicans who didn’t agree with him to Neville Chamberlain-type appeasers.
I think if you make a mistake as big as what they did, you owe your fellow senators and congressmen a big apology–and your constituents, as well, because nothing they did advanced the cause of repealing or dismantling Obamacare. . . .They hurt the conservative movement, they hurt people’s health care, they hurt the country’s economic situation and they hurt the Republican Party.
And Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesale-Distributors, a trade association distinctly on the right end of K Street politics, declared, “At the end of the day, the system is supposed to produce results, and the failure to produce results has consequences.”
Failure does, indeed, have consequences: You not only don’t get your way in the here and now, but you also could lose more elections in the future–and get even less of your way.
Okay, so now to other choice b): “start the search for traitors.”
Heritage Action, the new activist outfit that is swallowing the venerated Heritage Foundation, turning that once-important think-tank into the merest appendage of a direct-mail operation, described Wednesday’s vote on the debt ceiling as a “key vote”–and demanding, of course, a vote in favor of drastic default. In the days since, Heritage Action has indeed been trying to drum up primary challenges against allegedly treacherous “RINOs.” Beating Democrats seems to be the farthest thing from Heritage Action’s mind.
Rush Limbaugh, who has never gone before the voters in his life, described the vote to avoid default and to reopen the government as “one of the greatest political disasters I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.” And maybe it was. But not voting that way would have led to an even greater disaster.
Over yonder at Redstate.com, Erick Erickson was also hopping mad at the last-minute deal to end the shutdown and avert default. He declared that he wanted to support the Jim DeMint-created Senate Conservatives Fund, Heritage Action, and even kamikaze primary challengers to House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) back in Ohio’s eighth congressional district.
A few days earlier, Erickson had written, “John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) will ensure that Obamacare is fully funded and give the American public no delay like businesses have.” Actually, that’s incorrect. Boehner, Cantor, McConnell, and Cornyn all voted against Obamacare; the problem was that they were outvoted by the Democrats.
Indeed, it was McConnell who said, just days before the 2010 election, “We need to say to everyone on Election Day, ‘Those of you who helped make this a good day, you need to go out and help us finish the job.'” And when a reporter asked him to define “the job,” McConnell answered, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Say what you want about McConnell–he can count. To stop something, you need the votes. And to undo something, you need even more votes. The Republicans won the House in 2010, of course, and ever since then, they have used their majority to vote to repeal Obamacare some 40 times. And each time, of course, the Democratic-controlled Senate has blocked the effort. And of course, Obama was there, in the White House, ready to veto anything that might’ve somehow slipped through.
Still, the House GOP repeal effort wasn’t completely futile; the anti-Obamacare votes were designed, at least in part, to put Democrats on the spot, making them defend their pro-Obamacare votes to the folks back home.
Yet we might dwell on the fact that even after voting on Obamacare in 2009, the Democrats have held, and even expanded, their Senate majority. They must be doing something right, at least relative to the GOP. And of course, Obama was re-elected.
Speaking of elections, if Obamacare was as unpopular as people say it is, anti-Obamacare Republican Ken Cuccinelli would be winning in Virginia; instead, Terry McAuliffe’s lead is growing. Yes, everything’s complicated, including the Virginia gubernatorial race, but winning is complicated. The GOP would benefit from a greater degree of clarity about the centrality of winning as an objective. Because, as we are seeing, losing is easy.
Meanwhile, we might pause over a recent Erickson headline, “Advancing. Ever Advancing,” next to a picture of Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Yes, and Pickett’s Charge was advancing, too–until the Yankees started shooting. All strategy must take the foe into account.
Erickson further warned last week that Boehner, McConnell, et al. were sowing “the seeds of a real third party movement that will fully divide the Republican Party.”
That sums it up: Republicans and conservatives are no longer fighting Obama, they are fighting each other. Purging RINOs might be fun for conservatives–but it’s the Democrats who have the most fun, because they get to win more general elections.
So is it hopeless for activist conservatives? Must they always be frustrated? No, they can, in fact, flourish. But they do need to learn some lessons from US political history–lessons of adding to one’s coalition, not dividing it. We’ll get to those next time.