You Can't Win Without Principles

In response to First You Win, Then You Make Policy:

Winning is important. Of course. But someone needs to tell that to the Republican establishment class, who abandoned Ken Cuccinelli in a winnable election. The “first you win” argument has to go both ways, or else it is just an argument for letting moderates take the lead in the hope that they will govern as conservatives. Voters don’t like that kind of bait-and-switch–and conservatives get tired of losing, or being betrayed.

In 2009, observers noted of Chris Christie: “The winner last night, Republican Chris Christie, managed to get through the entire campaign without taking a single principled stand on a single issue.” That refusal to state his policies, especially on property taxes, almost cost him the election, as voters flocked to a no-name third-party candidate. The Wall Street Journal had all but given up on Christie for his lack of courage.

Yes, Christie went on to win–mostly because he was running against an unpopular incumbent. And he won big last night–largely because he is a popular incumbent. (Incumbency is a double-edged sword.) But what policy has Christie made? His state’s economy is stagnant and its taxes remain among the worst in the U.S. He fought with the teachers’ unions, and fought for relief funds from Washington. Other than that–what?

Principles matter, and without them Christie nearly lost the first time around. Once Cuccinelli stuck to his own, he began to climb in the polls in Virginia. With more help from the national party, he might have won. It is worth noting that the Tea Party, which is supposedly so bad for the GOP’s fortunes, worked harder to elect Mitt Romney than he worked for himself. It’s not conservatives that need a lesson in pulling together.