I’m spectacularly pleased that yesterday’s post generated so much discussion around the web. As far as I am concerned “Geraghtyite” should be Hugh Hewitt’s new title.
Some e-mailers agreed, some e-mailers disagreed, SOME WERE VERY ANGRY AND HAD FORGOTTEN WHERE THE ‘CAPS LOCK’ KEY IS, but the most important and common question from e-mailers was, “Okay, if sitting out the 2006 election doesn’t get us where we want to go, what will?” It’s a great question; here’s my best shot at answering it.
One: Frustrated with the GOP as a whole? Then support the guys you do like. I roll my eyes when somebody says, “Ah, they’re all a bunch of crooks.” That just says that the complainer hasn’t bothered looking for a member of Congress that represents their views. If you’re mad as heck about immigration, there’s Rep Tom Tancredo and the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus or Sens. Jon Kyl, or Jon Cornyn. If you’re mad about pork, there’s Sen. Tom Coburn.
If you don’t want to send money to the RNC, NRSC, or RNCC because they support too many “Republicans-in-name-only,” then fine; send money to the lawmakers who you see standing up for the conservative policies you want to see enacted. The rest of the GOP will notice if candidates like Tancredo and Coburn suddenly get a deluge of small donations for their stands. They probably won’t need it for their immediate reelection efforts; they’ll be able to distribute it as “seed money” to like-minded candidates elsewhere in the country.
Complaining about RINOs doesn’t really change anything; helping a guy like Steve Laffey in his primary challenge to Lincoln Chafee does help. If you don’t want to contribute money, then there are other things you can do – write letters to the editor, start a blog, tout them in your conversations. (And if you live in a state or district where there is a conservative vs. moderate or liberal fight within a GOP primary, then you ought to be putting your effort where your mouth is.)
More than a few e-mail writers seemed supremely discouraged about this course of action after Pat Toomey fell about two percent short in his primary challenge to Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania in 2004. The reason the RNC, the NRSC, and RNCC always support incumbents against primary challengers is because it is, I am told, a part of their candidate recruitment strategy. Republican candidate recruiters often find themselves trying to convince happy, successful individuals in the private sector to give all that up and voluntarily sign on for at least a year’s worth of stress, expense, privacy invasions and aggravation of a campaign. One of the ways they can attract candidates is to say, ‘once you’re in, we’ll always have your back. We won’t abandon you two years from now, or four years now, or any time in the future. The leadership of the Republican Party will always stick by you in a tough campaign.’
Of course, in addition to the official committees, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Rick Santorum all went to the mat to help out Specter in his primary. Why? Well, my guess is that they did a calculation out of the ‘prisoner’s dilemma.’ Pretend you’re President Bush. If you help out Specter and he wins, it (supposedly) gives you leverage down the road. If you help out Specter and he loses, you have a moment of embarrassment and then you shake hands with Toomey and make up and then you hopefully get a more conservative ally in the Senate. If you don’t help out Specter and the incumbent loses, then you’ve got the same scenario, without the brief embarrassment. But the worst case scenario is you don’t help Specter and he wins anyway, because then he’s returning to office and he’s torqued off because you didn’t help him when he needed it. You’ve turned a fair-weather ally into an enemy. My guess is, Bush, Cheney, Santorum (and Rove) did the calculations and decided helping out Specter was the best course.
Two: Vote for lesser of two evils? Maybe. If Chafee wins his primary, and you face a choice between a Democrat and a liberal Republican, maybe it’s worth leaving that slot blank. (You still ought to show up and vote, even if it’s just for other races.) But my hair goes grayer when I hear a conservative say, “I’m so mad at Bush that I’m not even going to vote this year.” My friends, Bush isn’t on the ballot!
Show up at the ballot box, look for your congressmen, and if they’re running this year, your senator and your governor and your mayor and whatever other races, and judge them based on the job that they as individuals have done. Don’t vote against your congressman because you’re mad at Ted Stevens (unless, of course, your congressman IS Ted Stevens). Don’t blame your local guy for Trent Lott. Maybe you decide that your local congressman has let you down and isn’t worth supporting. That’s fair enough.
(By the way, once in a while a really angry e-mailer will exclaim, "how dare you tell me who I have to vote for!" Hey, it's your decision. Vote for whoever you like. But be aware of the consequences. Don't vote for the other guys because you're convinced it will set in motion some triple-bank-shot scenario that will help your guys in the long term. There's a lot of "things need to get worse before they get better" mentality out there, which strikes me as creepily similar to Marx's "immiseration" theory — that the only way things get better is when they get much, much worse and reach the breaking point. I'd ask advocates of this mentality, do you see it a lot in your daily life? Do you often act against your best interest, because you want to hit bottom so that things will then get better later? How's that working out for ya? Cause I'm always trying to move the ball in my direction, even if it's three-yards-and-a-cloud -of-dust.)
Three: Realize some lawmakers will be a mixed bag. There’s a quote from former New York City mayor Ed Koch that begins Joe Klein’s latest book: “If you agree with me on nine out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.”
You will rarely encounter a lawmaker who agrees with you on all your issues; you’ve got to prioritize, and decide which ones are dealbreakers for you. There are many, many conservatives livid with Sen. John McCain for his campaign finance reform bill that they see as an attack on free speech, as well as his cosponsorship of Kennedy’s immigration bill. But McCain is also one of the few senators willing to get down and dirty when it comes to fighting pork-barrel spending. And even on immigration, things aren’t that simple; McCain is co-chairing the reelection campaign of his fellow Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, Mr. Tough Immigration Reform.
Another thing – we do have to recognize electoral realities. Conservatives shouldn’t have much ire at Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins. Maine is a pretty liberal state; the two nice ladies are about as conservative as you’re going to get out of that state. You’re not going to get a rock-ribbed social conservative, so you make do with someone who votes our way on taxes and defense issues. If I still lived in New Jersey, I would prefer a Bret Schundler type, but it’s been proven, cycle after cycle, that a really conservative guy just isn’t going to win in the Garden State; we have to take our tax-cutting Christie Whitmans until the political attitudes in the state change.
Four: The real fight on so many of these issues is in the Republican Presidential Primary. Obviously, many, many conservatives are furious with President Bush for his policies on spending, the Medicare prescription drug bill, and most of all, immigration.
The 2008 race will really begin early next year. Look hard at the candidates, and volunteer early for the guy who stands where you want the party to stand.