"Self-Destructive Conservatism"

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Charlie Cook has an article up in which he decides conservatives are self-destructive.

A fellow who oversees lobbying in all 50 states for a major corporation recently told me about a certain Republican U.S. senator up for re-election in 2010, someone generally regarded as fairly conservative who might face a serious challenge from a very conservative fellow Republican. The incumbent has not been tainted by scandal, has never embarrassed himself by making a major mistake, is highly regarded in Washington, and is considered a very effective senator.

I was dumbfounded. Although it isn’t hard to see why a moderate Republican such as Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter could face a conservative primary challenge, it is difficult to understand why a conservative Republican would be challenged from the right. This is a party in danger of cannibalizing itself. . . .

And it means that GOP primaries, particularly in open-seat races, will be even more likely than in the past to nominate ideologues. The party’s contraction and rightward movement have become self-perpetuating, and will continue to be until something breaks the cycle.

This, I think, is wrongheaded and is part of the inside the beltway thinking resonating with too many Republican Senators who will keep the GOP in the minority by following Charlie Cook’s conventional wisdom.

Let’s back up. According to the 2008 exit polls, 34% of Americans considered themselves conservative, compared to ~22% who considered themselves liberal. The rest considered themselves independent. That means a conservative starts off with a larger base and only needs to pick off about 17% of self-described independents/moderates to advance their agenda.

We conservatives recognize that we have to build a coalition to govern. We’re not the purists Charlie Cook would have you believe.

But here’s the thing — there are a number of GOP Senators who have bought in to this and have decided to ignore the base and cooperate with Barack Obama. They are willing to start with 0% of the base in order to capture some portion of the country that considers themselves independent or moderate.

Saxby Chambliss had this problem. I suspect the senator Charlie Cook references in his article is the same way. Campaigns are won with the base. Pissing off the base causes you problems.

Take Chambliss. He supported a hugely unpopular immigration bill. He supported a hugely unpopular farm bill. He supported a hugely unpopular energy compromise. Why? Because he wanted to be seen as bipartisan.

The GOP does not have to “move” to the right. The GOP needs to begin from the right. Presently, it is not. The GOP has betrayed the trust not just of the voters, but of its base. It will not win a majority again unless it first gets its base back.

So I’d say Charlie Cook is wrong. The problem with the senator in question, and I think I know who it is, is that he compromised on immigration, energy, taxes, judges, the bailout, financial regulations, and other matters. He’s also from a Republican state. It’s no wonder someone might challenge him. If he’s going to ignore his base, he has no one to blame for a primary challenge but himself.

Right now the GOP base wants Republicans to oppose the stimulus package. Even the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, led until today by Barack Obama’s new budget guy, says the stimulus bill won’t do much good.

So why support it?

Barack Obama can pass his stimulus package with zero Republican votes. In two years, whether he gets Republican votes or not, the stimulus will not have worked. Inflation will be high. Unemployment will be high. Growth will be low.

If the GOP holds together and opposes it, they will escape blame for it and re-excite the GOP base — reasserting that the GOP gets the need to support free markets.

If the GOP will not start off opposing the expansion of government Barack Obama wants, the GOP will stay in the minority. Elections are won and lost by rallying the base. So far the only rallying going on is the base rallying to toss out the Republican senators who won’t listen to them.