It has been widely reported in recent days that Karl Rove’s various PACs are receiving significantly less money in the form of private donations than they had in past years. In 2012, Rove’s organizations collected an aggregate total of roughly $325 million. In 2013, that number dropped to $6.1 million.
While this may be cause for celebration within the Tea Party Movement, in order to capitalize on the situation properly, we need to analyze the reasons behind it. We need to comprehend what has happened and is happening within the GOP and attempt to extrapolate a likely, rational future road map for the Party.
For much of its history, the GOP was a Party which had both Liberals and Conservatives but in which the Liberals were the dominant faction. In this manner, it was very similar to the Democrat Party. Neither were primarily ideological. Rather, they were coalitions of interest blocs which were both demographic and geographic in nature. They did both have a weighting towards one ideological side over the other but those were accidents of their internal alliances rather than a concerted effort to create ideologically homogeneous parties. Both were somewhat more Liberal than Conservative but neither was completely dominated by either the Left or the Right. The GOP was somewhat less Liberal than the Democrats but not by a major margin because the Democrats had to contend with a very strong Conservative southern bloc.
For the Democrats, this began to change with the introduction of the New Deal by Roosevelt, who brought a particularly American form of Socialism to his Party. That move would also spark a slow but inexorable transition in which Conservatives would gradually – almost imperceptibly at first – move away from the Democrats and towards the Republicans.
The true GOP transition – however – was not to begin until the mid-1960s and even then it was much less marked than the werewolf-like transformation of the Democrats. From the time of Goldwater, the Republican Party began to move slowly to the Right. At the same time, Vietnam War protests and Johnson’s “Great Society” accelerated the Leftist purification of the Democrat Party which would draw Left leaning Americans in and force Conservatives out. In 1980 (with the election of Reagan), we saw the beginning of a massive defection of southern Democrats to the GOP which gave the Conservatives mastery of the Party but we continue to see attempts by Liberals to move the Republican Party back towards the middle.
The Reagan Revolution made the GOP a Conservative party but not a purely Conservative party. It put people with Conservative values in charge, but they were not folks who believed in a grassroots, ground up approach to politics. The Conservatives who ruled the Party were actual Conservatives but they were politicians. They created a Conservative Establishment because they had to in order to fight off the Liberals who wanted to resurrect their influence within the Party. They truly believed in the principles of Conservatism but wanted the power over the activities of the Party. More to the point, at that time in the Party’s history, they needed that power to win the internal war for the GOP’s conscience.
However, over time the Party became more important to them than the principles they fought for. Their priorities changed. Personal ambitions became a driving force in determining their actions. We would eventually see a repeat of this phenomenon with the Conservatives who took over Congress in 1994, many of whom eventually compromised their principles in favor of remaining in Congress. It is a consistent consequence of human nature.
Regardless, guys like Rove – who actually were proven Conservatives at one time given the issues they stood for for a long time – ended up running the Party. They played the game conventionally and allowed the Party to be blamed for everything undesirable that happened in and to America during the 2000s. In retrospect, there wasn’t a whole lot that happened that was truly bad – in comparison to the Carter years, for instance – although the few negative circumstances were significantly bad. On the other hand, the Democrats magnified everything while Rove and other Republicans like him did nothing of any impact to counteract the perceptions being created. In politics – as we all know – perception is reality.
Jump to 2008 and Obama was elected to the White House, much to the surprise of everyone who two years before had assumed Hillary would be President. Obama’s Leftist extremism was like a shot to of nitroglycerin to the hearts of rank-and-file Conservative Americans, who spontaneously formed the Tea Party Movement. Career political strategists and politicians like Rove were taken by surprise by what they perceived as the sudden hijacking of Conservativism by the grassroots. In truth, one of the foundational pillars of Conservatism is individualism. Looking at the forest rather than the trees, it should have been clear that a collectivist, top down approach to leading Conservatism would be overturned in time. Rove and his class of GOP stalwarts did not recognize this as inevitable. They should have.
As a result, we now have the Conservative Establishment in the GOP fighting Liberal Democrats, Liberals within the GOP and the Tea Party. Despite the fact that history has proven that fighting a multi-front war is rarely a winning strategy, they persist in doing so. They especially see a battle with the Tea Party as necessary in order to take back their own power and influence within the Conservative demographic.
Their view on the matter is flawed. People like Karl Rove should have figured out that they have no choice but to ally with the Tea Party because their public positions are actually very similar. Their refusal to do so is the result of pure greed for power and desperation. However, they would have retained far more of their influence had they done the smart thing. Now, the Tea Party is poised to take over the GOP and banish the previous Conservative Establishment along with the Libs and RINOs.
As for the Tea Party, that Movement has to be very careful not to lump everyone who is not with us into the “RINO” category. There are distinct categories of Republicans who do not stand with us and a whole lot of Republicans who do. We need to be smart and be aware of who is in which category. That allows us to be far more effective in fighting them.
In particular, we need to avoid the potentially tragic mistake of absolutism. Nobody will be with anyone else 100% of the time. That is the foundational principle behind Ronald Reagan’s “80-20 Rule.” Conservatism is not a location defined by a series of litmus tests. We cannot simply say that if a candidate fails us on one issue, he is not a Conservative. One departure does not a RINO make. Nor two or three. If someone is with us 80% of the time, he may be a flawed Conservative, but he is a Conservative nevertheless.
Which brings us to another logical error made by many. Too many feel that the GOP has moved to the Left. That simply is not true. The fact is that we have not yet moved sufficiently to the Right but we are going in the right direction. The transition of the GOP to a purely Conservative party began much later than the Democrats’ leftward transformation did. It will take us another 10-15 years to complete it. That is just the way it is. Patience is mandatory because there is no way to accelerate the transition.
We are not a formerly Conservative party which has moved to the Left. We are a formerly mixed party which had a powerful, Conservative leader in Reagan but which has not moved far enough to the Right yet. As important as patience is, so is an awareness of who we are, where we need to go and who our internal rivals are.
Rove’s generation and their Establishment focused, centralized thinking is over and gone. They are still here fighting to remain relevant but their sun is setting. It’s time for them to go home.
Likewise, it is time for Conservative, Tea Party citizens to play the game with intelligence, savvy and cunning. We need to win not for today or tomorrow but for our children and grandchildren and their progeny. Politics is not a sprint. It is a long, arduous game of chess and each move must be thought out carefully. Shooting from the hip is not an option if our Nation is to remain free. Our enemies are smart and they play the game well. We must play it better.