Conservatives are rightly concerned that the new 114th Congress is not going to live up to its potential or to the political mandate of the American public, which is to defeat Democrat priorities on a wide range of issues like amnesty, raising energy prices with new carbon regulations, and spending as much taxpayer money as possible on crony political allies. So how should conservatives work to push the Congress in the right direction? First, conservatives need to understand a broader truth about the Republican party. There are two distinct power bases within the GOP, either of which are capable of sustaining a politician and sometimes only one of which is present in any given politician’s actual district of representation.
The conservative power base is the grass roots conservative movement, more recently and popularly known as the Tea Party. Of the two GOP power bases the conservative grass roots is the less well funded and less organized. What the conservative base has is numbers and passion to turn out the vote in sufficient numbers to throw elections to more conservative candidates. The GOP establishment is a mixture of monied interests which largely agree with the broad conservative agenda, but also have their own narrow special interests in tax policy, regulatory policy, and the like, to benefit their private causes. This is the gap in the GOP between principle and private interest that the Democrats have exploited to advance the liberal agenda. Democrats have no problem buying off votes in Congress or in the general public with promises of money or other government action on a private interest.
These privately interested, but nominally conservative groups are the traditional power structure and still functional majority of the Republican party. Conservatives need to find ways to address the concerns of these private interests in order to keep them from putting their special interests ahead of the public interest in conservative governance. I believe we can persuade right leaning groups to put the public good above their perceived private good on issues like amnesty for cheap labor or regulations to punish competitors, but we have to recognize that the mere fact some of our allies have these private interests doesn’t make them traitors, it just makes them human.
Pride is also a factor here. There are many establishment groups and interests who have toiled for Republican causes for many decades who now feel disrespected by conservative insurgents who recognize that we need a new direction. The old guard has carried the water all their lives and they resent being told that their efforts were not sufficient or were misguided. Again, that just makes them human. Conservatives need to have an attitude that accords due respect to entrenched interests while humbly insisting that we have to make changes to reverse the political momentum in the nation while the country can be saved.
I point out the existence of these two power structures not to create a divide, but to show that there is a need for unity. Both sides need each other in order to ultimately prevail over the left, which is growing and will naturally tend to grow in the absence of any effective opposing conservative movement. I also point this out in order to illustrate that establishment politicians are still very responsive to the people who elect them and who they are accountable to, which is not the conservative grass roots. This means that the establishment is not necessarily a barrier that conservatives have to overcome, which I believe is how most conservatives now view the establishment for obvious reasons. The establishment can and should become the tool of conservatives that we can use to achieve the restoration of good government we desire. In order to convert the establishment from an obstacle to an opportunity conservatives need to broaden their approach to politics.
The best way to convert establishment Republicans into conservatives is to redden their district. Conservative electoral energy shouldn’t just focus on making purple districts red, but on making red districts redder. Driving out RINO Republicans out in primaries can similarly, but not always, be a waste of resources that could be better used driving out a Democrat or just making a RINO’s district more conservative in the general election. Conservatives should also branch out from their usual groups and join more establishment oriented groups with the goal of reddening them as well. Any organization is no more and no less than the people who make it up. If conservatives stay home and let narrow special interests control Republican groups then nothing will change.
I refer not only to political groups, but also trade groups and other groups that have political dealings. On any given day on Capitol Hill there are dozens of special interest groups made up of grass roots Republicans and even conservatives who are lobbying Republican members of Congress from their own home district for policies that are not conservative. Are you in construction? Find out what your local home builder’s association is lobbying for in Congress. Are you in real estate? You might want to check up on the Realtor’s Association. There is an association for almost every profession in America and they’re all in Congress putting conservative voters from your Congressman’s home district in his or her office to lobby for big government attention to their private interests. We need principled conservatives to join these groups, participate, and make sure that small government conservatism trumps private interest.
Conservatives have expended tremendous energy on changing the outcome of elections and to good result as we saw just a few short weeks ago in November. But no matter how much we change elections we won’t change our government unless we also change all the different inputs that go into government policy. Elections are just one of those inputs. We also need to change the culture in our communities, our businesses, our trade associations, our churches, our local media, our local charities, and our schools. If we can make our culture conservative then we can co-opt the wealth and organization strength of the Republican establishment for conservative ends. If we do not change the culture we can change the leadership or the elected official as many times as we want, but we’ll still get the same disastrous outcomes.