Since the this summer a low level civil war has been simmering within the GOP between conservatives who have grown tired of the lack of desire on the part of the Establishment to resist the radical statism that has epitomized the regime of Barack Obama and the Establishment that seems more than happy to go along with Obama so long as they are kept in champagne and caviar. Many solid conservatives have insisted that the division is overblown and that a big tent is necessary to win elections.
To anyone remaining that thinks a reasonable accommodation may be made with the GOP Establishment, today’s op-ed by Michael Gerson (The GOP’s new reality) should serve as a wake up call. In fact, it is apparent from Gerson’s op-ed that the Establishment views conservatives, not the Democrats, as the existential threat to their place at the trough.
Following the recent tea party Tet Offensive — tactically disastrous but symbolically important — the Republican establishment has commenced counterinsurgency operations. Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee — both facing primary challenges from the right — are responding more forcefully to their populist opponents. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has cut ties with a Republican advertising firm employed by tea party challengers. “We’re not going to do business,” says a spokesman, “with people who profit off of attacking Republicans. Purity for profit is a disease that threatens the Republican Party.”
This vivid turn of phrase — “purity for profit” — captures the main reason Republican leaders are edging away from a strategy of accommodation. The Obama era has unleashed a great deal of genuine populist and libertarian energy. But a good portion of it is being channeled into business and fundraising models that depend on stoking resentment against the GOP itself (at least as currently constituted).
The result is a paradox. Over the past few decades, Republican members of Congress have become more reliably conservative (as their Democratic colleagues, to a lesser extent, have become more liberal). Liberal Republicanism has essentially ceased to exist. This means that tea party conservatives are revolting against a more uniformly conservative party. The RINOs they hunt are actually an endangered species. So they have transformed tactical disagreements — over, say, a hopeless attempt to defund Obamacare — into defining ideological struggles.
I’m going to pause here to address some of the strawmen Gerson has immolated.
First, the disagreement over the government shutdown was only a disagreement over tactics in the shallowest sense. I wrote about that in The Budget Showdown Was About Ideology Not About Tactics.
The disagreement was between those of us who see really clearly that the objective of Obamacare is the implementation of a single payer healthcare system after trashing one-sixth of the US economy and those who agree with what Obama is trying to do but prefer to do it more efficiently and maintain the artifice of a market based economy. Remember, it was the Establishment making the rounds of Sunday shows deriding those who were fighting as “whacko birds” and doubting whether they were Republicans. They were too busy to fight Obama but they had plenty of time to fight conservatives. They had plenty of time to send out fundraising letters based on the three dozen or so staged Potemkin votes they’d made to repeal Obamacare, but when push came to shove, when it became, as we Southerners call it, nut cutting time, they were nowhere to be seen.
The flows into his second point. Last week, Mitch McConnell henchman, NRSC spokesman and douchebag par excellence Brad Dayspring gave an interview to the New York Times (yes, the medium can be a huge part of the message) disparaging conservatives and announcing that the NRSC would not work with anyone who employed a political consulting firm called the Jamestown Associates (see Mitch McConnell: Spoiled Brat). In this interview he said:
“We’re not going to do business with people who profit off of attacking Republicans,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the committee. “Purity for profit is a disease that threatens the Republican Party.”
This juvenile attack was brought on by the Senate Conservatives Fund endorsement of a primary challenger to Mitch McConnell. It actually speaks volume for the disease that has infected the GOP that purity is viewed as a bad thing. What Dayspring really is saying that it is fine to sell accommodation with Harry Reid for profit but any challenge to that status quo is illegitimate.
This underscores the essential Ruling Class-Country Class conflict in the GOP today. On the one hand we have the Establishment represented by the likes of the flaccid and mildly corrupt Mitch McConnell who are perfectly happy raising money from hard working Americans under the guise of pushing a conservative agenda that is opposed by too many people who feel they have been lied to for too long.
The Republican Party, in the business of winning elections, has little choice but to respond. But an effective, long-term response will require conservatives to understand that political parties exist for good reasons. Jesse Norman’s recent biography, “Edmund Burke: The First Conservative,” makes the case that Burke (a Rockingham Whig) helped found the modern party system. In Burke’s view, parties (while hardly perfect instruments) promote civil cooperation in common goals, encourage leaders to rise above factional interests and channel public sentiments into realistic strategies and policies.
Here is where Gerson goes completely off the rails.
There is exactly zero evidence today that the GOP exists to win elections.
To the contrary all the evidence indicates that it exists to perpetuate the perks and power of the party leadership and to provide sinecures for a coterie of pathetic losers like former NRSC director Rob Jesmer. They aren’t trying to win elections, they are selecting their buddies to become members of their country club and if their buddy loses the primary they are more than willing to help the Democrats win the general election. As Erick posted in The Hungry and the Well Fed, they play us for chumps asking for money and assuring us that they will fight like the very devil himself… after the next election… and provided the right guy wins.
It is pretty fitting, though, that Gerson began his essay with comparing the government shutdown to the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive of 1968. I don’t think it is a bad comparison. In fact, I think it is very apt. I hope Gerson has fun trying to buy a plane ticket to Saigon.