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  • “A GOP Civil War: Who Benefits?”

    Posted by Jonathan on December 28th, 2013 (All posts by )

    A long and thoughtful article in Commentary by Michael Medved & John Podhoretz.

    The conclusion:

    Republicans will win meaningful victories only when they lose their appetite for martyrdom and fratricide and concentrate on forcing the other side to pay a political price for its own incompetent performance and dysfunctional ideology. Most Republicans, as the history of the last 40 years demonstrates, want precisely that. The question now is whether this real majority will be overrun. If that happens, the truest beneficiary of the intra-Republican civil war will be the Democratic Party, and those who divided the right will deserve some share of the blame for the advancement of the very policies and principles they claim to abhor.

    The authors make what may be the best case possible for the politicians Tea Partiers think of as the GOP leadership. The gist of the argument is that 1) primary challenges have substantial long-term costs in Republican political effectiveness, and 2) the national political environment has changed in ways that make political quarrelling personally rewarding for unscrupulous operators who do not have the good of the Party at heart. Also, the authors assume that continued Republican forbearance on important issues such as Obamacare would have yielded better results than the confrontational tactics used by Senator Ted Cruz and other Tea Party favorites.

    The main problem with the article is that it ignores significant reasons for conservatives’ dissatisfaction with the Republican leadership: it loses winnable elections, concedes important principles by refusing to engage Democrats on ideas, pulls punches in publicly criticising President Obama and his subordinates and has treated conservative constituents with contempt. The point about needing to “concentrate on forcing the other side to pay a political price for its own incompetent performance and dysfunctional ideology” applies at least as strongly to Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative John Boehner as to Ted Cruz.

    The authors are correct about the rise of mercenary political consultants and solo-operator pols whose interests do not always align with those of the voters, but so what? These trends, driven by mass-media and now the Internet, have existed for at least forty years and affect both political parties. The Democrats appear to be coping well on the whole, and President Obama owes much of his political success to his ability to exploit this new environment.*

    The bottom line is that if the Republicans were winning more elections no one would care about the other issues. To argue as the authors do that Republicans used to win elections by appealing to the moderate middle of the electorate misses the point. The political environment has changed and Democrats have so far been more skilled than Republicans in adapting. The Tea Party’s favorite politicians may be using suboptimal tactics but at least they understand that new approaches are needed. Sometimes an organization needs driven, self-centered people who will try new things when more conventionally responsible leaders won’t. If your leaders keep failing you eventually replace them even if they argue plausibly that they will soon turn things around. Accountability for failure is a prerequisite for success.

    The Republican “civil war” isn’t really a war. It’s more like a struggle for control of the board of directors of a public company that has been losing money for years and has a large group of unhappy shareholders. Such a struggle can be healthy if it gets the company to replace management and implement reforms, even though insiders who benefit from the status quo may lose out in the process.

    —-

    * It may be that the Democrats will crash and burn electorally because of Obamacare or their various scandals and foreign-policy debacles, but these are own-goals that Republicans had little to do with. Similarly, the Republicans would have done better if several Tea Party favored Congressional candidates in 2010 and 2012 had not turned out to be seriously flawed. But if those candidates had won President Obama most likely would still have been reelected and would still have done great harm to the country. even if he didn’t get Obamacare passed.

     

    27 Responses to ““A GOP Civil War: Who Benefits?””

    1. MikeK Says:

      The most beneficial purpose of the Tea Party is to do local organizing and education of volunteers who can then run for local committee posts. The IRS did a good job of impeding this last year. The primary challenges are a sign of anger with the trend of country club Republicans toward “ruling class” behavior. Medved has been pushing “immigration reform” on his radio show. He is an example of why the religious “conservatives” aren’t always so conservative.

    2. Lexington Green Says:

      Quote of the day:

      The Republican “civil war” isn’t really a war. It’s more like a struggle for control of the board of directors of a public company that has been losing money for years and has a large group of unhappy shareholders. Such a struggle can be healthy if it gets the company to replace management and implement reforms, even though insiders who benefit from the status quo may lose out in the process.

      Right. Not a war. No one dies.

      And it is a healthy process.

      It is a matter of who runs the company and gets to use the brand, and the advantages that come from controlling the brand — particularly with regard to ballot access under various state laws.

    3. Subotai Bahadur Says:

      Republicans will win meaningful victories

      It depends on what values of the word “meaningful” are used.

      To the Institutionals, meaningful is defined as leaving the current “leadership” cadre in comfort and not on bad terms with their “distinguished colleagues across the aisle”.

      For the base of the party, Conservatives, TEA Party, or otherwise; meaningful means active opposition to Leftist policy and its implementation. Successful opposition would be preferred, of course; but for the last few decades we have not even seen unsuccessful opposition and one hell of a lot of collaboration.

      We have seen an active declaration of war on the base, by the party leadership.

      For decades I was an extremely active Republican. Convention delegate, running a county level presidential campaign. I left the party in disgust just a few days shy of a year ago. I am wondering what town will be the new Ripon, Wisconsin; although I have doubts whether electoral politics are relevant any longer.

      Subotai Bahadur

    4. pouncer Says:

      Remember Murkowski in Alaska?

      The gimmick right now is for conservative challengers to very loudly proclaim that they will support the primary winners, whoever they turn out to be. And challenge conservative incumbents to match that pledge.

      An incumbent who will NOT pledge to abide by the voter’s expressed primary preference deserves no further support.

    5. Mike Doughty Says:

      Like it or not, we have a two Party system. I often wonder if people who say, “I vote for the best candidate, regardless of Party”, have a glimmer of a clue of how politics in this country work. In primaries, I give money and work for the Republican that I believe best supports my view of things. In the general election, I vote for the Republican, whoever he or she is, because the alternative is a Democrat….it’s really no more complicated than that.

      I also write letters and call elected officials to express my views. Am I happy…..hell no! But it’s the system we have to work with.

    6. Jim Miller Says:

      An observation and a question: For years, I have been fascinated by a curious symmetry: Activists in both of our major parties are half convinced that their elected officials are wimps who don’t fight hard enough aqainst the other party. (One of the reasons that Elizabeth Warren is popular among Democratic activists is because she appeals to that belief.)

      And now the question: It has seemed to me, ever since I began to think seriously about these questions more than fifty years ago, that there is some truth in the “median voter theorem”, and similar arguments.

      Jonathan, do think that theorem (and similar arguments) tells us anything about successful campaign strategies?

      (I assume all of you have studied the theorem, but, if not, you can find a write-up at Wikipedia.)

    7. Subotai Bahadur Says:

      pouncer Says:
      December 28th, 2013 at 3:56 pm

      Remember Murkowski in Alaska?

      The gimmick right now is for conservative challengers to very loudly proclaim that they will support the primary winners, whoever they turn out to be. And challenge conservative incumbents to match that pledge.

      An incumbent who will NOT pledge to abide by the voter’s expressed primary preference deserves no further support.

      Agreed, but keeping in mind Murkowski herself, Mike Castle in Maryland, Karl Rove, John Cornyn, and Mitch McConnell and John Boehner who are openly at war with us; if such a pledge were made, is there any Conservative who could trust them to keep it?

      Of course, that would just bring the Whig Moment that much closer when they inevitably break their word.

      Subotai Bahadur

    8. Jonathan Says:

      Jim,

      I think there’s some wisdom in the theory. Or to put it differently, I think the median ideological preference of US voters has shifted leftward over the past couple of generations.

      However, I also think that a one-dimensional scale of voter preferences is simplistic. In many populations the distribution would be multi-modal, depending on the unique issues and candidates in particular elections. (As a hypothetical example, Obamacare as an implicit referendum item that many voters have strong negative feelings about might overwhelm those same voters’ general preference for Obama.)

    9. Xennady Says:

      I’m sorry to be mean, but that article from Commentary is a steaming pile of establishment shinola.

      Just what exactly has to happen before the GOP establishment notices that it is failing? How massive must that cluebat be, and how hard must it hit, before the party stops blaming its most enthusiastic supporters for electoral defeat?

      The authors go back more than 40 years- 40 freakin’ years- to attack the base of the party, for pity’s sake.

      It’s interesting to see Kelly Ayotte mentioned, as she achieved some measure of infamy for announcing that she would support the latest Harry Reid amnesty bill before it crashed and burned, going back upon her promises during the campaign. I won’t bother to discuss Marco Rubio. Dick Lugar- last seen maneuvering Obama’s idiotic arms control treaty through the Senate- turned out not even to own a home in the state he supposedly represented. Why doesn’t the establishment have a problem with that?

      And from what I read of it Mike Castle surely would have won if he had simply bothered to campaign against the witch. But no, that was apparently too demeaning for an establishment poobah to ask for peoples’ votes. Instead, we’re supposed to shut up, vote for the candidate the establishment wants, then bleed out quietly after they stab us in the back.

      I’m done. My very first vote- a protest- was for Pat Buchanan and against Bush 41. I would have thought John Podhoretz would understand why, having written a book about the fumbling ineptitude of that president, but apparently not.

      Pitiful.

    10. djf Says:

      “Similarly, the Republicans would have done better if several Tea Party favored Congressional candidates in 2010 and 2012 had not turned out to be seriously flawed. But if those candidates had won President Obama most likely would still have been reelected and would have done great harm to the country even if he didn’t get Obamacare passed.”

      The two most important candidates you’re referring to – the two women who needlessly delivered the Nevada and Delaware Senate seats to the Democrats – did not suddenly turn out to be seriously flawed after they were nominated. They were known to be flakes and sure-losers before they were nominated. Also, Obamacare was passed in early 2010, long before the November election that year.

      I’m no fan of the Republican establishment, but to say that the tactics of the Tea Party and its “insurgent” leaders have been “suboptimal” is a vast understatement. The government shutdown, for example, accomplished nothing – as was completely foreseeable – except to make Ted Cruz a national figure (mostly of derision) and get him mentioned as a future presidential nominee (in which role he would be a sure loser).

      The problem with both the GOP establishment and the Tea Party is that both have difficulty addressing the concerns of ordinary voters and in speaking a language that is meaningful to ordinary voters. Replacing the time-serving, self-seeking Rovian party establishment will accomplish nothing if the replacements are shrill ideologues who are addicted to publicity stunts and can’t connect with voters outside the base.

    11. Jonathan Says:

      Djf,

      Of course you are correct about the date of the Obamacare vote. Dumb error on my part (corrected).

      On the candidates, I was thinking also of Akin in 2012. In 2010 Angle might have won if she had run a better campaign.

      None of this changes my argument, however. Both parties have been affected by the technological and societal changes that Medved and Podhoretz cited only in reference to Republican Party failures.

      Nor was I arguing for the superiority of Cruz et al. My point was simply that the Tea Party Republicans seem to understand better than the old guard that new approaches will be needed if their party is to win more elections going forward.

    12. Lexington Green Says:

      “… the Tea Party Republicans seem to understand better than the old guard that new approaches will be needed if their party is to win more elections going forward.”

      Second quote of the day. They do. The road the national GOP is on now is the one that the Illinois GOP has been on for a while. The path to irrelevancy and erosion to super-minority status.

      The Tea Party and like-minded people know that only actual alternatives will motivate voters and give the GOP a reason to even exist.

    13. djf Says:

      Jonathan,

      Akin, too, was known before the primary to be the weakest candidate whom the Republicans could have nominated for his race in MO (my recollection is that his primary campaign was largely financed by Democrats). Although it is true that he did not make his asinine remark about abortion until after being nominated. To be fair, I don’t think he was the Tea Party candidate.

      The Tea Party is correct that a new approach is needed. Unfortunately, their approach is ultimately the wrong one (albeit with some elements of the right approach) if the goal is to take control of the federal government. There is more than one path to irrelevancy.

    14. Kirk Parker Says:

      Jonathan,

      From your lips to Medved’s ears! (We can hope; I omit Podhoretz as he seems as lost a cause as George Will or Peggy Noonan.)

      Djf,

      It’s really much much simpler than you imply.

      I want someone who will represent ME in Washington DC, not someone who will “go native” and (in the most fabulous phrase, the author of which I wish I could remember so I could credit) “represent DC to his/her district”.

    15. ErisGuy Says:

      Absolutely: I have long argued that the GOP should imitate the same tactic as the Democrats: NO ENEMIES TO THE RIGHT! But the GOP leadership instead has adopted the Democrat tactic: NO ENEMIES TO THE LEFT.

    16. ErisGuy Says:

      “Similarly, the Republicans would have done better if several Tea Party favored Congressional candidates in 2010 and 2012 had not turned out to be seriously flawed. “

      Maybe. Several GOP candidates turned out seriously flawed, too: Jeffords, Snowe, Spector, McCain,… do I really need to list them all? This never discredited the GOP. Instead it was seen as mavericks broadening the appeal of the big tent GOP. And it worked. The people got the GOP they deserved.

    17. Jonathan Says:

      McCain is the classic counter-example of a Republican who cultivates leftist constituencies, particularly in the media, and sometimes undermines his own party, yet gets a pass on the kind of criticism that Cruz and other Tea Party favorites get.

    18. MikeK Says:

      ” The government shutdown, for example, accomplished nothing – as was completely foreseeable ”

      I think it established the fact that Obamacare was adamantly opposed by the GOP. That may yet bear fruit.

    19. Benefits Avatar Says:

      You cannot ignore the question of interest. – George Washington at the Convention in Philadelphia.

      We have two political factions in America, those with government power and those being destroyed to further their power and money.

      There’s one political party in power.

      One. The Government Party.

      The GOP knows their interests are with government.

      If your fortunes are not tied to government then your vote only advances their interests.

    20. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

      Call me silly, but I have a modest proposal. Instead of everyone being Just Darn Sure they know what will work and who will get more votes, picking their favorite anecdotes of why their theory is surely true, why don’t we actually try and study this? Clearly, some holding one’s nose and voting in solidarity is good, but some is too much and detrimental long term. How do we measure and decide such things, appeal to the whole corpus of data rather than a few high-profile elections that make us feel smart. Is there a difference between elections that remained local versus those which got nationalised? Does it matter whether economics, war, social issues, or immigration is the leading issue? There is a series of essays, and perhaps a book in this for a person who wants it badly enough.

      I’m sorry, I lost my head. I can’t believe I made such a foolish suggestion. Please resume the same argument I have been burdened with listening to for the last 25 years.

    21. Benefits Avatar Says:

      “why don’t we actually try and study this? ”

      We haven’t? We certainly have. No matter what “this” is..it’s been studied.

      So..why?

      This is about power and interest.

    22. Buanadha Says:

      A few things — in general, there are a number of flawed candidates coming from all spectrums of the republican party. Akin was definitively NOT the tea party candidate in MO. He was somebody else’s idiot (supported and financed by Dem’s in no small part), but even the idiot he was would have been a better senator than Claire M.

      The Tea Party is not a national, centralized organizations. A number of groups want to use their name, but if you look at them as a loose coalition of libertarian (small l), small government and lower taxes people then it’s easy to see the momentum they have across the country. Local elections and now state elections are starting to be filled with candidates from the tea party ranks. As they build their bench, they will continue to build influence, and as the old guard of the Republican party continues to retire and go away, they will become even more influential.

    23. newrouter Says:

      was carli finori a “failed” candidate? meg whitman? only tea party peeps are “failed”? ruining class go eff urself.

    24. newrouter Says:

      how about charlie crist and david dewhurst?

    25. grey eagle Says:

      WE have a 2 party system because Federal and state laws make it impossible to create a third party.

      Sometimes the Democrats change the name of their party – eg. in minnesota they are the DFL. There will never again be a national third party. Grassroots Third parties are effectively illegal under McCain Feingold and other laws as enforced by the IRS, NSA, CIA, DEA, DHS and FBI! These agencies are helping the GOP leadership fight off attempts by Republicans to take over the Republican Party.

      Currently the Democrats have infiltrated and taken over the GOP. Both Romney and McCain are lifelong loyal Democrats who have infiltrated the GOP. If you doubt me, check their files at the NSA. The current Senate and party leadership are democrat cadres. This too is proved in NSA files. Snowden has copies which is why the GOP leadership calls him a traitor. Read the leadership’s campaign literature. It supports Obama’s plans and condemns any attempt to restore Free Enterprise to the USA.

      We have on-party rule. We have internal passport checks. We have our own Stasi. We are socialist run by cronys. We have fulfilled the Beatles’ prophesy. We are back in the USSR.

    26. tomw Says:

      Sharon Angle might have won in Nevada if Republican hostel owners had not encouraged their cleaning and maintenance staff to vote for their bought Senator, Harry. From what I read, employees were granted time off, and shipped in vans to the polls. Rumor is their vote was 100% D. All that was necessary was to carry Las Vegas and that would overpower any and all votes from the remainder of the state.
      The MO guy was a loser, propped up by McCaskill supporters, the IN guy, Mourdock, I believe was a Tea Party pick, and his words were distorted and tortured by the media, as expected, leading to his loss. Lugar was trying to cement his place in history with treaty negotiations, rather than representing Indiana. He should have retired earlier, and I believe he still does not have a Hoosier residence.
      Think about how close the elections were, even with the media bias. To my way of thinking, the conservatives did pretty well, and reflects that there is a good portion of conservatives in the electorate. The liberals were not able to win very decisively, and all their talk suggesting the Republicans need to cater to specific groups is misdirection. The libs have to convince their ‘special interest groups’ to ignore the discord and contradictory statements of the candidates and vote for the D candidate no matter what. Herding cats. They are not invincible, but the R’s need to quit going-along-to-get-along.
      Snouts out of the trough, and quit supporting D proposals.
      Ted Cruz goal, IMO, was to raise awareness of the PPACA flaws. In that, he was successful. He drew a lot of attention to the issue.
      The D’s successfully blamed the shutdown on the R’s, even though the concession the R’s asked for was granted, illegally, by Presidential Rule. He promised to veto legislation that accomplished what he enacted by decree. And blamed the R’s. They were successful in shifting the blame from Harry Reids intransigence in presenting bills passed by the House. He left them in his inbox, and successfully painted the R’s as evil, while the Dept of the Interior was ‘protecting’ the WWII open-air monument… and closing privately operated camp grounds, along with trampling on private citizens’ plans for weddings, reunions, and so on.
      It was deftly handled by the D organizers in the WH.

    27. Bill Brandt Says:

      James Carville said that Cruz was the sharpest Republican out there – The governor’s race in VA was very close, too.