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