(Self examination is good. But just as Pope Francis said the Catholic Church without Christ is just another NGO, a party bereft of values is just an avenue for some to achieve power. – promoted by Rob “EaBo Clipper” Eno)
As you probably know, in the past week, there was the big, annual conservative conference in Washington, D.C., and yesterday, the Republican National Committee released a bold, 100-page report on the state of the party in light of the 2012 elections. While lots of people are talking about each, I think it is useful to talk about them together.
It is important to note that the conference is not called, “RPAC”. It is about the conservative movement, as seen by the conference sponsors and the American Conservative Union. Technically, you could be a conservative Democrat and feel comfortable at this conference. (Having observed the coverage and known many who have gone, I don’t think Democrats go to it in anything other than token numbers.)
From all the speeches over the years, it is clear that conservatives think they are the core of the Republican party, and those in the Republican party who don’t agree with them have somehow lost their way. The goal of this conference, is to promote the ideas and organizations behind the conference, and rally the attendees, and conservatives nationwide to their causes. OK.
The conference isn’t really about electoral issues, or coalition-building, per se. There is some introspection about the viability of the movement, but not a lot. (So Jeb Bush warned about how too many people view the conservative movement negatively, for example.) There are panel discussions on broadening the movement. They don’t seem to make headlines or a difference.
But the conference this year clearly elevated three Senators: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and to a lesser extent, Marco Rubio. It also made a point of excluding Gov. Chris Christie – as he is now seen as not being the conservative hero that he was, due to some statements and one or two policy points. (He actually has to govern in a blue state.)
Let’s look at the keynote address by Senator Ted Cruz. I couldn’t find a written transcript, so I watched his 34 minute speech and took notes.
Cruz opens with the “defeatist attitude” among Republicans that he said he noticed since he arrived in Washington a few months ago. Senator Cruz, perhaps that’s because we lost the Presidency, the popular vote, senate seats, house seats, and the national vote for House seats by 2 million. Perhaps it is because people who don’t live in solid red states like you realize that the Republican party no longer has a 51% coalition thanks to demographic and cultural changes in America. For you to say that the last three weeks show that “we are winning” is like telling the Germans after D-Day that the Battle of the Hedgerows was going well for them.
I could go on and on about the demagoguery of Senator Cruz – scaring us about a “done hitting you in a cafe” or his comments about the second amendment that are completely ignorant of the 2006 Heller Supreme Court case, or his exaggeration about the government shutting down charities and hospitals, or the fact that as a legislator, he can write a new drone policy whenever he wants to. Or his comparison of the filibuster to the defense of the Alamo itself. (The men of the Alamo would have joined the filibuster with Senator Paul. He actually said that.)
But the point is that men like Senator Cruz and Senator Paul don’t have to be concerned with the Republican Party or whether it has the ideas, culture, mechanics, or a broad enough coalition to win. They are in the business of promoting their ideology. Some of this ideology is helpful to a national coalition to elect a president.(Cruz’s stuff on opportunity is decent, but I guess he doesn’t know that social mobility is fading from America. Someone send him some reading material.) Some of this ideology is not. Do they have to figure out the right recipe? Do they have to make compromises? No. That’s someone else’s job. That takes us to the RNC.
Second, the RNC.
Unlike Senator Cruz, the RNC has to worry about how Senator Cruz sounds to the rest of America. Because the RNC has some awful reality to face. (quoting from the report here:)
“Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. States in which our presidential candidates used to win, such as New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Florida, are increasingly voting Democratic.
We are losing in too many places.
It has reached the point where in the past six presidential elections, four have gone to the Democratic nominee, at an average yield of 327 electoral votes to 211 for the Republican. During the preceding two decades, from 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five out of six elections, averaging 417 electoral votes to Democrats’ 113.1
Public perception of the Party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us.”
Do Cruz and Paul worry about this? No. They have our back on Obama bombing us in our local cafes. They are safe in Texas and Kentucky and the fact that there are fewer safe places for Republicans is of no concern to them. (We here in MA just aren’t defending the constitution enough, I suppose.)
The RNC also is data-driven. Demagogues are media-driven. The RNC has all the electoral data. They have polling. They did focus groups all over America to get the results for their report. They had to confront America as it really is, and the party as it really is.
I could write so much about how shocked I was to see a national political party write such a comprehensive, detailed, honest, and bold assessment of its problems. It was totally unexpected and a breath of fresh air. Does it mean we have to do all that it says? No. But I think all Republicans nationwide should acknowledge its conclusions and show why they disagree, and why that disagreement won’t be fatal to winning in 2014 and 2016.
The report is controversial in places. Great! We could use some controversy. I understand many will be against it purely because of its outright endorsement of a path to citizenship for illegals and for its between-the-lines endorsement of gay marriage. But if conservatives think we can just keep the immigration status quo and deny marriage to gay people – well.. you must live in places like Texas or Kentucky.
(UPDATE: An hour ago – Tuesday morning -, it was announced that Paul would get behind a path to citizenship, depending on border security. Wonderful! Looks like the report forced his hand. Let’s hope he is serious and will join the senators working on it.)
But for every person I have seen freak out about the report, I have seen another Republican – especially among women, gays, minorities, technologists, and young Republicans – cheer it. Finally – the party “gets it” about its problems! Finally, there is hope that there will be reforms that will get us in line with the demographic and cultural changes in America. Finally!
Ultimately, I think we are going to see a split among the Republican party. There will be those that #standwithrand and think this is all about reclaiming conservative principles and standing by language in the constitution as the answer to our problems. But there will be others who realize that the Republican party needs to do a lot of hard organizational work and build a lot of things and modernize itself and change some of the things it stands for in order to win lots of elections in 21st century America.
I realize that the average RMG writer is going to be with Senators Rand and Cruz – despite the fact that no state in America needs Republican reform more than this one. The fact that the national party has drifted away from Massachusetts voters is our #1 problem. But of course, too many of our activists don’t see it that way. They are with the conservatives, not the Republicans, who, you know, have to figure out how to win elections.