Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, is supposed to give a speech on Tuesday night, discussing the future of the Republican Party. Based on his performance so far, and the comments he made to Fox News about the upcoming speech, we can only hope to be pleasantly surprised.
Conservatives have a rocky relationship with the Republican Party. America has many groups with different priorities, but we live in a two-party system. Those two parties are the Republicans and Democrats, and this is not likely to change any time soon. The price of gutting and replacing one party is decades of political oblivion, and conservatives cannot afford the time it would take to haul the old GOP jalopy into the chop shop, strip out the useful parts, and assemble that sweet turbocharged Conservative Party muscle car they’ve been dreaming of.
Besides the obvious disadvantage of nurturing a new party that would draw most of its strength from the existing Republican Party, leaving the united Democrats an open political field, there’s the problem of building local, state, and congressional support. I wouldn’t envy the new Conservative Party president in 2020, striding into Congress fresh off a miraculous electoral victory, to find a chamber filled predatory Democrats licking their chops, a rump party of sullen Republicans using their Blackberries to write op-eds about how completely doomed the isolated new President is… and maybe a couple of fresh-faced Conservative Party congressmen from Texas, waving foam fingers and shouting encouragement from the back row. Party machinery takes a lifetime to build, and if you think the RINOs receive disproportionate attention from the media now, just wait until the press gets a chance to portray them as heroic warrior-poets battling a hateful, ignorant Conservative Party insurgency.
We’re stuck with the Republicans as a political vehicle, like it or not. Several groups with profound disagreements are crammed into that vehicle, and everyone wants to be driving it when it makes its big comeback. The preferred tactic for gaining control of the party involves trying to kick all your rivals out, while loudly accusing them of trying to kick you out. Steele is correct to talk about finding common ground that unites the various bickering factions and personalities, although his performance so far makes me wonder if he’s the guy to do it. He’s also right to insist that his party doesn’t narrowly speak to one segment of the population. The trick is to speak to all of the population, without trying to agree with all of them. Leadership is based on persuasion. You can only make that fabled “big tent” so big… then you’ve got to start inviting people inside.
Republicans would do well to begin by dismissing the other side’s silly caricatures of them, and rejecting their false premises, instead of tacitly agreeing with them. Self-doubt is not an appealing trait to the electorate. The Beta Party isn’t going to have much luck cruising the battleground states, trying to pick up voters by listing its flaws and promising to improve itself. Steele had another grating soundbite along these lines Monday, when he said “How is kicking Colin Powell out, or kicking Dick Cheney out or Rush Limbaugh in going to feed a child who’s hungry tonight?” For one thing, Mr. Steele, Colin Powell kicked himself out. Our children are being bankrupted by the reckless spending of the man Colin Powell helped to elect. He owes Republicans, and Americans, an apology for his betrayal of his ‘dear old friend’ John McCain, and until he makes it, he’s irrelevant, and a Democrat. For another thing, the composition of the Republican Party leadership has absolutely nothing to do with hungry children. The number of hungry children will remain precisely the same if Colin Powell, Rush Limbaugh, Olympia Snowe, or Michael Steele leaves the Republican Party. The streets of America are not teeming with starving orphans who lowered their heads and wept helplessly at the news Arlen Specter became a Democrat
The second important step for Republicans is highlighting the fantastic corruption of the Democrat party. This obviously needs to be accompanied by a rigorous cleaning up of their own act, but at least the electoral beatings they took over the last two years have given them a head start. Polls tell us people are increasingly nervous about the titanic deficits and radical expansions of government power under Obama. They need to be reminded how regularly the party that has asserted all this power abuses it. Part of the case for a saner, more limited government must include pointing out the inevitable theft and influence peddling that accompanies the total state. Most people look at the government and see only the President. Steele and his aides should make sure every American knows about Nancy Pelosi, John Murtha, Dianne Feinstein, Charles Rangel, and Maxine Waters. Handing over control of vast funds and private industries to the government is foolish; handing that control to a gang of criminals is idiotic. Part of the case against socialism is that it breeds this kind of criminality. The honesty of a government decreases as its size increases. People like Rangel and Murtha have too much influence to sell, and too many buyers eagerly lined up. Obama’s statist agenda will triple their inventory.
Steele should work to reconcile the differences between fiscal and social conservatives, because they are both important to the Republican Party. Social conservatives are crucial to achieving victory, because they have the passion and energy to make the moral case against socialism. Socialists don’t try to make their case to voters on the grounds of pure efficiency – they’d look like fools, given the history of liberal social programs since the Great Society. They present their programs as a moral imperative. The value of socialist programs is not measured by whether they turn a profit, or come in under budget. It doesn’t do much good to fire up a Power Point presentation showing that big-government liberalism is wasteful and ineffective, when the voter has already been convinced there is no ethical alternative. Obama’s crazed spending binge has made people nervous, but they’re still waiting to be told exactly WHY it’s bad. You can’t get the attention of today’s distracted, emotional, tabloid culture by smacking them on the nose with a rolled-up copy of the Wall Street Journal. Waiting for them to wake up and see the obvious lunacy of a four-trillion-dollar federal budget is not a winning game plan.
Once the Republicans win office, the discipline of fiscal conservatism is essential for keeping them there. The temptation of all that centralized power and money is not diminished just because there’s an (R) after the congressman’s name. It was a mistake for voters and party leadership to forget this in the latter years of the Bush Administration, and it would be a mistake to forget it after 2010. Fiscal conservatives are the institutional memory of the Republican Party, once it gains office. It will never get there without the social conservatives and their moral critique of blind, corrupt government fueled by confiscatory taxation. The two wings of the party need to work together. We need leaders who understand that, and can help to bring it about.
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