The need for more direct action against the GOP establishment
I was reading Da Tech Guy’s musings on why limited government types need to work within the GOP rather than try a third party approach to rid themselves of the GOP establishment. He quotes Rush Limbaugh on what Ronald Reagan managed to do the last time the GOP establishment found themselves threatened:
The real question, in my humble opinion, is that this effort and energy needs to be used, as Ronald Reagan did, to take over the Republican Party, to repopulate it and that’s exactly what Reagan did, he took it away from the Rockefeller blue-blood country club types starting in 1976, took him ’til 1980 to do it.
Worked before, so it should work again, right? I’m skeptical.
First, what did Reagan really accomplish? A few things, sure. Don’t get me wrong – he was the best we’ve seen in my lifetime, but given the competition, that doesn’t mean much.
He got income taxes down from their preposterous progressive wet dream rates of 70%. He stood up to the Soviet Union, and possibly hastened the crumbling of that creaking empire by a few years. He made it respectable, after the raging waves of liberalism in the sixties and seventies, to say that government was more likely to be a problem than a solution for social problems.
And that’s about it.
There was no “taking over the Republican Party” under Reagan. He got a few things done, but as soon as he was out the door, it was back to business as usual for the GOP.
Reagan was forced or induced by the GOP establishment to take on one of their blue bloods as his VP. Then, after Bush the Elder won what was supposedly a third helping of Reagan, he immediately broke his solemn promise on taxes, passed more social nonsense such as the ADA, and managed to fumble away the popularity and credibility built by Reagan to the point that he was defeated by a smarmy hick used car salesman from Arkansas.
The GOP then proceeded to nominate Bob Dole, Bush the Younger, John McCain, and Mitt Romney as their presidential candidates. GOP establishment stalwarts, every one of them. In some of those cases, the GOP establishment pulled out every trick in the book to drag their preferred choice over the finish line.
Yes, the GOP establishment learned something from the ascent of Reagan. They learned techniques to keep it from ever happening again.
The GOP establishment has made something perfectly clear: they would prefer to lose rather than let people like Reagan threaten their dominance of the party. Even when they get control, as Newt Gingrich managed in 1994, they revert to their ruling class habits and fumble the opportunity away without making any progress in limiting government. In fact, after a few years, and given a cooperative president, they proved they prefer bigger government to smaller. Under Bush, a classic GOP establishment blue blood, the establishment players in the Congress enthusiastically federalized education, passed a whole new social welfare program for seniors, and passed the biggest infringement of free speech seen in my lifetime (thankfully eventually overturned by the Supreme Court).
What motivation do limited government types have to vote for such weasels or give them support of any kind? Not much, and the elections of 2006 and 2008 proved it.
Even after seeing their limited government base re-energize the party and give them back control of the House in 2010, the GOP establishment still didn’t get the message. They worked their butts off to get the “electable” Mitt Romney as their presidential nominee. Having again shown contempt for limited government types, the establishment GOP thus managed to lose against one of the weakest presidential candidates for re-election in history. No one besides Obama has *ever* won re-election with fewer votes than he got the first time, which ought to tell you just how weak he was. But the GOP managed to be even weaker, with a candidate who looked like an android programmed to only say nice things, and never ever raise any of those unpleasant ideas about limiting government. Oh, no, government was just going to be managed better. Just like it was under those managerial types named Bush.
So how do these establishment GOP types keep getting what they want? One big reason is that limited government advocates such as Limbaugh, Da Tech Guy, Charles Krauthammer, Allahpundit over at Hot Air, and about half the denizens of sites such as Free Republic pound the same drum every election. Their basic message is “Yep, we’ve been screwed by these guys more times than we can count, but we still have to support them because the Democrats are worse!TM”
OK, message taken – the Democrats are worse. But, as limited government types demonstrated in three of the last four elections, that’s not enough reason to support the GOP establishment. Indeed, in the only exception that the GOP did well (2010), many of the limited government types only turned out because they were supporting someone other than an establishment candidate.
So we’re really four for four in proving that limited government types are fed up on supporting the establishment GOP.
Why on Earth would they not be? What’s the point of investing time, energy, and emotion in an effort to elect someone who will most likely end up being just as subverted by the GOP establishment as Bill Frist, Tom Coburn, Jeff Flake, and Mario Rubio have been?
And even on those occasions where a Ted Cruz or Rand Paul ends up winning and sticks to their guns, they can’t get anything done. After obediently voting for establishment GOP types for leadership positions, they then spend more time fighting the very people they supported instead of fighting Democrats.
The limited government advocates I mentioned above all desperately want to believe that the answer is simply running better primary candidates to beat establishment Republicans, but then supporting the establishment guys who win the rigged game at least nine times out of ten. That’s playing by their rules. I simply don’t see how that can ever work.
Therefore I’m confident that simply “working within the GOP” isn’t the answer. It’s a fantasy to think that will get us a party in which the leaders will work for limited government. The establishment GOP has decades of experience defeating every such attempt, and they’ve got the entire nomination and campaign financing game rigged in their favor.
Plus, the establishment GOP is willfully blind to the biggest successes the Republicans have had in my lifetime: Reagan, and the turnovers of Congress in 1994 and 2010. All three were fueled by enthusiasm for limited government. If the establishment GOP were simply practical politicians, they would embrace the limited government strategies and philosophies that won those elections.
But by subverting every one of those successes, they proved that they’re not just apathetic to limited government – they’re actively opposed to it. As members of the political class, the only thing they like about their limited government base is the votes provided. They are willing to pretend to embrace limited government principles to get those votes, but that just makes them more dishonest than Democrats, who are at least honest about growing government without end.
I see no reason to give the establishment GOP any quarter whatsoever.
The reluctant backers of the GOP establishment then say, “A third party would be disastrous! The Democrats would dominate for a generation!” I think things are a lot more complex than that.
First, waves of political change tend to happen in unpredictable, non-linear ways. We’re headed for some radical change in the next couple of decades, as we face multiple “what cannot go forever will stop” problems. Plus, a majority of people consider politicians more untrustworthy than the guys offering Three Card Monte on the streets of New York. I think there are plenty of possibilities in that mix to trigger the downfall of a major party.
Second, a third party opens up possibilities that make it more likely to genuinely take back the GOP by kicking out enough establishment Republicans.
The GOP stalwarts would have you think that the only way a third party would work is trying to challenge both the Democrat and the Republican in a large number of races. That would indeed give Democrats a better chance in marginal districts, and help them achieve majorities in Congress. But that’s not the only way to do it.
Many states allow candidates to run under the banner of more than one party. In such places, a candidate backed by a Tea Partyish third party could also run for the GOP nomination.
The message to Republicans would be “Look, I’ve already secured this limited government party’s nomination, and so I’m running. I’d also like to be the Republican nominee, which would mean I have a really good chance to win. But if I’m not the GOP nominee, the conservative/libertarian vote will be split and the Democrat would probably win.”
The GOP establishment would be furious, and as I noted above, they would probably prefer to lose to a Democrat rather than cave to such pressure. I’m not so sure, though, about the typical Republican primary voter. A lot of them are fed up with business-as-usual Republicans, and might be open to someone who shows serious limited government credentials by also running under a party specifically created to advance those principles.
A variation in other states would be to run for the GOP nomination, and make it clear from the beginning that losing that nomination to an establishment Republican will then result in a third party run. Sure, the establishment GOP and media would be shouting “sore loser!” till election day. But they had no problem with an establishment Republican (gentry GOP member Lisa Murkowski) who did exactly that, so why not ignore their hypocritical braying and do it anyway?
Would these kinds of strategies work? Probably in some cases, and not in others. But we can’t solve the current dominance of establishment Republicans by playing by their rules. It’s time to try more hardball strategies.
There is risk in that approach. There’s also risk in the “stick by the GOP because Democrats are worse” route. The limited government energy generated in 2010 has already been reduced to cynicism in many Tea Party supporters, and much of that reduction is due to seeing their goals subverted by candidates they trusted who defected to the establishment GOP side. We’ve seen what happens when the base just gets sick of supporting the establishment Republicans and drops out of the process. We get demagogue Democrats.
I think it’s time for direct confrontation with the GOP establishment. They’ve screwed us long enough. Any game theory expert would tell us it’s time to return the favor.