by Rod D. Martin
January 1, 1999
It’s a new year, but many conservatives can’t quite get over 1998. Feeling repudiated because their over-zealous expectations were not realized (even though in fact they held their own), many have spent a good bit of time questioning whether they should even continue the fight. They have been joined in this by their enemies, who could not be happier at their squeamish indecision.
On the left, the enemies of conservatism — most prominently represented by the mass media — advise “moderation,” code for “the Democratic Party’s agenda.” Why otherwise intelligent people would take advice from their enemies remains a bit unclear, but Republicans are all too prone to do it, and the media’s counsel is eternally the same.
When conservatives win great victories, the media tells them they must moderate lest they lose in some future election. When conservatives lose, the media tells them they must moderate lest they face extinction. The only thing the media never manages to explain is why conservatives only have great victories when they are true to their principles (see Reagan, Ronald; Bush, George ; America, Contract With).
On the other left, “moderate” Republicans (and their evil twins, the paid political consultants, whose only interest is a packaged McCandidate) counsel. . . exactly the same thing. Yes, you heard right. Now this really shouldn’t shock anyone: conservative and liberal Republicans have been duking it out since before Goldwater and Rockefeller squared off; and yet for some reason, a great many conservatives can’t quite get it through their heads that Christie Whitman is not their friend. Quite the contrary: she is battling for the soul of the party, quite self-consciously willing to throw away the Republican majority in exchange for leadership of a smaller puddle. She, like Milton’s Lucifer, would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.
Not that Christie Whitman imitating the devil should shock anyone either.
Whitman’s post-election analysis said it all. Demanding that conservatives either move left or get out, the aging debutante said “If people believe in litmus tests, in drawing the line in the sand, they’re welcome to form their own party, but that’s not the Republican Party.” Politics is not about issues to the Whitman crowd. It’s about cotillions and country clubs. It is about a back-east aristocracy that is interested in personal power and truly terrified of political “agendas” (defined as anything which might upset Teddy Kennedy). If Ann Richards’s quip that a certain President was born “with a silver foot in his mouth” rang true, Christie Whitman is why. Come to think of it, it only took a couple years for that quip to ring true all by itself (see Bush, George ).
The so-called “moderate” Republicans look down on the pro-life activists because they’ve all had abortions. They look down on the gun owners because they, like the Democrats, would rather the rabble was disarmed. They look down on the ideological tax-cutters because such firm opinions are, they think, “bad for business.” And, elitists to the core, they look down on the Republican majority that all those people built because, quite frankly, all those people are the majority.
So what is the answer, a candidate might ask? Two simple points.
The first? Quit running to the middle; start running to your base. In elections where less than half (and often less than a third) of the people vote, simply turning out all of your own people will win time and again. This is just a matter of mathematics: most people who vote are, by definition, interested; and most people who are interested have an opinion; therefore, running to the “undecided” middle means either trying to convince people who don’t vote or who tend ultimately to vote against you, all while turning off the people who would actually elect you if you did the work on the ground necessary to get them to the polls. In technical terminology, we call this “dumb.”
And oh by the way, your base won’t be energized by hearing the other guy’s a liberal. They already know. What they want to know is what you’re going to do (see, “The Vision Thing”).
The second? Don’t be afraid to have the courage of your convictions. Republicans didn’t get to be a majority by merely being Republicans; they got there on the strength of Nixon’s once-silent majority, a rag-tag group of decent men and women who believed that abortion is murder, that a gun is both an inalienable right and a bulwark of freedom, and that the government which governs best governs least. Increasingly they demanded that their children be educated rather than indoctrinated, their borders defended and their streets made safe. They believed in God, in family, and in honest, hard work. And when leaders like Reagan arose, leaders they could trust, they voted.
They’ll vote for you too, oh nervous conservative. But if you want a future, you’ll have to earn it.