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WaPo’s Cillizza Says Political Party Power Dying for GOP, But What Does it Mean?

Posted on | January 13, 2013 | 32 Comments

Guest Post by Warner Todd Huston

In a recent item at The Fix Blog, Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza focused on the apparent waning power of the Republican Party among the center right coalition. Cillizza makes some good points, of course, but I do have at least one warning to our side over the points Cillizza makes.

Cillizza’s focus is on the recent departure from the Senate of South Carolina’s Jim DeMint who abruptly left a high profile political career to take the top spot leading the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Cillizza doesn’t mention it, but DeMint wasn’t just any old faceless senator. He had made himself an important voice in conservative circles even going so far as to become a major national player in elections whereby candidates would make a pilgrimage to his offices to seek his endorsement.

So, when DeMint left the power of the Senate behind, it was a big shock to conservatives who had hoped he’d continue to be a major conservative voice inside Washington.

Anyway, Cillizza quotes DeMint as saying that the “election taught conservatives that we can no longer entrust political parties to carry our message.” This, DeMint explained, is why he left politics proper to sign on as head of the Heritage Foundation. He felt he was going to a place where he could do far more for conservatism than he could while wrapped in the straitjacket of elected office.

Cillizza says:

As we wrote at the time, DeMint’s decision to walk away from the Senate–long considered the pinnacle of power and influence in American politics–was, in and of itself, a potent symbol of the broader shift away from traditional political parties and toward outside interest groups.
And, DeMint’s opinion piece represents a broader sentiment within the conservative movement, that its establishment leaders simply lack the ability to point a way out of the political wilderness.

Yes, this rings true. Such as it is.

But why do we conservatives feel this way?

It isn’t because there is any lack of conservative talk in Washington, really. In actuality, an increasing number of Senators and Representatives on the GOP side of the aisle pay fealty to conservatism. It is inarguable that the center right in Congress has grown more rightward over the last 30 years in both rhetoric and often in votes.

But the problem is, Democrats have gone even further to the left than Republicans have gone right. This drags the final outcomes of the political debate too often to the extreme left and too many Republicans feel it is their job to “compromise” and arrive at that vaunted middle ground with the increasingly far left Democrat Party.

It is a myth, of course, that compromise is good merely because agreement was reached. There were compromises for decades upon decades that kept slavery in existence, after all. Principles are principles for a reason and today we have Democrats that care nothing for America, its traditions or its mores and with that Republicans simply should never compromise.

But, with all that said, here is the thing. It is far easier to be a member of Americans for Tax Reform and concern yourselfonly about your one, pet issue: taxes. It is easier to be a member of Americans for Prosperity and worry yourself only over budgetary issues or the occasional other single issue that you work on there. It is easier to be a member of the Heritage Foundation and worry only about advocating strictly for your conservative principles on whatever issue is at hand. It is easier to do all of this than to have to go to Congress and actually work with an enemy that wants to materially damage this country (I’m looking at you Barack Obama) and be forced to record an actual, meaningful vote on issues that affect your constituents–people you are accountable to for those votes.

See what I am saying? It is easier to stand with Heritage, AFP, or ATR and be staunch in your positions than it is to have to get down in the weeds and actually govern.

That is and has always been the biggest problem with the right. It is easy to plant your feet, throw out your hands, and say “here but no farther” than it is to actually do the messy work of governing. Easier to stand outside the system and carp about what should be than to actually take the reins in your hands and do the guiding from the driver’s seat.

So, now we get to my real reason for writing this. Are we excluding ourselves from any possibility of pulling the levers of power by running off to Heritage or AFP, et al and abandoning party politics?

One has to say yes and one also has to keep this in mind going forward.

Now, I won’t try to claim that I am smart enough to determine how to meld the two needs; that of advocating good policy along with getting said policy enacted. But we must not run from elected office and party politics merely because it is so hard to get our ideas enacted in the messy world of Washington D.C.

It would be a self-defeating mistake to think we can win solely by advocacy alone. All the organizations I mentioned above are important and worthy groups (and I have worked with all of them and will do so in the future). But they just can’t get the job done without politicians who agree with their issues and vote their way.

Finally, remember this: if elected officials don’t feel they will get support from a group, they have no reason at all to cater to that group. If all we do is advocate, but we don’t then move to support, we will be talking ourselves blue in the face–or red in the face, as the case may be–and we won’t win a single vote if no politicians are beholden to us for any material, real world support.

(Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter)

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Comments

  • Freddie Sykes

    Demint was in his last term since he promised to term limit himself when he first ran for office. This makes him a poor example.

    A bigger problem we face in recent elections is that of establishment Republicans politicians refusing to support primary candidates they lost to or disagreed with. They should be shamed even if it costs us the odd Charlie Crist,

  • http://opinion.ak4mc.us/ McGehee

    The heyday of conservatism in elected office may obscure the fact that think tanks fueled much of the conservatism that found its way into policy proposals and political debate in those days. Think tanks have followed the rest of us onto the internet, but their influence inside the Beltway seems to have declined due to the sheer din of online voices distracting elected officials from serious topics.

    If DeMint can show Heritage how to recapture some of that lost influence, and if other conservative think tanks can follow their example, it would be a good thing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.ashley.58 Eric Ashley

    The weakening of the GOP is probably a neccessary thing. They have heard the people, the base, and even a lot of others, over and over, and they refuse to listen.

    When your leaders are determined to be unserious, and manifest a dislike of actual conservatism, and don’t deliver….ever. Well, its time to get new leaders.

  • http://alanye.com/ Dai Alanye

    Quite a sensible essay.

  • Adobe_Walls

    Some conservatives may find a future in the Republican party conservatism will not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shaunkenney Shaun Kenney

    “That is and has always been the biggest problem with the right. It is easy to plant your feet, throw out your hands, and say “here but no farther” than it is to actually do the messy work of governing. ”

    Boom. Right there is PRECISELY the problem with the modern conservative movement.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    As always, WTH is well-worth a read, and here is no exception.

    Perhaps, though, we should consider the possibility that the GOP has become what the Whigs became in the 1850′s – where they played ‘me too!’ to the Democrats – and it is time to form another party.

  • http://wizbangblog.com/ Adjoran

    DeMint’s case isn’t nearly so complicated as all that. He could labor on in the minority in the Senate under the absolute dictatorship of Harry Reid for $174,000 per year with severe restrictions on outside income, or take the job as top dog at Heritage for $1 million+ per year.

    He did the math.

  • http://wizbangblog.com/ Adjoran

    I was involved with the Senate primary and race and do not recall any such term limit pledge. He may have made such a pledge when he ran for the House, but that would hardly apply to the Senate.

    Reference?

  • http://wizbangblog.com/ Adjoran

    I keep hearing all this “form a new party” talk. It’s just talk. The reason no other new party has formed and survived since the GOP is that our system is designed – albeit unintentionally – to resolve into two parties by the nature of the legislative branch.

    To compete and become viable requires a strong base and elected officials locally, statewide, and to Congress. IF another party ever became strong enough to compete, it would end up replacing one of the existing major parties – and then the new base would find new things to complain about.

  • http://wizbangblog.com/ Adjoran

    DeMint isn’t there for influence, even if it were possible to wield more influence from outside Congress than from within. He’s there to raise money. He’s demonstrated his ability to make conservatives write checks. Substantial checks, and repeated checks.

    Heritage didn’t hire a man with no management experience at all as their CEO for any ethereal hopes of influence, it’s for the cash.

  • http://boogieforward.us/ K-Bob

    Compromise between liberty and totalitarian socialism is still socialism.

    As to “governing” that’s not what compromise is about. So far “compromise” always means, “lard this bill up with spending and we’ll vote for it, even though we’d rather your side has zero successes”. Governing means doing the right thing. We don’t have that now. We won’t get it with more mushy republicans.

    The fact is, we need to restore the Constitution. Being “conservative” isn’t good enough by itself. Rubio (as an example) is what I call a “values conservative.” A really good guy, who’d probably be a reliable vote in congress for the Republicans, whether the party is full of RINO’s, or Tea Party types, or has somehow swung toward libertarianism.

    But he isn’t (so far) a restoration conservative. Until he gets on board with that, he gets nothing from me.

  • http://boogieforward.us/ K-Bob

    It can’t be that severe. If it were, these “thousand-aires” who come to congress, and then leave as multi-millionaires wouldn’t exist.

  • http://boogieforward.us/ K-Bob

    Sure, if you play the stupid, rigged, no-new-parties-allowed game.

    Why play it? Just vote for a guy, and make the party later.

    I recommend people vote West.

  • http://boogieforward.us/ K-Bob

    That they don’t plant their feet?

  • http://boogieforward.us/ K-Bob

    For one thing, he can shake out some of the squish factor that has crept into Heritage.

  • Quartermaster

    The cash buys influence Adjoran. And with fund raising ability comes influence. DeMint will have a lot to say and a lot of influence over there.

  • Quartermaster

    I’ve seen that term limit reference time and again. I’m not saying that just because something gets repeated ad nauseum, that it’s true. I’ve never seen it denied by DeMint, however.

  • Quartermaster

    I fully expect the GOP to died regardless. It started as a left of center party and it will die that way.

    The GOP base complains because they keep getting played for fools as we have since 1988. The establishment wants our support until election day, then tells us to get back on the plantation.

    Perhaps you are stupid enough to do so, but I refuse to play that game anymore. No more Bushes, or Romneys or Doles. Enough of surrender to the left.

  • Quartermaster

    When did we get conservatives in power?

  • Adobe_Walls

    You are correct in that there will always be two parties. It’s having the same two parties for more than a century that is killing this Republic. Parties are started or founded for good cause but in time the raison d’etre of all political parties is to gain and hold power. Once they forget what purpose they were meant to serve they will never find it again, there is only the next election.

  • Adobe_Walls
  • http://boogieforward.us/ K-Bob

    I missed that! Doh!

  • Freddie Sykes

    I cannot say if he campaigned on the idea but he has been associated with term limits for a number of years. Retiring early when you trust your governor to pick a good replacement is not that big of a deal.

    http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/271411-jim-demint-resigns-from-senate

    DeMint had previously announced that he would retire from the Senate when his second term expired at the end of 2016.

    http://www.examiner.com/article/jim-demint-proposes-term-limits-for-congress

    Senator DeMint is making this proposal in order to remove from Washington the class of “permanent politicians”… Senators would be limited to two terms or fifteen years, and Representatives would be limited to three terms or seven years.

    http://www.redstate.com/davenj1/2012/12/07/demint-and-the-senate/

    … I knew that he always proclaimed he would only serve two terms and that he possibly had presidential aspirations…

  • FOAF

    Wow, Rasmussen’s essay is terrific, I strongly recommend everyone read it.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    Any challenge to the GOP would have to begin on the state level and work it’s way up.

    The future of freedom and liberty lies in the several states, much as in the 18th Century it lay in the colonies.

  • http://twitter.com/richard_mcenroe richard mcenroe

    It’s all nice to talk about how hard it is to actually do something rather than advocate for it, but the bottom line is, if they won’t do for me, I won’t shell out for them.

    How many times are we expected to stand for them parroting our demands but voting like our opponents?

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