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March 31, 2015

Can The GOP Be Reformed? Some Say No, Others Are Wrong.

You may have noticed that I'm not a fan of the GOP. No, it's true. I think it's clear that small government conservatives are ill served by hitching their wagon to the GOP. Better to focus on a longer game of changing the dominant political culture in the country. If you want to extract the occasional concession for a Republican, fine. But the only way is to make withholding your vote your default position. Let them pander in deed, not just word to earn your case by case transnational support. As a party, the GOP simply has nothing to offer anyone interested in shrinking government.

Jay Cost on the other hand still thinks the GOP is worth reforming and that it might be possible to do so. This worries me because Jay is a very smart guy. But even smart people can be wrong.

Second, the Republican party can be reformed. It may be very hard to do so, but the GOP is not a political machine. It is not a closed system, impervious to change. It’s open, and grassroots reformers have recourse -- in the form of party primaries. They may be seriously out-financed in those contests. Still, it is one thing to be an underdog, and another to have no hope of change at all. And there is hope.

In fact, I’d argue that there has been an extraordinary amount of change within the GOP over the last generation. Reformers have made some real gains. In the wake of the 2014 wave, I noted this about the incoming Senate:

This Senate majority will be as large as the one seated in 1995, but much more conservative. That year, the Republican caucus included many nominal, moderate, or otherwise unreliable Republicans, notably John Chafee of Rhode Island, Mark Hatfield of Oregon, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, and Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas. Some such Republicans remain—Frank Murkowski was succeeded by Lisa Murkowski—but their numbers have shrunk. My informal count has them declining from about 15 in 1994 to less than half a dozen today. The group of solid conservatives, meanwhile, has grown. The Senate already had many such members, like Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Tim Scott. But now they are set to be joined by Tom Cotton, Ben Sasse, and Joni Ernst. My back of the envelope calculations suggest that the number of solid conservative senators has risen from about a dozen in 1995 to 20 or so today.

The House has shown similar signs of improvement. The “insurgent” class of House reformers is now large enough to make real noise. Did such a group really exist a decade ago? Certainly not with the same numbers. There is no denying that conservative reformers have won some big elections in the last few cycles, and that the reformist right is on the rise within the GOP, if not yet dominant.

Needless to say, I disagree. The passage of the Doc-fix was the final, final straw for me.

Last week I shutdown my Twitter account (I'll be back sooner than later but I won't focus on partisan politics). It wasn’t a well thought out plan but rather a sudden urge. Like so many others, Twitter became my main connection to the political world. It’s a great tool for keeping up on the news and for interacting directly with people making and covering that news.

So why would a news and politics junkie like myself cut the cord so abruptly (though not completely, I have 30 days to reconsider)? I realized I’d become something I’d mocked in the past.

Remember the anti-Iraq war protests in the run up to the congressional vote and the war itself? You know, the ones organized by the communists at International ANSWERS that always had the giant puppet-heads and left over folk singers from the 60s?

I’ll never forget seeing a woman at one of them in New York City. She identified herself as a public school teacher (of course) and she was crying and screaming hysterically about the war. And then she said something that made me laugh, “We have to make them hear us!” “Lady,” I thought to myself, “we have heard you. We disagree with you. You lost.”

After watching and commenting on the actions of the new GOP Congress it dawned on me, I’d become that hysterical, shrieking schoolteacher (sans the life time job security and underfunded pension). The GOP and the country as a whole have heard us small government conservatives talk about the need to get our fiscal house in order. They’ve listened to us warn about the dangers of the leviathan state that will not stop growing until it has inserted itself into every nook and cranny of our lives.

They just don’t care. In fact, they kind of like it. The GOP is just a symptom, the attitude of the American people is the real problem. You can't begin to fix things until you admit what's broken.

I’ve also found myself doing something incredibly annoying (shut up)….linking to old posts to show that this was all very predictable and in fact was predicted by me. Partially it was out of laziness. Why rewrite what you’d written before? But partially it was out of a desire to say, “I told you so.” Not simply to rub other people’s noses in it but if you’re a pundit, professionally or just for fun, all you have is your record. Still as much fun as it is to show you were right and some very smart people were wrong, it’s not a good look.

I’m ok with being in the wilderness of politics. I like being on the fringe of what’s acceptable in polite company. It’s where I’ve been most of my life. The gift and the curse of “new media” is it made me think I’d been wrong all along, fooled by having lived in the northeast all my life and that I was really a part of great and vast silent majority.


The GOP victories in November and the subsequent “accomplishments” of the Congress they produced show nothing has changed. All you need to do is elect a Republican President next year and it’ll be right back to the Hastret/Lott-Frist/Bush mode of Republican big government. Hell, elect Jeb and you’ll really see the similarities.

We small, not just smaller than the Democrats, government conservatives are a minority of a minority. Yes, you can point to all sorts of polling that shows people identify as conservative and tell pollster they want smaller government. But if Barack Obama winning two terms and the first 3 months of the GOP Congress haven’t demonstrated the reality of the world to you then you are deep within the cocoon. All I can say is, enjoy it while it lasts.

People will learn that we are right because we are. You can forestall collapse but you can’t prevent it. “What cannot continue, won’t” a wise purveyor of DOOM likes to say. But they will only learn through experience. In the meantime the majority of people will do what people always do, pretend the bad man won’t hurt them and hope that if it all goes to hell it’ll be long after they are dead and buried. It’s easier to kick the can down the road than actually try and fix things.

This is basic human nature. As a conservative I should have realized long ago that there was no way around that.

I’ve often said that we put up with government encroachments and abuses on a daily basis far worse than anything the founders faced. Yet we accept it. That’s not simply an indictment of modern America but rather another bit of proof how miraculous the founding of this country was. The American colonists were essentially the second freest people on Earth. Yet they looked at it and said, “not good enough.” There were plenty of people who opposed the revolution or just didn’t care much one way or another. That the people who fought for the Revolution, politically and on the field of battle, were able to overcome that natural inertia is a blessing we should marvel at.

The downside of that miracle is that over 200 years later we are still living off that glory. It’s a glory unearned by us. We think ourselves the rightful inheritors of the Spirit of ’76 but most of us, myself included, aren’t. We’re still in the “suffer, while evils are sufferable” phase that Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence.

And why shouldn’t we be? We’re the richest, most powerful nation on Earth? Hardly the time for a dramatic upheaval. After all, it’s worked pretty well to date. I get the appeal of that. We can go on for quite a while this way. People don’t want to hear about the future and what it will mean when things go to their logical conclusion.

I’m sure someone will come along and write a column somewhere about you never quit and this is all just the first step on the road to a great conservative victory! Meh, have it.

Every generation must learn for itself an important lesson...the GOP isn't going to be the party of smaller government.

There’s nothing wrong with waging the good fight and losing. The problem is not being smart enough to know you’ve lost. Then you’re left shrieking in the street like that NYC teacher, confusing being told “no” for not being heard.

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posted by DrewM. at 11:19 AM

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