Since the election, the debate has raged. Who is responsible for the 2008 election debacle and the defeat of the Republican Party?
So far this question has centered on various groups’ attempts to reenact the scapegoat scene from Leviticus and cast all the sins of the Republican Party onto cultural conservatives and release their concerns into the wilderness.
The battle has been as entertaining as it has been misguided and pointless. Is there a war between economic conservatives and social conservatives? As someone actively involved in both social and fiscal issues, I’ve seen a lot of crossover between the two sides in terms of people who show up. This crossover is quite common. A leading economic conservative group, Club for Growth, often backed the same candidates as socially conservative groups like National Right to Life, Government Is Not God-PAC, and Focus on the Family Action. Newt Gingrich has begun to go around with slides showing that the most socially conservative members of Congress were also the most fiscally conservative.
I’m going to suggest an alternate conclusion. I’m going to reject the conventional wisdom that the election was lost because of the party grassroots and go out on a limb and suggest that maybe the problem is not the party’s activists. Perhaps (and I know this is shocking) the people who led the party over the cliff are the ones to blame.
The GOP doesn’t have a religious problem, a gay rights problem, or an abortion problem. It fundamentally has a good old boy problem. Let us tell the story of a primary, and we don’t have to name names, because the story is the same across the country.
A vacancy occurs in Congress. Who’s going to fill it? The GOP establishment has its favorite son, an amiable fellow who thinks he’d be one heck of a congressman. And then there are other candidates, probably three or four, who lay hold to the label of true conservatism. They fight it out. Leaders of many right-of-center groups endorse the good old boy. The good old boy is hailed for his electability. He may have his flaws, but he can win, we’re assured. So voters nominate and then elect Congressman Good Old Boy.
Congressman Good Old Boy doesn’t give a lick about issues like right to life or limited government. Sure, he may personally believe in some of these things, but they have nothing to do with why he got into politics. The congressman’s focus is on getting re-elected, so he works his darnedest to bring home tens of millions of dollars in earmarks and to impress a cross-section of special interest groups.
Congressman Good Old Boy is focused on appropriating money, doling out favors, defending the party establishment, and getting re-elected. Rinse, lather, and repeat a hundred times, and you have the story of two-thirds of the Republicans in Congress.