In a men’s room in Minneapolis, former Senator Larry Craig indignantly asked an undercover police officer: “Do you know who I am?” The cop didn’t know who Craig was, and many beltway bigshots should learn a lesson from that: time to lose the ego and take a hard look at how little you matter to the American voter.
I thought of Craig when reading how Grover Norquist has issued orders to potential Republican presidential candidates. Mike Huckabee is supposed to make sure that Republicans defeat Senator Blanche Lincoln or Arkansas, and Rudy Giuliani needs to run for governor of New York or pick someone else to do it.
What we’re going to be putting out is how many people have they campaigned for … what have they done for the party? They will all do unending stuff for themselves. That’s never a question. The question is, “What will they do to help the broader movement?” I think any of these guys running for president who focuses on anything other than 2010 should be horse-whipped.
You got that?
Of course, the fact of the matter is that Huckabee, Romney, Pawlenty, and Palin have all expressed that now is not the time to be focusing on 2012. If you don’t include D.C. insiders, political junkies, bloggers, and columnists who write about 2012 on a slow news day, Norquist’s injunction is already being followed.
With the exception of Palin, all of these people have been campaigning across the country for Republican candidates. Huckabee’s PAC has run phone banks for at least five candidates in the past year. Romney’s PAC has poured thousands into races across America.
But I’m sure they’ll step it up because Grover Norquist told them to.
Norquist tasked Huckabee with electing the second Republican senator in Arkansas since Reconstruction and ordered Rudy Giuliani to take Gracie Mansion. But Norquist didn’t give Mitt Romney an assignment to either win the special Senate election in Massachusetts or to oust Governor Deval Patrick. This is an oversight that high command will surely correct. After all, without the assistance of Mr. Norquist and similar D.C. insiders, how are these potential leaders of the free world to know how to proceed?
To be clear: Norquist, and many other right-leaning D.C. leaders such as David Keene of the American Conservative Union, serve an important purpose. Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform holds politicians’ feet to the fire when they renege on anti-tax pledges and also provides great information on economic issues. Keene’s ACU gives us the inside scoop on where members of Congress vote on a wide spectrum of conservative issues.
The problem comes when these groups stop serving conservatives across America and start dictating to the grassroots.
They think they’re like Chuck Norris in his 2008 Huckabee endorsement spot: “Chuck Norris doesn’t endorse, he tells America how it’s gonna be.” While the Norris ad was playful, Washington insiders are serious.
There’s an undeniable disconnect between the Washington elite and the conservative grassroots, as evidenced by recent elections. Washington insiders told us McCain skipping CPAC in 2007 was a huge strategic mistake, but it made no dent on his campaign. Political insiders funded Giuliani’s campaign to the tune of $60 million, and he won zero delegates. Despite spending a good deal of time campaigning in Iowa, Giuliani not only lost to Huckabee, Romney, Fred Thompson, and John McCain, but also Ron Paul.
Newt Gingrich pedantically scolded conservatives for not supporting Dede Scozzafava in New York’s 23rd congressional district, but it didn’t stop support from collapsing around her.
Pollster David Hill imagined that Mike Huckabee’s TV talk show would make him look breezy and unserious to Republican primary voters, yet as the year ends Huckabee is leading in Republican primary polls.
Look at the tea party movement. Despite the Democrats stating that the tea parties were astroturf, they’ve been anything but. They’ve been shows of everyday Americans who haven’t been involved in politics long enough to have a complete list of dos and don’ts. They’ve booed Republican bailout supporters John Cornyn and Gresham Barrett. The tea party folks also have their favorites: Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Mn.) are huge. Bachmann got 10,000 people to show up in Washington on a few days notice.
How many could Norquist and Keene get with the same notice?
Former President George W. Bush reportedly believed he defeated the conservative movement when he defeated American Values president and 1999 CPAC straw poll winner Gary Bauer in the 2000 presidential race. However, the conservative movement is far stronger than its D.C. leadership. Forty percent of Americans describe themselves as conservatives, but to the average American that the beltway elite are supposed to be leading, they’d be as unknown as Larry Craig to the undercover Minnesota police officer.
Part of the problem is that many of these people have been in Washington far too long. While the ACU praises its history of supporting term limits, Mr. Keene has been at the helm of the ACU for 25 years. Mr. Norquist has been at Americans for Tax Reform for 24 years. Many of the same problems with career congressmen apply to career Washington insiders, like losing touch with the people you’re supposed to represent and becoming part of D.C. culture. (See Norquist’s K-Street Project or Keene’s recent angry confrontation with filmmaker John Ziegler.) While individuals may make themselves beltway institutions, they become less effective for the conservative cause because their rhetoric and tactics become tired and predictable.
If conservative organizations in D.C. want to see a revitalization of the conservative movement and a renewal of the connection between national conservative groups and the grassroots, the best thing they could do is apply conservative rhetoric on term limits to themselves. No one is indispensable.
Those groups who have had the same leader for more than eight years should start making plans for a transition to new leadership, and the right’s old war horses should return to private life and get back in touch with the rest of us. Now that’s some change we could believe in.