This week, there are pats on the head for Ted Cruz and Mike Lee as the pundits and their GOP establishment colleagues give them condescending “attaboys” for their courageous (but misguided) attempt to make the government listen to the American people. They’re not all that bright after all, the pundits imply. Not experienced in the entrenched ways of Washington. They need to learn their place — to stay in the shadows until they’ve been in Washington for a dozen or so years and have been inculcated with the proper D.C. values. Observe the masters like John McCain and Mitch McConnell and, in time, perhaps they too can be like the Great Bipartisan Sages of the Senate. The strategists all warn that the Republicans must have a unified message. “Can’t we all just get along?” they ask.
The problem is that you can’t have a unified message when you have two creatures living in one body — either Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde must ultimately prevail. At the end of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll, who can no longer stop himself from turning into the evil Hyde, writes in a letter, “I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end.” Is it also time to bring the unhappy life of the Democrat-lite GOP to an end?
Michael Gerson, in his post-mortem of the shutdown debacle, made it clear that he thinks one side of the GOP is sane and reasonable and the other is completely off the rails. The establishment wing of the party, according to Gerson, “believes in building a legislative majority and electing a president to overturn it.” It’s all very civil and collegial. And it involves a lot of waiting around “for the next election” as the consultants and lobbyists line their pockets and the left continues its long, steady march across the Constitution and our individual liberties.
On the dark side, we have the conservatives. Gerson says,
[T]ea party leaders inhabit an alternative political reality — sheltered in safe districts or states, applauded by conservative media, incited (or threatened) by advocacy groups, carried along by a deep current of anger and frustration among activists — they have no incentive to view defeat as defeat. In fact, turning against tactical radicalism would involve serious political risk. So every setback is interpreted as a need for greater purity and commitment.
This is the same old “clinging to their God, guns and religion” tripe we heard from Obama, only cloaked in a stuffy D.C. political analysis, but it shows the divide between the Washington ruling elites and those who believe that not everything can be solved in Washington — that the entrenched ways of Washington are actually the problem.
Michael Bauman recalled this week a pivotal moment in John McCain’s presidential campaign, when he was ahead in the polls and left the campaign trial to rush back to Washington to deal with a financial crisis. Bauman writes:
But just like his Democratic opponents, when things got bad, McCain turned to government and returned to Washington. He could never convince the American voters that Washington is the problem because he didn’t believe it himself. He believed Washington is the solution. He still does. So does the Republican leadership in the Senate and the RNC. Do not expect him or them to beat the Democrats. They share the Democrats’ ideology and solutions. The difference between them and the Democrats is one of degree, not of kind.
Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and a handful of others propose nothing less than a grassroots revolution to overturn the way business is conducted in Washington. Cruz told CNN’s Candy Crowley:
I’m convinced there’s a new paradigm in politics that actually has Washington very uncomfortable. It has politicians in both parties very uncomfortable. And that new paradigm is the rise of the grassroots, the ability of grassroots activists to demand of their elected officials they do the right thing. And I believe if we see a grassroots tsunami, that is going to cause Republicans and Democrats to listen to the people.
Cruz, like Tea Party supporters and libertarians and many others across the country who are tired of the government meddling in every aspect of their lives, wants to restore the authority of the people and decentralize the power of the federal government. The central planners and statists will necessarily be the losers in this grassroots revolution.
The differences between the two wings of the party could not be more stark — and they’re seemingly irreconcilable. The Jekyll and Hyde beast the GOP has become cannot endure except as a perpetually weak, ineffective runner-up.
There is a reason millions of Americans supported the Cruz/Lee effort — and it’s not because we were “incited (or threatened) by advocacy groups.” I believe, as Cruz said, that there is a grassroots tsunami rumbling beneath the surface of this country. I feel it. I hear it from people every day. Just like the elephants who warned of the impending tsunami in Sri Lanka, so we are warning the political class that a liberty revolution, empowered by We the People, is coming. As we’ve grown weary of the weight of the soft tyranny of the last several decades, a soft revolution of liberty has grown. What will the GOP establishment do with this grassroots revolution?
Bauman says that those in the establishment wing “have alienated their only means to victory by failing to fight for their conservative base and its ideas. They fight against them and do to them what the Democrats themselves would love to do: marginalize the Tea Party.”
Jekyll is trying to kill Hyde (or is it the other way around?). Millions of disheartened conservatives may bolt from the Republican Party if it continues.
Many are making compelling cases that we need to win elections and the only way to do that is for the Republican Party to have a unified message. Nothing will change until we have an electoral majority, they say. They are correct, technically, but winning elections won’t solve the core problem of two creatures living in one GOP body. Demands for unity may be premature if the core values of the creatures are irreconcilable. In other words, it’s not just a strategy problem.
Margaret Thatcher used to say, “First, you win the argument, then you win the vote.” Conservatives must win the argument with both the Republican establishment and the general electorate, and not for the sake of winning, but because our ideas and policy proposals are the best.
American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks, speaking about free enterprise at a Georgia Public Policy Foundation event in 2011, described the necessary steps for a policy revolution — for winning the argument:
- Making the moral case for change — not the “money” case for change, but the moral case.
- Demolishing the things in the way of the policy revolution — that the bad ideas of the status quo are morally degenerate and have to go.
- Proposing real solutions that real Americans can understand.
- Providing leadership to induce people to make sacrifices for the policy change.
Brooks said that both Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt went through these four steps and we will need to go through them again if we are to solve the current crisis. Brooks said that out of the four, “the hardest point is making the moral case.” He explained: “We talk about the money case for free enterprise. I’m telling you, I’m looking at the data all day long. It’s losing. It is a losing argument to say that the problem with Obamacare is to say that it could permanently cut a quarter of a percentage point off the long-term economic growth rate.”
He said that stark economic arguments will not succeed. Americans have been given the choice between the “left-wing moral case for a false kind of fairness” and “right-wing materialism that says it’s all about economic growth. If you think either one of those things is going to get Grandma to let go of part of her Medicare, you’ve got another thing coming, because she’s not going to,” says Brooks. “We need to have the real moral case. We need to have the rejoinder to the left that speaks to the heart and if we don’t, we’re going to fail.”
The October Stand by Cruz and Co. was a step in the right direction of a policy revolution — “to have the rejoinder to the left that speaks to the heart.” Cruz and Mike Lee and several other courageous conservative Republican House and Senate members garnered hours of TV face time — worth millions in ad buys — to make the moral case to the American people that Obamacare is fundamentally unfair and people will be harmed by it. In doing so, they began demolishing the morally repugnant ideas standing in the way of the conservative revolution. If the GOP establishment is unable or unwilling to make the effort — sometimes at great risk — to win the argument, then the party cannot be saved from extinction.
Perhaps I’m naïve and our country will never be able to dig out of the morass of debt and political corruption that has taken a century to accumulate — a system the Republican establishment has aided and abetted. Maybe we are too far gone, too dependent on our Washington overlords to ever recover. But perhaps Ted Cruz’s October Stand was a sign that we are beginning to emerge from the American Dark Ages — that our dumbed-down, mind-numbed society is beginning to once again value the Constitution and the things that made our country great. Perhaps we have taken meaningful steps in the direction of winning the argument. If we continue to do so, we will eventually win the elections.
I’m optimistic that, as Mike Lee has said, “the American people will have the last word.” We the People — not the politicians or the pundits — must have the last word or we will betray and dishonor the gift of the Constitution that our Founders bestowed upon us and we will spit in the face of the liberty with which God has blessed our nation.