The PJ Tatler

Who Are You Calling a Party Switcher?

When I was comms director at the Texas GOP, few things made me smile with more devilish glee than learning that an elected official had left the Democratic Party to become a Republican. We used to keep a list, me and the political director working together, and he would travel around the state making the occasional visit to a potential stray Democrat to look after them. When a party switch occurs in your favor, it’s a gimme: You win, they lose. Your party grows, their party shrinks. You get to brag that your party is growing, while you get to chide the other party for driving its people away. You get to use the media to beat up on those Democrats who can’t even keep their state reps or county commissioners in line, while the other side gets left to make excuses and hurl insults at the switcher. Good headlines for your party meet bad headlines for theirs. All this ends up making the switcher glad they switched and ends up helping a few more to make up their mind. One switch becomes two, or three or four, and pretty soon you’ve switched a whole county and helped grow another generation of party voters and leaders comfortable in the Republican party. You grow your party by persuading people, voters and elected officeholders, that you represent their values and that their natural home is with you. Party switchers are a sign of an inquisitive mind, and a healthy and growing party that is clearly standing on its principles.

And it’s a lot of fun to swat the other party, whenever the opportunity arises.

Not everybody likes party switchers. The knock on them is that they’ll end up RINOs but that’s usually not the case. RINOs tend to be hereditary Republicans who actually don’t know what the party believes or why — think Meghan McCain. What’s Republican about her? Her dad, not her heart. Growing up in a party is easy. To switch parties is to compare them and make an affirmative choice. Switching may mean abandoning the party of your father and grandfather, and your brothers and sisters and your friends, and telling them why. Switchers switch for a reason, and once they switch they tend to become true believers. Two great examples of this are Ronald Reagan and Phil Gramm, both Democrats who became the bane of that party. They became some of the Democrats’ most effective critics, and some of conservatism’s greatest champions.

I say all this to drive away a particularly dumb argument that has come up in the primaries, most recently brought up by Michele Bachmann during the debate last night. She chirped at Rick Perry for having switched from D to R back circa 1988, and supporting Al Gore circa 1984. That was Gore 1.0, not the moonbat he is now, and as recently as 1994 it was still pretty tough to get elected as a Republican in most of Texas. This was a yellow dog Democrat state, had been since Reconstruction. Perry switched ahead of the state’s political evolution and has been an effective true believer Republican ever since. A signature of his time as governor has been to preside over party switcher ceremonies greeting Democrats who have had conversion experiences. He has actually done quite a bit to destroy the Democratic Party across Texas. That’s among the reasons they hate him.

But Perry wasn’t the only switcher on the stage last night. By my count, there were three: Rick Perry, Herman Cain (who switched in 1986), and Michele Bachmann. She worked for Jimmy Carter’s run for president in 1976. Therefore, she was a Democrat.

I don’t hold that against her. I honor party switchers for seeing the light and having the courage to act (well, when they switch to my side anyway). Bachmann is obviously a true believer in the conservative cause now, as is Herman Cain, and as is Rick Perry. That’s what matters.

But it’s a very silly thing to waste valuable debate time attacking a fellow candidate for something that can blow directly back on you. I don’t think Bachmann’s work for Carter all those years ago tells us anything about her now, but I do think her hitting Perry for having something in his background that’s very similar to something in hers, shows a serious lack of strategic acumen and depth on her part.