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March 30, 2014 9:14 AM Rhetoric Won’t Patch the GOP Up

By Martin Longman

Over at the National Review Kevin Williamson has penned a column we are all familiar with. It’s a rallying cry for conservatives to get over their differences and rally behind the Republican Party. In the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election, there were countless articles of this type written by pragmatic liberals. All you have to do is reverse the names, and it looks completely familiar.

And though I reject the notion that Mitt Romney wasn’t good enough for true-believing conservatives, let’s say, arguendo, that that was the case. Unless you are ready to give up entirely on the notion of advancing conservative principles through the ballot box, you might consider looking at things this way: Even if you do not think that it matters much whether Republicans win, it matters a great deal that Democrats lose.
Maybe you were not that excited that 2012 gave you a choice between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. I sympathize — I liked Rick Perry. But how is President Romney vs. President Obama a hard choice? How is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vs. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a hard choice? How is Speaker of the House John Boehner vs. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi a hard choice?
It isn’t.

I don’t think these types of columns are ever very convincing, but that doesn’t mean that they are incorrect. If we were to give this genre a name, it would be Vote-for-the-lesser-evil essays. They don’t exactly get people fired up and ready to go.

And it’s not a great sign that people feel that they are necessary to write because it indicates that there are some rather strong divisions. Back in the 2005-6 period, Democrats became unified, and they did an adequate job of patching things up after the 2008 primaries. The divisions among Republicans are more fundamental. There’s a glaring generation gap on gay rights. There’s a yawning gulf between the businessmen who want comprehensive immigration reform and the nativist base that wants an end to all non-white immigration, whether it is legal or illegal. There’s a growing chasm between the libertarian non-intervention wing of the party and the John McCain bomb-em-first-ask-questions-later wing of the party. There’s also a Main Street/Wall Street divide over tax policy and social/religious issues.

In all these cases, important factions within the GOP simply want different things. It’s hard to patch things up when you have diametrically-opposed goals.

Interestingly, Mr. Williamson says he quit his membership in the Republican Party during the Bush years because he couldn’t abide belonging to the same club as Arlen Specter. He also says that “the Affordable Care Act, [is] the worst domestic defeat for the cause of limited government in a generation,” which is a nice admission. It shows the real reason that conservatives keep bad-mouthing a law that is working very well and is already covering seven million people. We can understand, now, why conservatives have fought the law with so much fury. They believe, correctly, that the mere existence of the law is a tremendous ideological defeat. Whether it works well or not is completely beside the point for these folks.

Going forward, that’s going to be an increasingly suicidal political position to take. There will be divisions on that, too.

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