Erick Erickson says we need to do more than rebuild the party. We need to fix the movement.
One of the greatest failures of the conservative movement in the past decade was to join itself to the Republican hip. By necessity, conservatives and Republicans are linked, but they are not nor must they be the same thing.
Politicians are about politicians. Conservatives are about the advancement of freedom. There are too few politicians out there who would, when faced with the choice, put the advancement of the movement ahead of their personal advancement. Those that do put the movement ahead of themselves are often marginalized or ignored inside the party. And too often, the movement latches on to those who talk the talk, but do not walk the walk.
Being out of power will give conservatives to emerge from under the shadow of the Republican Party. A big reason why the right has stagnated online is that being in power has given the right little of substance to do. All the decisions were being made for us in Washington -- everything from where the GOP should stand on immigration to campaign strategy. When everything you need to know about candidate recruitment and how the GOP targets races is written down in a binder at the RNC, there's little for volunteers to do other than follow orders. That's not very inspiring to grassroots activists. To appropriate something Soren told me over email once, more stuff for volunteers to do equals more volunteers.
This top-down approach is the curse of the party in power -- though Obama is smart enough to try and at least pretend otherwise. Yes, people will still help. And yes, we need everyone marching in basically the same direction. But with no sense that conservative activists own the party (or the movement) or have room to create their own parallel recruitment and fundraising apparatus to augment or even challenge the party, there is little incentive for smart and creative people to get involved except in official roles.
The conservative movement does not need to be the party, but it needs to influence and drive it. This is essentially the argument I've had with Rick Moran and others who don't think activism is worth it until the Beltway GOP reforms itself from within. To presuppose a Chinese wall between party and movement and wait for the party to fix itself is a mistake. The movement needs to take an active role in reforming the party. Party and movement need to be equal partners, with a free flow of people and ideas between them. When the party is moving in the right direction, the movement needs to have its hand on the steering wheel. When it's gone off the cliff, the movement needs to step back and offer a vigorous challenge to the current direction of the party.
Whether the movement as currently constituted is capable of playing this role is a question up for debate. Erick's point about the danger of organizations being known for their leaders rather than their work product is spot on. I also think we've descended into the single issue interest group mentality that plauged the left up to the '80s and '90s. Don't get me wrong -- we need single issue groups to focus on the niche issues no one else will. Only groups like National Right to Work are going to go out and file suit against real life examples of labor union abuse and intimidation. But if I could wave a magic wand, I'd call a moratorium on new single issue groups and think tanks (let's keep the great ones we have) and focus on building movement-wide activist infrastructure.
Right now, the balance of power in the conservative movement when it comes to grassroots muscle rests with the economic (AFP, FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, etc.) and social (AFA, Focus, etc.) wings. You also have the NRA.
The balance of power in the progressive movement rests with MoveOn and the netroots that are consistently liberal on all issues weighted equally. Lots of energy has been expended on coordinating all the moving parts of the conservative movement, and that's good, but progressives solved their own interest group paralysis by creating a movement with just one moving part.
We need new institutions that help us rally around the unifying issues, not more coordination and meetings.