Fix the Movement

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.

Your rating: None


Maybe in another six years

On a practical level, what you're talking about entails either:

1). Enlisting the same conservatives in more and more groups; or

2). Bringing more people into the conservative movement.

There are some natural constituencies that could be targeted (racial and ethnic minorities tend to be more socially conservative), but the rhetoric these days is toward a more and more exclusive trend.  That is to say, there is a general feeling that people should be locked out of the conservative movement, they should be denied a voice in government, etc.

If you look, roughly half of all the posts here deal with the subject matter of why it is that so-and-so should not be considered to be a conservative.  I'm not so sure that whittling away at the voting base is going to get more votes, and it's those votes (and voters) that win elections.

There needs to be a sense that there is more than one type of conservative.  Until then, "Go away!" will continue to be the GOP's predominant message that it's selling to voters. 

I agree, we need to be more inclusive

"If you look, roughly half of all the posts here deal with the subject matter of why it is that so-and-so should not be considered to be a conservative.  I'm not so sure that whittling away at the voting base is going to get more votes, and it's those votes (and voters) that win elections."

We need to be more inclusive, and recognize that we can reach out to moderates without compleltely abandoning conservative principles.  Politico has a very good analysis today that points out Obama won not because the country had embraced liberalism but because he had been able to dramatically increase his share of the moderate vote.

"There’s no doubt that the base of the new governing majority describes itself as moderate. While the ideological breakdown of the electorate was practically a carbon copy of 2004 — 22 percent liberal, 34 percent conservative and 44 percent moderate — Obama owes his victory not to a flood of new liberal voters but to carrying 60 percent of moderates. That’s up 6 percentage points from John F. Kerry’s totals and makes Obama the best-performing presidential candidate among self-described moderates since Richard Nixon in 1972. In fact, the nearly 33 million moderates voting for Obama were easily his largest bloc of voters."

The numbers are very clear, this is not a nation that favors extremism.  Pundits may debate whether the country is center right or center left but the key word is center.  The liberals with only 22 percent support were able to pull off victories in 2006 and 2008 by convincing the moderates that conservatives are corrupt, incompetent ,extremists.  We can and should blame the Washington insiders for the first two labels but we need to face some cold hard facts about the third.  We've brought it on ourselves with harsh unyielding rhetoric that repels more voters than it attracts, and we've done that at the grassroots, not in Washington.  Movement conservatives who adopt a "my way or the highway" appraoch to every issue can count on spending a lot of time complaining about their electoral losses. 

I do not advocate reaching out to liberals.  That is too far a stretch and could not be accomplished without abandoning our principles.  I do advocate talking to moderates.  Listen to them, learn how they think and why they have doubts about conservative policies.  We can not only learn how to craft our message to reach a broader audiance, we can also learn to look at our ideology through the eyes of a moderate and recognize some ideas and policies we may need to reexamine, modify or even abandon.  Nine times out of ten, such examination will leave our core principles unchanged; but this only reinforces that we were right in the first place and moderates will respect us for making the effort to understand them.

More then crafting a message

The Republicans will have to live it. They need to earn back their trust, and sadly, there's no shortcut for trust. It takes time.

I'll settle for seeing some concept of how

they intend to drive the big business out of their movement.

You need to get a constituency back from the Democrats

be that libertarians, professionals, Disadvantaged Dems, Military voters, or Conservative Democrats -- or the Upbeats or Disaffecteds (provided you can get them to vote).

All this "more pure Conservatism" is bubbemitzis. The Liberals won by emphasizing Libertarian values, at least in Montana (now with two Democratic Senators and a Democratic Governor, and within a hair of being Democratic in the Presidential).

Choose your issues, choose your factions.

And remain aware that you have been given the short end of the stick. The professionals are the prize constituency -- they're creative, wealthy enough to donate, and chock full of ideas.

The booby prize constituency is the Religious Right -- and they just took over your party. Problem with them is that they scare moderates. Remember that 40% of conservatives think that abortion should be legal.


I'm all for an insurrection in the Republican ranks, but I don't see it happening for at least another four years. Plant seeds now, and see what grows.

Abortion is a lot trickier

The publics view on abortion has been pretty consistent since Roe v Wade. Yes pro lifers are the minority but they are sizable. This isn't a social issue like gay marriage where you find that younger generations are more excepting of.

I couldn't find you 40% claim but there are a sizable group of Republicans who think it should be legal in most cases or at legal but only in certain cases. Actually that is mainly the same for both parties except Dems are less ok with legal but rare.

I do note that Dems just picked up even more pro-life Democrats in Congress this year (5) they also have a large group (mainly Catholics) that agree on most issues with the Dems except abortion.

I don't agree with your many anti-Socon postings but there definetly needs to be a softening of stances. The polling shows that gay marriage in the long run is unwinable (pressing for civil unions instead is), but abortion is much stickier. There could be a way to focus more on making it rarer but legal as Indies are ok with that. But I just don't see the US having two pro choice parties because it leaves too large a group without a voice (41%).



Compromise is the best idea!

I'm actually down with compromise on practically anything. Makes America stronger.

I don't think the SoCons want compromise, though...

The democrats are certainly working to keep the catholics in their coalition, which is good. I'm all for legalizing it, but giving young girls the option to keep the baby without consequences is even better...

Some SoCons believe that sex should have consequences, and so are against contraception and against STD research. I think those folks are scary...

There's a story out today on

There's a story out today on Drudge about Obama dropping his plan to impose windfall taxes on oil companies.  My point on this is that Obama and members of his party (like Pennsylvania's Bob Casey) seem to think that it's okay to bash American companies on a regular basis.  This, I think, is an issue the Republican Party should take a stand on.  These companies employ millions of Americans and many would say that, for their flaws, they are more in touch with the American people than this 18%-approval Democratic Congress. 

We have to win debates, not resort to name-calling and straw man arguments.  Why do many "conservatives" I see on blogs like this insist, instead, on tossing insiderish gibberish like RINO at people who would rather lend Ford $9 billion rather than seeing a million people lose their jobs? 

windfall tax goes away

when gas prices stop being unreasonable. it's a populist ploy, nothing more.

Do they hate gas companies? Nope. But American Sunshine and Water is a far better source of power than Middle East oil.

National Security means that we should take an interest in removing incentives for people to mine our oil.Conservatism says that too.

I firmly believe that companies are more of a threat to our freedom than government is, at the present point in time. "Too big to fail" is a plague on our free markets, not to mention our national security.

Some companies deserve to be yelled at. Ford, GM -- well toyota is doing just as bad ain't they?

Keepign Big Auto remains a national security issue. don't worry about them getting their bailout, the brass won't let them fail.

Companies?  A threat to

Companies?  A threat to freedom?  Dude, a depression is a threat to our freedom. 

hell's bells, of course a depression is a threat to our freedom

but the last time someone attempted a coup in this country, they were WALL STREET.

Or have you forgotten?

Times are hard, and demagogues rear their ugly heads. Democracy is more fragile than it's been in seventy years.

If the AEI disappeared

Without a trace, it would magically remove tons of dead weight from the party.

What is AEI?

I'm new here -- what is AEI?  And why should it disappear?  To follow some of the earlier comments, it seems this is another group being targeted for exclusion but I'd like to understand why?

Fixing the movement...

If the hard right wants the GOP to remain the party of the come to jesus angry white man, well so be it. Liberals want you to do that as well!

This election the GOP became the party of the old, undereducated, rural angry white voter. This group is becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the electorate. It became the party of the Southern core of the Confederacy and states like Wyoming where nobody lives. It lost in every major metropolitan area. It lost affluent diverse suburbs in Philadelphia, Charlotte, Raleigh, Fairfax and Northern Virginia, Alberquerque and Las Vegas, Miami and Tampa, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Indianapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Boston . It even lost Dallas and Houston.

It lost hispanic voters by 2 to l. It lost virtually 100% of the black vote. It lost the "youth" vote 2 to 1. The Democrats won every growing demographic.

There is no longer a GOP Representative in the House from all of New England, including those bastions of Republicanism, New Hampshire and Maine. There are only 3 GOP House members from New York and only one is urban. The increasing Hispanic vote will put Texas and Arizona in play in coming elections. Any party that starts with California, New York and Texas in its column is in a pretty strong position.

TV Cameras had a hard time finding a black face at the GOP convention. Bigots routinely talked to video cameras while in line and waiting outside.

The GOP needs to decide what it is FOR......calling the opposition names ain't gonna cut it as "policy". Being for "family" and "America" ain’t gonna cut it as policy. Calling the Dems "traitors" and marxists, rhetoric not heard in 50 years, revealed the dearth of GOP ideas.

Continuing to emphasize the culture wars will lead to a smaller, waiting for the rapture, lily-white regional Southern party.

Look at the faces of the new America........the demographics are against you. :-)



Wow! You nailed it!

I'm a moderate indie voter just coming here to learn, and you're the first person who has nailed every comment I would share to illustrate why I and many moderates I know were so monumentally turned off, if not downright scared, to see what has become of the GOP.  I watched most of the prime-time coverage of both conventions and frankly thought the GOP Chair should have been strung up by party members for allowing such a thoroughly bizarre, demeaning and out-of-touch spectacle to be presented on prime-time national TV.  I'm registered independent and after that convention I was relieved I'd removed the R from my voter card.  Some of my Republican friends were embarrassed too.  What do you say about a party that uses a national prime-time opportunity to demonize every city-dweller and the educated, and showcases angry old white people shouting 'drill, baby, drill' -- in addition to the almost complete absence of people of diverse backgrounds?  While much attention is given here and on other conservative sites to better using technology, some serious attention needs to be given to not only actual policy and proposals, but visuals and the 'messengers.'  WTH -- Rudy Guilani of all people screeching about  'small town values' -- by implication, city-dwellers lack values or have the 'wrong' values?  And you're from where, Rudy?  I thought the convention goers might as well have been chanting, "City dweller?  Educated?  Minority?  We don't need your stinkin' kind here!" -- it was that obvious.  And don't even get me started on the insantiy of thinking moderate, educated people could ever view Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, etc., as credible.  As long as angry, obstructionist, shouters are the 'voice' of the party, you're going to have a real PR problem with moderates. 

In fact, that convention was the main reason I'm here.  It was like driving by an accident -- I wanted to look away (turn off the TV) but the carnage was just too fascinating to look away from.  I've come here to see if I can learn what could possibly have possessed a party I used to belong to, to become such a thing.

The 'people' took over from the wealthy.

Used to be a lotta Rockefeller republicans up in the NorthEast. Used to be Professional Republicans from New Jersey and the Midwest (count Heinz among them). Used to be a lot of Libertarian Goldwaterites from the West. But there was an ugly Southern element -- both the KnowNothings, the Racists, and the Christian Fundamentalists. And those three are the folks who took over the party.

The rich were weakened by the stock market crash (lost influence) and the 'base' took over. Problem is, the rest of the country doesn't exactly like the base.

You know you've got problems when even the Quakers done drove you out!

I'm learning!

So far, I've learned that where I went 'wrong' was in my western Goldwater-libertarian leanings.  I also have the misfortune of being an educated city-dweller.  I am white, but that seems to be about all that would recommend me any more for party inclusion. 

Some things I'm still trying to learn: 

  • Why only oil and gas development are acceptable -- why can't alternative energies be seriously considered as part of a national security effort to end our dependence on foreign oil? 
  • What are these mythical 'small town values' that I lack?  Short of moving to a small town, how does one acquire and to whom must one demonstrate the 'right' values?
  • How is 'borrow and spend' superior to 'tax and spend'? 
  • What is the conservative/Republican proposal for health care?  If not "Obamacare" as the talk-radio blowhards like to go on about, then what? 

I'm not being snarky -- I'm truly interested if anyone can point me to a site where I can learn more about why Republicans take the positions they do on these things.  Although socially moderate, I can well understand the positions on some fairly controversial things like abortion. I may not fully agree with them but I can appreciate the reasoning behind them.  But I'm truly baffled on the topics I listed as to why the GOP has taken the positions it has, or has failed to offer much if anything in the way of alternatives (e.g., health care).


Here you go. From a coalminer out west...

I do believe that some of the fine folks from Texas have forgotten that folks from Colorado and the Mountain West get their jobs from Alternative Energy.

But I believe the pandering comes down to some really raw numbers. When you don't pay a gas tax, and subsequently need to use a pickup to drive to the grocery store, you pay a lot more in gas. On average, some Southern States pay 20% of their income to gasoline. So something that's really popular down south, might not be so popular other places.

The other aspect of it is that Alternative Energy got associated with Jimmy Carter and weakness -- you ever hear of the solar panels he put on the white house? Reagan pulled them down as soon as he got elected.

Small town values mean small-mindedness, not associating with the "wrong folk", and refusing to believe that maybe government might be able to do SOMETHING right (three things under budget: USGS, NOAA, NWS. i keep count, because it's so rare). At least that's what I got from listening to Palin.

From listening to folks in backwoods washington, I learned small town values also meant being nosy, and not being afraid to set fire to someone's house if you didn't like 'em. Also, that indian reservations are real apparent when you wander onto them. That's how dirt poor the Indians are.

I think somewhere along the line (and it differs in each state), the fiscal conservatives switched to the Democratic party.


I did actually hear a conservative proposal for health care around here -- it was to remove HMOs entirely. What I asked in return, and never rightly got an answer, was "if it wasn't broke in 1994, how did it break so bad in fifteen years?" -- my answer's Wall Street.

Thanks for the link

That post very aptly describes what I would consider the best and worst of 'small town values' and how that was cynically used this year to divide us -- not only R's from others but as I observed with friends, R's from R's.  Seems like a pretty dead-end approach to me unless a party has consciously chosen to market itself to a fairly limited (and declining) segment of the population, but an "interesting" marketing message if you're trying to sell a broader audience (say, one that might win an election), to say the least ...

Thanks also for the info on how gasoline tax affects support (or not) for alternative energies development.  I didn't realize there was a Southern/rest of country divide on that issue as well.  I'll have to do more research on that.  But frankly, I don't think the tax structure of a few Southern states should drive national security policy or trump the potential financial benefit to Western states of parity in federal support for alternative energy development.

I'll search on here for the HMO discussion.  Do you know if there's a better site to be visiting for policy discussions?  This one seems largely focused on 'branding' and the good of the 'party' -- I'm more interested in substantive policy debate, and competent and efficient solutions/governance than the health of any party.  That darn indie streak coming out again!

I'm all for some fair support for alternative energy

I want a nuclear fusion engine too (got the plans through the Navy. called it some sort of new propulsion system... now just need to prototype the sucker).

For substantive policy discussion, well, The Great Orange Satan ( does have it's share of Republicans. And they don't often trollrate people for just being contrary. Dr. David Brin is a great Modernist Republican -- not sure you can ever corral him into talking about one thing at a time, and he's science first, policy second. But always an entertaining read, and definitely one who's willing to fight against the Culture War.

As for me, I like this site because they won't ban my blueblood liberal tooshie (though I'm a Democratic Libertarian -- gov't where it's good, free market kept free by gov't).

If someone else has any suggestions, chime in?

You could also check out some of the BigBusiness 'institutes' like Heritage Foundation and their ilk, but I've seen enough bitchin' from the fine folks on the left about their scholarship that I won't read 'em.

RAND might be another place to look (along with the Army War College -- pretty non partisan, if specialized)

Thanks for all the leads...

I'll definitely check them out.  I'll check in here periodically but overall have to say I'm pretty discouraged so far that much is going to change in GOP outlook or proposals any time soon.  I still hear way too much "we'll fight them on everything" but hardly a whisper about what should be done instead.  Net result?  More of the same.  You were right in your last message, that I'm a fiscal conservative who has begun voting Dem more often than not.  Who'd have thought it, that 'tax and spend' Dems would begin to seem less risky than incompetent, corrupt 'borrow and spend' Repubs?  I'm also astounded at the number in the GOP now who don't see the inconsistency between the conservative values of personal responsibility and freedom, and party efforts to regulate our bodies, bedrooms and religious beliefs.  

Top down approach is the only way...

"This top-down approach is the curse of the party in power "

Patrick leadership and authority is needed.  Problem is you need leaders at the top who understand that the real "boss" = the voters!  The Base!   A true leader will have his/her fingers on the pulse of the Base/voters.  He/She will know what gets the Base enthusiastic and what makes them angry.   This leader will, in turn, "lay down the law" to those running the party and let them know that they must conform to the Base. Not vica-versa.  

Problem is now we have unenlightened "managers" running the party and they have it backwards.  Trying to tell the Base how things are going to be.  Dis'ing them, insulting them and ignoring them.  

The system is good but the people occupying the positions within the org are needing to have their butts fired.   Its like a sports team.  Coaches and their staff's get tossed when the team gets on a losing streak.     DD

they got their butts fired.

now the only question is, who has the moolah to keep your machine running. yes, the republicans have a machine, don't be a duck.

Whats wrong w/a machine?...

...problem is we have an 8 cylinder, high performance machine that is only running on about 5 or 6 cylinders.  Sputtering. We have a partial strategy.  The GOP hierarchy remains in denial about its most glaring problems w/the Base.  Why?  You nailed it RTide.  Its about our sources of money.   Repub's continue to accept money from sources funneling $$ through the seditious US Chamber.  All for the purposes of keeping the southern border wide open and the flow of cheap labor uninterrupted.  The exact opposite of what the Base wants.  The GOP needs to take that blood soaked US Chamber $$ and throw it right back into their face.   What will this accomplish?  A return of self respect for the GOP.  Yes, no doubt, there'll be money problems but when the GOP begins to put Nation and its citizenry first and starts to act respectable again, then the money will come from other and better sources. Maybe not as much, but enough. 

So what do you mean, "don't a duck".  You mean like "quack quack"?        DD

yes, i mean a quack quack silly like a goose duck

I wish you guys would kick out the big business. Then you could afford to admit that global warming really exists, and that some (moderate amount) regulation of Wall Street isn't bad.

I really think that immigration is a place where liberals and conservatives can come together and make SOMETHING happen (it'll be a compromise, of course, but at least it will get rid of the sweatshops).

My ref to a duck was because sometimes Republicans try to pretend that it's only the Democrats that have a machine (and people inculcated into believing that they must vote for a certain party)

Fixing the movement


Couldn't agree more that we need to be crystal clear about what we are FOR.   Certainly there are tons of opportunites to distinguish Republicans (conservatives) from the Democrats.  In my mind, we are already fairly clear on many of these:

Energy (my personal "hot button"):  We are doing the right thing here policy wise.  Supporting research on alternate energy sources (there are only so many cellulose to ethanol ideas out there to fund that have a chance of success or are now ready), pushing nuclear, developing our own sources of fossil fuels, etc.  This is an area where we should demolish the Dems and their "pixiedust energy policy".  Wishful thinking on alternatives to fossil fuels is not a policy.  Why the educated suburbanite doesn't see this is baffling.  We need to hammer this home.  There is NOTHING out there to take the place of petroleum for decades (and AGW is a total hoax)

Health care:  Truly a difficult topic but the Democratic idea of just let the Government take care of anyone proposal is well.............Gee, let's pay for it with "funny money".  We should just hammer any Dem that says we'll pay for this with "efficiency and elimination of waste" .

National Security: And the Dems idea is to lose in Iraq after it has been won?

Creating jobs:  The Dems have no idea how to do this.  They think that stealing money from the productive parts of the economy (say oil companies until gas became $1.60/gal) and giving it to their "friends in academia" (Hey look!  I discovered a microbe that can convert sawdust to ethanol in this test tube), or other questionable ventures is job creation.  We need to be more PRO BUSINESS

Bailouts:  How about a little Darwinsim here, and let's be specific about WHY bailing out  the Big 3 is a bad idea and what we WOULD do..

Science:  They  have us here for now.... No "creationism" or intelligent design in public schools.

Abortion:  Let's push alternatives and stay away from talk about overturning Roe v Wade.  It's a loser for us to talk about in public.

Ok, I'll stop now.

The rich were weakened by the

The rich were weakened by the stock market crash (lost influence) and the 'base' took over. Problem is, the rest of the country doesn't exactly like the base.

allergy symptoms

Its about our sources of

Its about our sources of money.   Repub's continue to accept money from sources funneling $$ through the seditious US Chamber.  All for the purposes of keeping the southern border wide open and the flow of cheap labor uninterrupted.  The exact opposite of what the Base wants led flashlight