Rick Moran poses some pointed questions I'm eager to respond to and plan to shortly. -Patrick
Patrick Ruffini and Mindy Finn have a nice write up in today’s Washington Post regarding their new web effort Rebuild the Party.com. The website features a list of endorsers that constitutes a who’s who of the rightysphere as well as a plan they would like to see the GOP adopt that, includes the recruitment of 5 million new Republican online activists, reorganizing the RNC, developing a new fundraising model, and rebuilding the grass roots infrastructure of the party.
All ambitious goals to be sure. But are they achievable?
Everybody agrees the GOP must become more web savvy and that a better connection has to be made to conservatives online. Few would also argue with the notion that efforts must be made to catch up to the Democrats in online fundraising and organization. But then we have the problem with the Republican party itself and its refusal to get serious about the kinds of reforms that would make a conservative like me proud to belong once again.
If Ruffini wants me to promote candidates, raise money, and urge volunteers to work for campaigns he better put a burr under the ass of the party leadership and get them busy on changing just about everything about the organization that contributed to its defeat these last two elections. These are not just technical adjustments or changes around the edges. We are talking about fundamental alterations in people, policy, and ideology that would make the Republican party worth getting excited about again.
Republicans are about ready to fall into a couple of traps that losing parties apparently can’t avoid when the dust settles following a debacle such as they have experienced the last two election cycles. The first is the belief that the reason for being rejected by the voters is that their candidates weren’t “pure” enough ideologically and that only by pushing forward “true conservatives” can the GOP find its way back.
I don’t dispute the necessity for putting up more conservatives for office. But the idea that you can have some kind of lock step litmus tests to determine who a “true” conservative might be is nuts – and counterproductive. There are plenty of competitive congressional districts where one of those “true” conservatives would get slaughtered by most Democrats. When 70% of the country does not identify itself as “conservative,” you are deliberately setting up the GOP for defeat if you advocate only “real” conservatives receive support.
There are candidates that would be completely acceptable to the vast majority of conservatives who would fail some of the litmus tests given by the base. A party that seeks to diminish its ranks by making membership dependent on a rigid set of positions on issues is a party doomed to maintaining its minority status. The Democrats made the exact same mistake in 2000 and it cost them in 2002 and 2004.
Only when they stopped listening to people like Kos and recruited dozens of candidates that reflected the realities of their specific district did they break through in 2006 and 2008. These candidates were not hard left ideologues but much more pragmatic in their politics. That didn’t mean they were “conservative” or even “moderate.” It means they were attractive candidates with decent name recognition, well funded, well organized, and in tune with local concerns. And they wiped the floor with our guys.
The other trap the GOP appears to be springing on itself is the idea of “me-tooism.” “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” may have worked for Bugs Bunny, but to see Republicans seeking to alter the disastrous Bush/Obama policies on bailouts only by proposing less money or nibbling around the edges rather than uniting to oppose these fundamental alterations in American society only proves that the vast majority of them are not worthy of conservative support. On this, the most important issue that has come before the Congress in a generation, the GOP is failing the test.
Pat believes that changes in the party can be effected by uniting the conservative community online and forcing the GOP to make necessary alterations. I believe he is being overly optimistic. What should come first, party reform or rightroots activism? What good would all of Pat’s great ideas be if they came to fruition and the GOP was still a party of pork-loving, deficit embracing, open border hugging, lobbyist kissing corrupt hacks? Is Ruffini saying that by initiating the kind of activism he is looking for online that the party will, either naturally or by osmosis, magically reform itself into an organization that conservatives would feel justified in backing?
This, is not an insignificant point. As is stands now, the rightroots are more conservative than they are Republican. And the noises being made by many GOP officeholders are not encouraging. The transformation of our economy into some kind of quasi-socialist managed disaster is going on with barely a peep from Republicans. Yes there are some like Senator Inhofe who are trying to hold the line. But if the GOP is interested in employing the conservative online community in a bid to help the party back to power, it would be helpful if a few more congressmen and senators joined the fight, proving that they were worthy of conservative support by acting like, well, you know, conservatives.
In the end, despite the undoubted genius of Ruffini and his friends, I can’t see him making much headway until the Republican party rediscovers its fundamental philosophy and its primary purpose for existing; to elect honest and ethical candidates who espouse conservative values . Not litmus tests but rather shared principles of governance with room for disagreement and debate.
Can Ruffini’s template for conservative activism and organization goad the GOP into that kind of a reformation? I think Pat is counting on that happening. But from where I’m sitting, it would appear to be an uphill battle to motivate online conservatives to join a cause where their activism would be exploited by those who don’t share their principles or care for their opinions.