Dirty Hands

In Jean Paul Sartre’s “Dirty Hands,” two Communist revolutionaries argue about politics. Hoederer, the leader of the faction, believes that rhetoric and principles serve as vehicles to deliver a political reality that comes as close as possible to an ideal. He is a tough pragmatist who understands short term trade offs can serve long term ends. Hugo; his secretary who, unbeknownst to him has been sent to kill him; believes passionately in the Communist rhetoric and principles. He believes that compromising those principles with rank politics so undermines the movement that it loses its right to exist.

As a Republican in the “Era of Trump,” I ask myself: “Who, in this analogy, am I?”

For years, I railed against “RINO Hunters,” arguing Hoederer’s point, that imperfect messengers who delivered incremental victories were worth more than political losses delivered by principled grandstanders. Besides, I argued, the America that the so-called RINOs want closely resembles that which the conservative zealots envision. It was the naive ideologues who cheered on Senator Ted Cruz’ “Green Eggs and Ham” filibuster, or Ron Paul’s half-baked immutability. These ideologues rejected Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney–both men more conservative than their Democrat opponents, but deemed not sufficiently pure. For nearly a decade I wrote Black and Red, touted the supremacy of conservative principles, and supported “the most conservative candidate who could win,” even when the candidate was less conservative than my ideal.

Then, came 2016.

The GOP primary, and election of Donald Trump as President, caused me to reconsider my place in the GOP; and to rethink the Party’s desired goals. For years, I defended my tribe against liberal attacks that Republicans’ advocacy of principles like a smaller federal government, supply-side economics, and federalism, were nothing more than a Trojan Horse designed to deliver on darker, more sinister ends. I found these critiques the lowest of political demagoguery. Then, Trump wooed Republican voters, appealing directly to these dark impulses; while paying only cursory lip service to the grander principles the Party ostensibly supported. Clare Malone writes an incisive piece for Five Thirty Eight that reads in part,

“Many have assumed that adherence to a certain conservative purity was the engine of the GOP, and given the party’s demographic homogeneity, this made sense. But re-evaluating recent history in light of Trump, and looking a bit closer at this year’s numbers, something else seems to be the primary motivator of GOP voters, something closer to the neighborhood of cultural conservatism and racial and economic grievance rather than a passion for small government.”

One of Five Thirty Eight’s findings, which took into account multiple polls that gauged immediate feedback, found that among Republicans, candidate Trump’s approval ratings increased whenever he said the most outrageous things (e.g.–Judge Curiel couldn’t be impartial because of his Mexican heritage). Quite notably, his approval rating among Republicans has not dipped below 81%, in spite of his heretical views on conservatism.

So, who am I now?

Am I Hoederer, the pragmatist, who (if he weren’t a communist) would see Trump as a political means to an end?

Or am I Hugo, the idealist, convinced that this political concession threatens to entirely obliterate our shared ends?

That depends on who the GOP is–who we have become. Are we bigger than one man? What are our long term goals? How do we propose to improve Americans’ lives? What vision do we have for the country? Currently; between a White House perpetually embroiled in self-inflicted damage control, and a Balkanized Republican Congress; it appears that the conservative agenda (whatever it really is) has stalled.

The Krazy Konservative Kleavage

Seventy-two percent of the voters in 2012 identified as white. Thirty-five percent of the electorate self-identified as conservative. Mitt Romney won these groups 59% and 82% respectively. Still, though, Romney lost. He lost because President Barack Obama won three quarters of the non-white vote, including a staggering 71% of Latinos. This led to the Republican “post mortem” report, an exhaustive examination of the many challenges that face the party, especially in Presidential Elections. The report named many areas of improvement, but the most controversial prescription called on the Party to increase its minority outreach.

 

“If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity.” Furthermore, “we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”

 

Many Republicans–Big Tent Republicans–agree with these findings. Romney’s vow to make life for illegal immigrants so difficult that they would “self-deport;” failed to comfort the millions of immigrants and their families, and sent the message to Latinos that Republicans don’t “care about people like me.”  Moreover, Romney’s approach failed to address the complexity of the illegal immigration problem.

 

On the other hand, many other Republicans reviled this conclusion. They argue, instead, that Romney lost the 2012 election because he wasn’t–like them–a “true conservative,” ignoring that he represented the “true conservative” choice in 2008, when he ran against John McCain. “True conservatives” say that they believe in absolute ideological purity, but that does not appear to be so. Instead, “true conservatives” are singly concerned about Mexican immigration. These Republicans believe that across the nation, white conservatives simply refuse to come to the polls to vote for Republican candidates who are not conservative enough, and until a “true conservative” becomes the nominee, Republicans will continue to lose elections.

 

The numbers, however, belie this conclusion.

 

By “true conservative’s” estimates, for example, George W. Bush is more conservative than both McCain and Romney. In 2000, 29% of voters self-identified as conservative, 34% in 2008, and 35% in 2012. Bush earned 82% of the conservative vote in 2000, McCain earned 78% in 2008, and Romney won 82% in 2012. In other words, Romney won more conservative votes than each of these recent predecessors, McCain earned more conservative votes than Bush, and fewer self-identified conservatives came out for Bush than did for both McCain and Romney.

 

Was George W. Bush not conservative enough to attract these phantom “true conservatives?” Why did so many more conservatives come out to support a “less conservative” Mitt Romney? Impervious to evidence, “true conservatives” dig in their heels.

 

As candidates entered the 2016 Presidential Race, the dichotomy couldn’t be clearer: Among others; senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Governors Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and John Kasich; conspicuously represented the Big Tent Republicans–the Republicans who got the memo in 2012. Senator Ted Cruz, and hotelier Donald Trump represented the “true conservative” wing of the Party.

 

In an appeal to his Republican constituents, Trump attacked Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish. Cruz did the same to Marco Rubio. This line of attack meant to elicit visceral concerns about Mexican immigration, also suggested that the Big Tent candidates shared a secret agenda to serve the interests of Hispanics over American (white) interests, and implied that neither Bush nor Rubio can be trusted. In fact, Cruz openly accused Rubio of saying one thing on Univision–in Spanish–and another to the American public–most of whom do not speak Spanish and cannot fact check Cruz’ claim with certainty or ease. Interestingly, in 2012, Newt Gingrich argued that he was the “real conservative,” as opposed to Romney, and he employed this very same kind of attack, arguing that Romney’s bilingualism (French, in his case) raised questions about his fealty to America.

 

Big Tent Republicans, on the other hand, make the case, as did Rubio, that speaking Spanish helps deliver the conservative message to more people. In keeping with the Big Tent goal of expanding the Party, Bush and Rubio argued that bilingualism was a tool to welcome new people into the GOP.

 

“True conservatives’” favorite attack against Big Tent Republicans regards immigration policy. Rubio faced intense castigation for working with a bipartisan team of Senators to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The bill would have penalized, with a fine and repayment of back taxes, any of the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States who chose to accept this punishment. Then, this group could earn legal status–even citizenship. The bill strengthened the E-verify program, and mandated businesses to participate. It passed the Senate with 68 votes, but died in the House.

 

“True conservatives” cheer the bill’s failure, calling it “amnesty,” as if the word has no definition. Rubio bears the scars for participating in The Gang of 8 (not to be confused with the Gang of 14 that “true conservatives” hung around John McCain’s neck in 2008). “True conservatives” believe that law enforcement officers should hunt illegal immigrants, take them from their houses and places of employment, send them to immigration courts, detain and deport them. Both Trump and Cruz say that they will do all of this and build a 50 foot wall along the Southern border.

 

At this point in the 2016 election, half of the 4 remaining candidates are “true conservatives,” while the other half are Big Tent Republicans. Unfortunately, the “true conservatives” are winning.

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This schism suggests that Republicans have learned nothing from their 2012 defeat. “True conservatives’” appeals to xenophobia have unsurprisingly attracted support from the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, and other white supremacist groups. Trump’s reticence to denounce this wing of his supporters further validates the fears minorities have about the GOP. If ever one would wonder whether or not Republicans “care about people like me,” one only need remember that rather than trying to appeal to minorities, the Republican Party prefers to court nonexistent white people.

 

Most of the candidates who worked to expand the Party have dropped from the race for lack of support. While some conservative commentators may argue that a majority of Republican voters do not agree with Donald Trump, the fact remains that Ted Cruz represents the same wing of the divided Republican Party. Neither candidate works to welcome new members to the GOP rolls. In fact, they both push minorities away. As a result, millions of potential Republican voters will vote Democrat, and the Democrats will win another Presidential election.

 

Voting for Marco Rubio, on the other hand, presents the Democrats with a true challenge: no longer can they take minority votes for granted, because Rubio actively courts them. For every Democrat surrogate sent to speak in Spanish on behalf of their white candidate, Rubio, himself, can answer on his own behalf. The image of Rubio sharing a stage with Governor Nikki Haley, Senator Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy will be a galvanizing image for the Republican Party.

 
As it happens, though, “true conservatives” continue to win more Republican votes. So when Republicans lose in November, prepare for another hand wringing report about the lack of minority outreach. Prepare for the accusations that the GOP nominee was ideologically tainted. For had he been a “true conservative,” millions upon millions of whites would have shown up to vote Republican.

RINO Hunters’ Circular Firing Squad

The 2016 Republican Nomination race, simplistically cast as a competition between “Establishment RINOs” and the “True Conservative” base, illustrates a destructive psychosis currently infecting the GOP. Paranoid voices on the right insist that the party is under siege by a liberal cabal of kamikaze Republicans–RINOs, The Establishment. Stemming from political messaging, which, by nature, emphasizes oppression and persecution in order to connect voters emotionally to candidates and policies, this narrative divides Republicans and paves the way for Democratic victories.

John Hayward, at Breitbart, begins a particularly daft piece by defining the Establishment thusly:

 

“There is a part of the GOP power structure,” Hayward writes, “that has always been most happy to serve as the permanent minority, personally enriched by serving as minor, ineffective obstacles to the ruling Left. They win elections by cadging millions from conservatives desperate to Do Something about the mess in Washington, then sink comfortably into that mess as though relaxing in a jacuzzi, rousing themselves only to display true fury against the occasional cage-rattling, boat-rocking conservative insurgent.”

 

Enter the straw man argument. (Thanks, Obama!)

 

Who, in the “GOP power structure,” is “happy to serve as the permanent minority?” Who is “personally enriched” by powerlessness?

 

The immediate response RINO Hunters gave to these questions used to be Speaker John Boehner, the man  who tearfully wrested the Speaker’s gavel from Nancy Pelosi in 2010, heeding the call from the “cage-rattling, boat-rocking conservative insurgents” known as the Tea Party. Boehner promised to curb federal spending, and he delivered–cutting the deficit by three quarters during his tenure. He rallied every single Republican House member to vote against Obamacare. He protected the Bush Tax Cuts from expiring on all Americans.

 

This wasn’t enough to placate Pharisaic Republicans, though. The Daily Caller’s Guy Bentley reports that Boehner left the Speakership with only 24% of Republicans viewing him favorably. A YouGov word cloud showed that the most common words used by Republicans to describe Boehner are “quitter,” “spineless,” “weak,” and “RINO.” Given that level of gratitude for successfully stymying President Barack Obama’s agenda from one house of Congress, it is no wonder the GOP struggled to replace Boehner.

 

But, we eventually did–turning to young, Republican budget hawk, Paul D. Ryan.  His credentials, used to quiet RINO Hunters who had recast the 2008 conservative standard bearer Mitt Romney into the role of the 2012 RINO, haven’t protected him from the cannibalistic right-wing media. Breitbart’s Alex Swoyer calls Ryan “unchained.” Vox Day, of the bizarre World Net Daily, calls Ryan a RINO. So does syndicated talk show host, Joe Walsh. And on and on the monkey chases its tail.

 

So, “Where Have All the Conservatives Gone?” asks satirist Paul Shanklin.

 

Ask Hayward’s “cage-rattling boat rockers” who 2016’s true conservatives are, and they will likely to point to the two current Republican frontrunners: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Understanding how these two candidates have come to epitomize a conservative ideal requires one to know nothing of conservative principles at all.

 

Trump, who openly boasts about his massive donations to politicians on both sides of the spectrum, somehow eludes the Establishment stamp. Beneath his crass, classless ad hominem attacks lie his big government fairy tale policy “ideas.” Not only will building a wall along the southern border do nothing to stop the more than 40% of immigrants who overstay their VISAs, but it cannot be constructed (on Mexico’s or our dime) because of eminent domain issues and its prohibitive costs.

 

Trump’s plan to Institute a ban on all Muslims entering the country is even stupider. If you were an Islamic terrorist bent on killing Americans, would you tell a customs agent that you’re a Muslim? If you weren’t a terrorist, but just a Muslim, who would pay for your return flight?

 

Debating his “wrong-but-strong” policies is pointless because they can never happen.Finally, and most importantly, Trump loses to Hillary Clinton (whom he paid to attend his most recent wedding) in every single poll Real Clear Politics uses in its aggregates. Interestingly, the Republican Establishment that is “happy to serve as the permanent minority” doesn’t support Trump.

 

Ted Cruz came to fame by vacuuming up money from gullible donors during his 2013 government shutdown. To this day, he offers no explanation as to how shutting down the government would have defunded Obamacare–a piece of legislation that was already paid for via past appropriations. After a closed-door meeting with Republican Senators yielded no strategy answers from Mr. Cruz, one Senator said:

    “It’s pretty evident it’s never been about a strategy–it’s been about him (Cruz)…I think he’s done our country a major disservice. I think he’s done Republicans a major disservice.”

 

Then, again, even if the shutdown could have produced a budget that slashed Obamacare, no one (not even Cruz) believes that President Obama would have signed it. Yet, despite this, Hayward didn’t include Cruz in his admonitions of Republicans who are “…personally enriched by serving as minor, ineffective obstacles to the ruling Left.”

 

And herein lies the problem: The constant bleating about RINOs and the Republican establishment smacks of insanity when scam artists and Establishment candidates are forwarded as the answers to this so-called problem. The very conservatives who argue that “words have meaning,” abandon the very meanings of words like “amnesty,” “RINO,” and “Establishment,” if doing so allows for masochistic catharsis.

 

And so, RINOs and Establishment Republicans pose no threat to the conservative cause, and the monikers mean nothing. RINOs and Establishment Republicans are those who believe that we advance conservatism by winning elections. We win elections by broadening the Party. We broaden the Party by connecting sound, productive, conservative ideas with people in need.

 

RINO Hunters are true RINOs (as they don’t care about the Party) who wish to shrink the GOP by way of purity tests and fanciful policy prescriptions that feel good, but do nothing. Trump led gullible conservatives down the Birther path, and Cruz down the government shutdown path– both for self aggrandizement. RINO Hunters are “happy to serve as the permanent minority,” and their banner candidates revel in being “personally enriched by serving as minor, ineffective obstacles to the ruling Left.”
Enough already.