Newt Gingrich was among GOPers at CPAC blaming consultants-Evan Vucci/A.P.
Newt Gingrich was among GOPers at CPAC blaming consultants (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Conservative pols, I would acknowledge, get undue and disproportionate criticism from the mainstream media that largely disagree with their views and are unable to extend the benefit of the doubt even when warranted. That said, conservatives can be a whiny lot.

For people very big on personal responsibility they have a lot of bad excuses:

1. “He is criticized because he is successful.” Actually, not. A lot of conservatives are successful and, chances are, the pol in question did something to at least attract attention. Often, the people on the receiving end of complaints are not accomplishing anything other than drawing criticism.

2. The media is out to get conservatives.” Again, it’s a given but not a valid excuse for whatever misconduct, misstep or malfeasance they are alleged to have committed.

3. So and so did the same thing, and no one complained.” That might be interesting and evidence of bias, but it’s not a sufficient explanation for whatever a conservative has been accused of doing.

4. He’s just taking on the establishment.” This is often said by pols and pundits who themselves are Beltway veterans. In any case, taking on the establishment, even if one can figure out to whom that term applies, is not a panacea for lying, rudeness and a host of other offenses.

5. Well, who is X to talk?” This is the ad hominem attack that casts criticism back at the accuser. Well, a broken clock is right twice a day, so this really doesn’t address the merits of the criticism.

6. I’m just more principled than everyone else.” You lose points for vanity from the get go if you try that one out, and it rarely is true. In any case, principled does not mean reckless, destructive, counterproductive, etc. (For a solid description of “prudence” and the lack thereof, take a look at Peter Wehner’s discussion.)

7. They are trying to shut him up.” This begs the question who the “they” are and, moreover, assumes that criticism is the same as censorship or that opposition is illegitimate.

Pols and their handlers are instinctively averse to addressing criticisms on the merits, both because it elevates the one doing the criticizing and because it means repeating the allegation. But conservatives need to do just that: answer critics on the merits, make the argument for their case and/or correct the record as needed. The criticism can be and often is dead wrong, but then it should be easily brushed aside without resorting to any of the seven excuses I’ve listed.

Unfortunately, the volume and intensity of attacks and counter-attacks coming from conservative pundits, candidates and operatives often leaves one open to the charge that “he can dish it out but sure can’t take it.” Thin-skinned politicians aren’t likely to last long; the best pols are gracious, good-humored and generous to their allies and opponents alike. These “happy warrior” types are too rare these days, a victim of 24/7 cable news and non-stop attacks. But they also make the best leaders and are least likely to get off track because of resentment and a woe-is-me attitude that often is used to justify unsavory conduct.

In short, the next time a pol complains about being “picked on” or “singled out” or being the “victim of a double standard” or “getting criticized because he is hitting a nerve,” consider whether those excuses are adequate. And then you might question why someone who suffers criticism so badly went into politics in the first place.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.