The old right wing of the GOP (old in age and/or ideas) is plainly unhappy these days. The party is moving and reforming in ways the dwindling forces of the old guard doesn’t control. (It can’t even keep GOProud from making a splash at CPAC.)
New politicians with huge followings and conservative bona fides it can’t undermine are redefining the conservative agenda. But the old guard isn’t merely disappointed; it also expresses all too often a sense of aggrievement. The “establishment” (it’s funny that conservatives who have been in D.C. for five decades would use that label pejoratively), the Republican National Committee, the consultants — the list is long of people who have done it wrong.
Noemie Emery responds to this sense of betrayal:
When things worked less well for conservatives who lacked Reagan’s luck and his genius, they decided their failure was explainable only by sabotage — after all, how else could they lose? On the way, the Right developed a sense of entitlement (the Republican Party owed them a nominee of their liking); an embrace of victimhood; a habit of translating their tactical failure to win over more voters into a moral failure on the part of those voters for not sensing their value; and a belief that they can manage to win more elections by purging all factions (and people) not wholly in sync with their views.
This isn’t the outlook with which Reagan won landslides. The GOP owes conservatives nothing beyond a chance and a hearing. The onus is on them to win over the voters. They are victims of nothing beyond their own much-too-high self-esteem.
As Emery points out, the old right has lacked a credible standard-bearer since Ronald Reagan, someone who is both conservative and attractive to non-conservatives. It was so in love with Reagan’s ideas and message that it forgot that many voters simply loved him.
And that takes us back to one of our favorite truisms about politics: It is as much about personalities, individual candidates and timing as it is about policy positions — maybe more so.
As things stand right now, neither Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) or Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) are to the liking of the anti-gay rights, anti-immigration, anti-problem-solving wing of the Republican Party. (Remember: 80 percent is not good enough for this crowd.) So who are they going to get to espouse a 40-year-old agenda? There is Rick Santorum, who got tripped up talking about contraception and the devil. Texas Gov. Rick Perry won’t do since he is a “squish” on immigration reform. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is all about being “optimistic” and “relevant” (the latter is an anathema to the old guard) and says that gay marriage is a generational issue.
To have an agenda the country isn’t buying and to lack a compelling figure to sell it is quite the pickle. No wonder the old right is grouchy.
Here’s some conciliation, however. The country is moving in its direction on a host of issues — skepticism of Big Government, crony capitalism, debt and opposition to abortion on demand, to name a few. That is a lot to work with, and its icon told them 80 percent really is good enough.
Rather than rail at the 20 percent, the old guard could concentrate on the rest and rejoice that there are varied and compelling conservatives who could lead a revival of the GOP. It’s not everything it wants, but who said you get everything you want, either in politics or life?