GOP

The Union and the Confederacy: the Ongoing Civil War in the GOP

The time has come for honesty. We cannot continue as we are, pretending to party unity. The schisms are too obvious. We talk of “establishments” and “purists” as though we all want different things. Let me suggest that this is in fact, because we want different things.

Let us first talk of the Union. The Union is the Washington GOP, the New York GOP, the PAC bundlers and the white-paper policy writers. The crew that ran K Street and runs Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and National Review. The opposition from the old days, when conservatism was drowning in a sea of rad-libs and fellow travelers, and keeping the faith alive from one defeat to the next was the order of business.

The Union are Hamiltonian men, for whom the business of government is management. The economy is to be managed; the welfare state is to be managed. Sure, we can make sound argument that these things should not exist, that they are poisonous to the body politic. But we will not unmake these things, because the insanity of the Left is something we must also manage to. If we push too hard, the left will turn the Eye of Sauron on us, and the mushy middle will betray us, and we will get Goldwatered. We must manage the progressive rot of our liberties, because the alternative is progressively worse.

Then there is the Confederacy. People who have been paying attention to the Tea Parties from the beginning know that hostility to Bush-brand bailouts and “compassionate conservatism” was also part of their fury. They felt betrayed by the conservatives they had sent to Washington, who had suckled on pork and given us Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind. What was the point of electing Republicans, if this was what they got?

The Confederacy – Tea Parties, Breitbart, and Reason-reading, Hayek-quoting kindred spirts of that ilk – don’t want to manage the erosion of our liberties. They want to roll it back. They’re tired of having to defend a constantly shrinking circle of redoubts, which the progressives may attack at their leisure. They don’t want to fix Social Security; they want to break it in two. They don’t want to increase federal education spending; they want to end it. Because that word – liberty – which I hardly heard in the 80′s and 90′s, has suddenly returned to vogue. The conservative base has had it with diluted conservatism, with begging the Priests of Leviathan to please not change everything right this minute.

This divergence is at the root of all the strife amid Republicans, not just now, not just during the election, or during the primaries, or even during the first Tea Party primaries in 2010 (O’Donnell vs. Castle et. al), but further and yet further back. Yesterday Stacy McCain reminded us that Rush Limbaugh backed Pat Buchanan’s quixotic attempt to unseat Bush the Elder in the 1992 primaries.

Limbaugh knew that Bush was doomed to defeat in 1992, and that the key was to give conservatives a cause worth fighting for. After Bush lost, Limbaugh’s show became the focal point for the Republican opposition that triumphed in 1994.

We cannot win if we do not fight, if we do not risk defeat. Ace spoke on this yesterday:

Yes, taking the Strong, Uncompromising Position has a chance of moving the Overton Window in your direction, which the Weak-Tea Fudge Position does not.

But then, taking the Strong, Uncompromising Position can also move the Overton Window away from you, too.

It’s a high-risk strategy. As in investing, high-risk plays are the only ones that can generate high value rewards… but then they can also bankrupt you. You can make high-risk investments, but not too many of them, and you have to make such decisions only with great care and deliberation.

He thinks that Paul Ryan took the Strong, Uncompromising Position last year and that it blew up in our faces. People were terrified of messing with the government gravy train and so fell into the soft embrace of Obama’s orotund evasions. Perhaps, perhaps. But was this not instructive? Did we not learn something about the work that is before us? About the extent to which we are outflanked culturally and demographically? Did we not all, Establishment and Tea Party, come away with the understanding that we have to try harder, and in new ways, if we want to win again?

Perhaps not. Perhaps all the Union men came away with was the fact that we just got pummeled and that we should give the Beast whatever he wants so that he will eat us last. And Perhaps the Confederates learned only to Let it Burn, so that they can rebuild on the ashes.

But no election is ever the last one. We will have another chance, and soon. The question is, what will we use that chance to do? To maintain and manage, or to resist? Do we want to trim Leviathan’s claws, or do we want to kill the beast?

We need to make up our minds. Our enemies already have.