The discussion in the comments section of my recent post on the midterms continues, but I wanted to post a couple of my responses from the thread to explain why anti-Bush, traditional conservatives shouldn’t be very pleased with the prospect of a Republican House majority.
Here is one response:
Speaking for myself, there are some movement conservatives that I have always identified as hostile to the conservatism we want to promote, and there have always been some movement conservatives that I, for one, have always regarded as “irredeemable” in the sense that they are diametrically opposed to much of what we believe and actively work to harm the things we wish to preserve. That’s nothing new.
On the whole, I don’t regard Tea Party activists as enemies at all, even if some or many of them might see me as one. In many respects, they are on the right track. It’s true that I don’t have much respect for movement conservatives who aligned themselves with Bush until things went awry, then pretended that they never treated Bush as one of their own, and have now once again identified themselves completely with Republican electoral fortunes. It’s certainly true that I am annoyed by some conservatives. These are the conservatives cheering on the current electoral wave driven by economic discontent and anxiety, but whose economic and trade policies would tend to exacerbate that discontent and anxiety in some of the very states that are about to deliver Republicans so many House seats. Do voters in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania really want to empower the party that is foursquare in favor of outsourcing and free trade? That’s what they seem poised to do, but I don’t think they’re going to be happy with the results. Do people who are furious over the bailout of Wall Street really want to make John Boehner, the pro-bailout friend of financial interests, into the Speaker of the House? If things work out as most people think they will, this is what will happen. I hope I’m not the only conservative who finds that a perverse and rather sickening outcome. I don’t consider that to be “making the same arguments the other side makes.” I consider that to be a critique rooted in conservative skepticism of state capitalism and decentralist distrust of concentrated wealth and power. Maybe I haven’t explained myself or made my arguments as well as I could have, but that’s what I keep trying to do.
I find it hard to get enthusiastic about Republican gains this year because they are wholly undeserved, and because they seem more than likely to result in the re-empowerment of all the same people who supported and enabled Bush’s agenda as if nothing had happened. Is it really beneficial for movement conservatives for their most visible elected political leadership to be John Boehner and Eric Cantor? I have been arguing that Boehner should be replaced for years, so I’m hardly going to become giddy at the thought of him as Speaker of the House. Has all of this clouded my judgment and made me hope that this rather appalling scenario (i.e., Boehner as Speaker) doesn’t come to pass? Maybe, but I don’t think so.
I assume that the activists who really are on the right track are going to be sidelined or marginalized at the first opportunity by a party leadership that is perfectly content to exploit their energy and then cast them aside. The “Pledge to America” has already told us that this is what will happen. On the policy front, I am concerned that some things, such as the arms control treaty, will be scrapped in the wake of the election, and that wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the broad, near-universal hysteria about Obama’s foreign policy coming from movement conservative think tanks, pundits, and activists. Far from correcting for the foreign policy errors that helped drive them from power, the most influential movement conservatives have become even more misguided.
Maybe it is counter-productive to point out that there is majority support for additional stimulus spending. I don’t point this out because I agree with that view, but because I see the denial of public opinion on this point to reflect a bad habit of wishing away inconvenient realities. When I see people claiming that there is a majority in favor of health care repeal, I become skeptical that this majority actually exists because it doesn’t really make sense to me, and I am even more skeptical that it exists for the reasons pro-repeal conservatives like to think that it does. When I see conservatives telling themselves pleasing fictions, it bothers me, since more than a few of our problems have their origins in such self-deception.
Ultimately, I see concentrations of wealth and power as the real enemies of conservatism as I understand it, and I see a lot of conservatives and Republicans aligning themselves with both in the service of getting themselves back into power, so I can’t say that I see that as conservative success. I am under the impression that the “centrists” dedicated to protecting centralized power and concentrated wealth are the real enemies of the bulk of both “Blue” and “Red” America, and I suspect that competitors within the political class want to keep pitting us against one another as a way of winning our support against their political class rivals while neglecting the interests of the rest of us.
Here was a follow-up response:
“I fail to see how it conceivably benefits us for the GOP to perform worse than expected.”
Well, it might depend on what we mean by “us,” but let me try to explain why it may be better for “us” broadly speaking (i.e., Republicans and conservatives) if the GOP does not win a majority in the House. I won’t pretend that I’m a good team player by the standards of Red Team vs. Blue Team (I’m not), but take this for what it’s worth.
First, a word about expectations. The expectations game was lost a long time ago. At this point, anything less than Silver’s projected 53 or Sabato’s projected 55 seats will be seen as underwhelming, and when you now have people breezily invoking 1942 and 1938 (!) as points of comparison there is almost no way that the GOP can’t underperform even if it does very well. I would like to point out that I have been arguing against raising unrealistic expectations for most of this year. Whether or not the GOP wins a lot more seats than I have predicted, it made sense for their leaders and supporters to make modest claims about likely gains. They chose to do something else and seem to have grossly exaggerated them.
A Republican House majority starting next year most likely makes Boehner and Cantor “our” spokesmen and the ones responsible for advancing “our” agenda. This is the political equivalent of getting out of a car that had just been driven into a telephone pole by a drunkard, finding a new car, and then handing the keys to the drunkard for another spin around the block in the hope that something different will happen. “It’s been five minutes, so he must be sober by now! He knows to watch out for telephone poles now.” It would be one thing to have trustworthy leadership that deserved respect trying to advance our agenda. They might succeed, or they might not, but we could assume that for the most part they were not actively conning us and abusing our trust. We could assume that they were actually working for our agenda rather than serving interests that have nothing to do with it. If the GOP falls short, it is hard to see how the current leadership remains in place. House Republicans could then make up for lost time and replace them.
For a while, I had assumed that the path to “victory” began with the discrediting of Bush Era party leaders and Bush loyalists in the conservative movement. Perhaps this was foolish of me, but I had assumed that the near-total, staggering failure of the Bush administration and movement conservative complicity in that failure would force significant changes. From there, working through the movement would at least be worth trying. Instead, what we are about to get is the re-empowerment of unreformed, unrepentant Bush Era Republicans with some Tea Partiers in tow, and we all understand that the latter are not going to be allowed to have much influence on legislation.
In other words, I can’t see a path to “victory” for any of the things we want so long as that first step hasn’t been taken, and it most definitely has not been taken. One reason it hasn’t been taken is that the GOP appears for the moment to be recovering politically without making any substantive changes. A Republican majority confirms that the GOP can succeed simply by being what it was during the last decade, and as long as it is succeeding in this way it will be as resistant as ever to our arguments. If Republicans fall short of a majority in a year when they’re certain they’re going to win, it may force them to start re-thinking.
Of course, I welcome challenges to Boehner, and have been calling for his ouster for years. I was agitating for getting rid of him after he presided over two massive consecutive defeats. What is the argument for removing Boehner after what it supposed to be a spectacular political triumph? The time for getting rid of Boehner was two or four years ago. The conference didn’t want to get rid of him, which should tell us plenty about the membership of the conference.