Political Hay

Republican Stockholm Syndrome

Post-election hand-wringing goes on and on and on and...

By 1.30.13

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Tucker Carlson once wrote that it’s the duty of the political majority to torment the minority.

He’s right, of course, and since the 2012 election, watching Democrats torture Republicans is reminiscent of Le Chiffre finally getting his hands on Bond, or one of the more sanguinary scenes from 24. Turn on MSNBC these days and you’ll see a non-stop metronome of post-Romney Republican flogging. You want this to stop?! Then pander to Hispanics! Give up on entitlements! It’s enough to send you thumbing through the Geneva Conventions.

Conservatives ought to be weathering the pain and dismissing it as a short-term problem. Instead many are succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome, taking the flagellations personally and wondering if their captors have a point. Certain conservative quarters are starting to sound like political strategy shops, fretting over which principles to jettison so they can win an election and make the abuse stop.

Forget the Resurrection or American Founding or French Revolution. For these commentators, the formative historical moment for conservatives is now the 2012 election. Republicans (narrowly) lost; therefore the right must charter a new course and make its ship sleeker. So cast overboard the constitutionalist cargo and roll back the culture war cannons. The intellectual tradition of Burke and Kirk, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, John Adams and Adam Smith, Taft and Coolidge and Goldwater and Reagan, must come to a bracing halt. Because Republicans lost an election.

This is such spectacularly bad logic that it’s tough to know where to begin. Let’s start with the fact that the right’s Democrat tormentors don’t want a legitimate opposition party. They want a single Democratic Party, in agreement so it can pass its agenda. The left is insisting the right “modernize” on certain issues. Which ones? Entitlements. Spending. Taxes. The debt. Regulatory policy. Healthcare. Abortion. Gun control.

Everything.

Those last two – abortion and gun control – speak volumes about what’s really happening here. Polls show Americans are more pro-life than ever before, and the NRA has a 54% approval rating in spite of the post-Newtown firestorm. And yet these are issues on which the right must yield? This isn’t serious political advice; it’s the left using the election loss to blindly bludgeon Republicans.

Many of the GOP’s self-styled moderates and gravitas-radiating establishmentarians have happily joined in. They’ve established a narrative that goes something like this: Mitt Romney was a fine candidate with a real shot at winning. But then Todd Akin emerged and said something stupid. This led tens of millions of curious Americans to turn on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, which filled them with revulsion. Then Romney was caught on tape referring to the 47%, which was the last straw and sent the great middle stampeding towards Obama. Also, Karl Rove lied to donors. It was those damn conservatives, you see.

This is patent nonsense, as any check of a mid-2012 presidential tracking poll will show. But it’s a view taking hold among many Republicans. Witness this from the National Review summit over the weekend, as summarized by the New Republic:

It was Commentary’s John Pohoretz [sic] who broke the news that when a party spends several decades declaring all government regulation off limits, it makes it sort of hard for elected representatives to pass regulations and laws to their liking. It’s one thing to decry Dodd-Frank or the Affordable Care Act, but if you aren’t able to propose rules and regs to replace them, you’re not going to be taken seriously. “The problem with three decades of movement thinking is that it ends up creating dead ends,” he said. (Emphasis added.)

But many conservatives don’t believe the government has any business passing new health care “rules and regs.” Those same conservatives also blame excessive government regulation for driving up health care costs in the first place. Podhoretz and other commentators can disagree with that view. But it’s not a “dead end” and pointing at the election doesn’t refute it.

Conservatives balance and apply their principles differently. They should debate and disagree. But they shouldn’t become a flimsy, reactionary force that follows the wind of public opinion. “Mitt Romney lost” isn’t an intellectual argument, and it’s not much of a political one either.

Also notice that the target of much of this moderation talk seems to be the small-government wing and the Tea Party. To avoid a 2012 repeat, we’re told, stop talking about entitlement reform and cutting federal agencies.

It’s an astonishing message. At a time of record debt and government overreach, we’re supposed to have two economically liberal parties?

Enough of this hand-wringing. Even if the GOP had run Rand Paul for president, even if he’d lost by 25 points, even if Democrats in gray suits were now overflowing out the Capitol building windows, that doesn’t mean the right should call it quits. We lost an election. Politics are ephemeral; principles and traditions are firm.

And politics change. When George W. Bush was elected in 2000, no one anticipated that 9/11 would happen and he’d flourish as a war president. Equally unpredictable was that Bush would win re-election thanks to social issues. Or that the public would tire of the war by 2006. Or that an economic crash would help Barack Obama into office in 2008. Or that Obama would overreach with health care and the Tea Party would rise in 2010.

Casting aside decades of conservative thought to rebuild on the soft ground of an election loss is the height of foolishness.

Republicans have a dedicated activist base, a talented bench, and a strong beachhead in the House of Representatives. They’re facing record national debt, crumbling entitlement programs, and torpid small business growth. They should be planning for the year ahead, not nodding in unison with leftists wearing executioner masks.

Snap out of it, gents. There’s a fight to be had.

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About the Author

Matt Purple is The American Spectator's assistant managing editor.