Loose Canons

This Year’s Conservative Insurgency

The only question is whether conservatives will win it in time to reform the Republican Party by 2012.

By 9.20.10

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We hear so much about the counterinsurgency strategy Gen. David Petraeus has pursued in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have lost track of another insurgency that's being fought here between conservatives and the Republican establishment.

Conservatives will win this battle. The only question is whether we will win it in time to reform the Republican Party and defeat Obama two years from now.

In some ways it's like 1976, when conservatives fell short of nominating Ronald Reagan. Then, as my friend and editor Wlady Pleszczynski reminds me, conservatives were less organized and most Americans were still thinking in the terms of 1972, when the "Silent Majority" had to choose between the counter-cultural McGoverniks and Richard Nixon, who to the media was -- if not the devil himself --at least the devil's first cousin. But it is like 1976 in the fact that Barack Obama is as much a counter-cultural force as were Obama's pal Bill Ayers, Jane Fonda, and the others who were the faces of angry liberalism in their day.

As a new Rasmussen poll shows, "conservative" is still the most positive political label, "liberal" the least popular and "Tea Party candidate" the most influential. The media -- with the help of the conservative establishment and RINO party switchers like Charlie Crist and Lisa Murkowski -- are desperately working to make "Tea Party" synonymous with "extremist" and "radical." They are suffering a case of the vapors over the "civil war" within the Republican Party, as CNN's Candy Crowley called the conservative insurgency yesterday.

In some ways it's also like 1992 and 1996 when Ross Perot's independents tried to run against the Republican establishment and only succeeded in providing Bill Clinton with the margins he needed to defeat his Republican opponents. But this year huge numbers of voters are politically active for the first time. They are angry for many of the same reasons the Perotistas were, but this time -- because people feel that the government no longer represents them (see, e.g. Obamacare, which most Americans opposed and still want repealed), the continuing economic slump and fear of the long-term damage created by Obama's spending tsunami -- voters are taking this election personally.

I remember a conversation I had about a year ago with Republican chairmen from big states. When I asked them what they were doing to capture the energy of the Tea Parties, there was dead silence on the other end of the phone. Only the Texas chairman had a good answer. They, and most of the Republican congressional leaders, didn't understand the need to reach out to the independents and turn their energy into votes. It only got worse when this year's primary season began.

From the outset, the Republican establishment has chosen to fight the conservative insurgency rather than support it or even stay out of the fight until a nominee is chosen.

Fresh from its giving monetary support to Arlen Specter's campaign before he switched parties, the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, led by the otherwise admirable Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) launched an unprecedented interference in primary races.

The NRSC threw its financial support very early to Charlie Crist, who was no match for Marco Rubio, and went on to support a whole string of establishmentarian losers: Jane Norton in Colorado, Sue Lowden in Nevada, Trey Grayson in Kentucky, Lisa Murkowski in Alaska who lost to John Miller (Cornyn's team had sent attorneys to Alaska as well as money to help save Murkowski from Miller), and most recently Mike Castle in Delaware.

Sen. Cornyn should tell us how much money has been wasted on defending establishment candidates and now cannot be thrown in to support the conservatives in their races against the Democrats.

And it's not only in Senate races in which the establishment has taken a beating. In the New York gubernatorial primary, tough-talking conservative Carl Paladino left establishment candidate Rick Lazio looking like the coyote in Road Runner cartoons, lying flat on his face with footprints up his back.

The reason conservatives will win over the establishment Republican/media counterinsurgency is explained in the book that is reportedly Gen. Petraeus's bible: Counterinsurgency Warfare, Theory and Practice," an obscure 1964 work by French Lt. Col. David Galula who learned counterinsurgency first-hand in China, Greece, Indochina, and Algeria.

One of the most important features of a successful insurgency, Galula wrote, is that the insurgent has to espouse a cause that the counterinsurgent cannot or can only do so by losing power. The 2010 conservative insurgency has two such causes, and the Republican establishment is so unsure of what principles it stands for that it cannot bring itself to join conservative insurgents in those causes.

The first of the insurgents' causes is to reduce the size and cost of government. Opposition to Obamacare and outrage at Obama's spending spree is what created the Tea Party. Suffering a grand mal seizure of denial, Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine said in a CNN interview yesterday that Tea Party candidates' radicalism doesn't appeal to independent voters. Kaine cannot seem to admit that the vast majority of the Tea Partyers are independents. Will the congressmen and senators who voted for Obamacare over the objections of most voters fare better with Tea Partyers than those candidates who promise to repeal it?

Small government conservatism -- Reagan conservatism, the conservatism of Thomas Paine -- doesn't register any better with Republican establishmentarians than it does with Gov. Kaine. A redundant proof, as RET's recent column pointed out, was in House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) concession a week ago that he'd support repeal of some of the Bush tax cuts. Boehner thus made it impossible for conservatives to hold the line against Obama and Pelosi. Boehner cut the legs out from under the faux-moderate Democratic "Blue Dogs" who might have helped block the repeal. Boehner may have a rough time with newly elected conservatives in January, whether or not he has the opportunity to achieve the House speakership he covets.

The other cause that conservative insurgents espouse is the support for social values -- everything from abortion to the military's ban on openly-serving homosexuals -- which the Republican establishment wants to ignore. The massive August 28 Glenn Beck rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial was an appeal to the religious element of America that is another massive element abandoned by Republican establishmentarians and even some conservatives looking toward 2012.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels needs to rethink his call for a "truce" on social issues while economic issues are resolved. Independent voters -- like those at the Glenn Beck rally -- won't tolerate a truce with the counter-cultural Democrats who want to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" and impose amnesty for some illegal aliens with the "DREAM Act."

The 2010 election is ineluctably the foundation for 2012. In the summer of 2009, when the Tea Party movement burst on the political scene, the Republican establishment could have taken to heart Lee Iacocca's admonition to lead, follow, or get out of the way. Because they rejected the first two options and won't willingly follow the third, the conservative insurgency will succeed. Just how fast it does depends on what the voters do in 43 days.

 

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. You can follow him on Twitter @jedbabbin.