Politics

For the GOP: Why Victory?

Do any Christie aides wear Adam Smith ties?

By 1.14.14

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Chris Christie and his bridge. Sean Hannity and his Conservative Solutions Caucus 2014. Mark Levin under attack by the Senate GOP Establishment. Three different events — and exactly the same point.

By now the entire world political and beyond knows the tale (thus far revealed) of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate.” The closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge that resulted in days of traffic jams, all as the result of a political vendetta carried out by Christie aides against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee. In a lengthy press conference, Governor Christie, the Great Moderate GOP Establishment Hope for 2016, announced he had fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, and cut his ties to his campaign manager Bill Stepien, the latter described as “Christie’s Karl Rove” who not only was set to become chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party but apparently had a considerable consulting contract with the Christie-chaired Republican Governor’s Association (RGA) as well. Also resigning: David Wildstein, described by CNN thusly: 

Until he resigned last month, Wildstein was the director of interstate capital projects for the New York and New Jersey Port Authority. But his unofficial title was maybe even more important: Chris Christie confidante.

The other day, my former Reagan White House colleague Peggy Noonan made a considerably perceptive point in her Wall Street Journal column titled “How Christie Ended Up in This Jam.” In which Ms. Noonan made the following dead-on observation:

I end with a thought about staffers and operatives in politics. They’re increasingly important. More and more these political players are weighing in on serious policy questions that affect how America is run….

Here’s a problem. Policy people are policy people — sometimes creative, almost always sober, grounded, mature. But political operatives get high on winning. They start to think nothing can touch them when they’re with a winner. They get full of themselves. And they think only winning counts, because winning is their job. 

Peggy Noonan has fingered the Christie problem — and the larger GOP problem — exactly.

While the “winning” problem is not exclusive to Republicans — after all, Democrats have their operatives as well — with the GOP seemingly set up for a big year in 2014 and a real shot at the White House in 2016, the question is critical for Republicans.

That question?

Why victory? Why winning?

What’s the point of it all other than a surge of adrenaline, access to the corridors of power and maybe some big time cash?

Clearly Governor Christie’s Bridget Kelly, Bill Stepien, and David Wildstein (the latter who has already taken the Fifth in an inquiry into Bridgegate) had no answer much beyond the idea that they had real power. (If not serious power — they weren’t empowered (yet) to conduct their antics in the name of a President of the United States.) What Kelly and Stepien and Wildstein were about was nothing more than the content-free use of raw governmental power. And to the point, each was placed in their position of power by Chris Christie. The man who boasts freely of his ability to be “bipartisan.” One suspects that where Kelly and Stepien and Wildstein once hung their hats… there are others of similar lack of belief.

In her book What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era Peggy writes of members of the Reagan White House staff: 

Everyone wore Adam Smith ties that were slightly stained from the mayonnaise that fell from a sandwich that was wolfed down at the working lunch on judicial reform.

Catch that? “Everyone wore Adam Smith ties….”

What Peggy is saying here is that the Reagan White House staff was filled with the staff version of Margaret Thatcher’s famous declaration, “I am not a consensus politician. I am a conviction politician.” Reagan’s staffers, like the president we worked for, were largely if not exclusively “conviction staffers” working for the “conviction President.” Those convictions, of course, being conservative. 

There is a direct connection between this view of the world, Reagan’s success as president, and Chris Christie’s lacerating humiliation in the Bridgegate scandal. If one is of convictions that focus on the Constitution and limited government, and hires accordingly, there is little chance one will find oneself forced to hold a humiliating two-hour press conference because some power-drunk staffer closed the George Washington Bridge in a snotty vendetta.

If one is a serious conservative, finding oneself accused of misusing federal funds (as is just now true of Governor Christie) because your state government used $25 million in federal taxpayer dollars to promote your state — with you starring in a glossy TV commercial that just happens to coincide with your re-election — would never happen. Why? Because if you were on the receiving end you would never accept it in the first place… and if on the giving end you would never give out federal bucks to slyly help a politician’s re-election… period. Instead of taking Big Federal Taxpayer Bucks showcasing himself in an election year, Christie should have rejected the money outright. But he didn’t. And “everybody else misuses these funds”…i.e., other governors…is no excuse for a genuine conservative leader. Which, clearly, Chris Christie is decidedly not. All those “Stronger Than The Storm” commercials (as seen here) are suddenly turning into truth-in-advertising that Chris Christie is truly not only not stronger than the liberal storm…. he is in fact part of the liberal hurricane. If you want to know why America has a $17 trillion debt and $90 trillion in unfunded liabilities that will bankrupt Americans, the $25 million “Stronger Than The Storm” Chris Christie commercials are now front and center as Exhibit A.

Which brings us to Sean Hannity’s Conservative Solutions Caucus 2014 project. Over the holidays, Hannity was busy writing out some well-needed conservative arguments that all refer back to conservative principle. Specifically for use in the 2014 campaign — but in truth applicable well beyond 2014. It’s terrific and, as with its author, boldly conservative.

Here’s an excerpt, as Sean penned it himself and as found at this link. (And I have taken the liberty of highlighting some of Sean’s text in bold print.)

It is an undeniable truth that Government today is dysfunctional, bloated, and bureaucratic. Government itself IS THE PROBLEM! When we take a look at the plethora of issues facing the nation today, we have to ask ourselves what is happening in Congress and the Senate? How is it that I have all these elected officials that campaigned on A,B, and C issues, but now that they are in office they are more focused on X, Y, and Z. These people are the picture of everything that is wrong with America, and they need to be reminded that their constituents matter.

….Is it any wonder the American people have just had it with government? 

What is so telling here is that Hannity conceived his project and wrote it up before he or anyone else outside of a few insiders in New Jersey had any idea of the scandal that was about to engulf Chris Christie. Yet in fact, when Hannity wrote:

It is an undeniable truth that Government today is dysfunctional, bloated, and bureaucratic. Government itself IS THE PROBLEM!

… Is it any wonder the American people have just had it with government? 

Could there be a more perfect description of what was at that very moment, unbeknownst to Hannity, going wildly wrong in the New Jersey Governor’s office? Every word now written about the actions of Bridget Kelly and the Christie appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA) describe the very embodiment of a government that is, to use Hannity’s words, “dysfunctional, bloated and bureaucratic.” Most assuredly the Hannity sentence that asks “Is it any wonder the American people have just had it with government?” describes the raw anger felt by all those Americans who found themselves stranded helplessly on the George Washington Bridge because of Bridget Kelly’s “dysfunction” as a top gubernatorial staffer and the “dysfunction” and “bureaucratic Government” that was personified by the Christie PA appointee Mr. Wildstein.

One cannot but help state the obvious.

If Bridget Kelly et al. were “conviction staffers” working not for a “consensus politician” like Chris Christie but a “conviction politician” like Ronald Reagan, the biggest problem she and her New Jersey colleagues would be dealing with today would be how to get their Adam Smith ties (or the female equivalent… a scarf) to the dry cleaners. To clean said tie or said scarf that had been “slightly stained from the mayonnaise that fell from a sandwich that was wolfed down at the working lunch” on some conservative reform of New Jersey state government. 

Staffers steeped in conservatism are most assuredly not going to be spending their time abusing their power — power they would by definition be seeking to limit — by shutting down a bridge out of spite. In its own way, the bridge shut-down illustrates in graphic form the real danger of out-of-control government, particularly when that government and its very real power is vested in the hands of those who are about power for the sake of power.

This is why the Hannity Caucus project is as important as it is necessary.

In addition to term limits (here) Hannity has focused on immigration (here), health care (here), and energy independence (here). The presentation of each of these issues and any more to come from Hannity are the essence of conservative governance.

Suffice to say, if Chris Christie had been running his office along the lines of conservative principle rather than this moderate obsession with “bipartisanship” and “consensus” he would today not be reeling from precisely the kind of scandal that is endemic to the world of no principle beyond the wielding of power itself.

But in fairness to Christie, he is not alone in raising the question of “why victory?”

Which brings us to last week’s episode with the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s attack on Mark Levin by the NRSC communications director Brad Dayspring. Mr. Dayspring had come up with the “genius” idea to attack Levin by suggesting that a bulk purchase of Liberty and Tyranny by the Senate Conservatives Fund was somehow responsible — five years after the fact! — for Levin’s last bestseller. Yes, it was sheer idiocy. Like closing the George Washington Bridge. shutting. Yet Dayspring had tweeted:

WHOA! Senate Conservatives Fund spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to make Mark Levin’s book a bestseller http://t.co/8VXaUrisJf
— Brad Dayspring (@BDayspring) January 9, 2014

As we noted here at the time in“NRSC’s WAR on Mark Levin”:

The mindset displayed by Dayspring is identical to that displayed by the now fired Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly.

Once again, a GOP staffer suddenly looked the fool because of a mindset that has nothing to do with principle and everything to do with simply holding power for the sake of… holding power.

Remembering that Bridget Dayspring… oops!… sorry… make that Brad Dayspring… works for the NRSC, which in turn has as its stated goal the election of Republican U.S. Senators, it is telling indeed that Dayspring felt comfortable launching an attack on a major conservative talk radio host that was as utterly untrue as it was deliberately malicious. The message sent: it’s all about the power — and who gives a damn with what’s done with that power when victory is in hand?

Which raises again the central question in each of these events — Chris Christie’s Bridgegate, Sean Hannity’s Conservative Solutions Caucus 2014, and the attack on Mark Levin by the NRSC.

Why victory? Why win? What is the point of electing Republicans in 2014? Or 2016? Or any time?

If in fact the point is — as the Chris Christie and NRSC/Levin episodes indicate — to elect Republicans in 2014 to a majority in the Senate and House as well as across the country just to play tough guy (or girl) by shutting down a bridge or launching a flatly untrue story about a conservative talk radio host — than there is in fact no point to victory in 2014 for the GOP. Bridget Kelly and Brad Dayspring have vividly illustrated that there is nothing they are doing that can’t be done by some Democrat operative out there. Why should grassroots conservatives even bother to show up at the 2014 polls in the first place?

The answer is to be found in those candidates who are, again in Thatcher’s words, “conviction politicians” and not “consensus politicians.”

The answer is to be found in that classic mission statement for National Review written by the late William F. Buckley Jr. (with bold print supplied by me):

The most alarming single danger to the American political system lies in the fact that an identifiable team of Fabian operators is bent on controlling both our major political parties(under the sanction of such fatuous and unreasoned slogans as “national unity,” “middle-of-the-road,” “progressivism,” and “bipartisanship.”) Clever intriguers are reshaping both parties in the image of Babbitt, gone Social-Democrat. When and where this political issue arises, we are, without reservations, on the side of the traditional two-party system that fights its feuds in public and honestly; and we shall advocate the restoration of the two-party system at all costs.

Perhaps the most important and readily demonstrable lesson of history is that freedom goes hand in hand with a state of political decentralization…. 

Without doubt, were Mr. Buckley here today he would read of the Christie Bridgegate tale and understand the underlying dynamics instantly.

Candidates, office holders and staffers who advertise themselves as Republicans yet are seen as not steeped in conservative convictions are increasingly being targeted for outright defeat. Thus the wrath of the NRSC towards the Senate Conservatives Fund and the presence of Bridget Dayspring… oops! Sorry again… Brad Dayspring.

It is interesting to look back and note that three different people at three different times had their own description of the problems so many see with moderate Republicans. Buckley called them “an identifiable team of Fabian operators is bent on controlling both our major political parties(under the sanction of such fatuous and unreasoned slogans as “national unity,” “middle-of-the-road,” “progressivism,” and “bipartisanship”). Thatcher’s disdainful terms for British moderate Conservatives was the “wets” or “consensus politicians,” while Reagan scorned the same people as “fraternal order” Republicans.

As this is written (hat tip Craig Shirley), this very question is arising in the 2014 Virginia Senate race. The blogger Marooned in Marin, unidentified beyond saying that he lives in Fairfax County, Virginia, has recently zeroed in on the potential GOP Senate candidacy of ex-RNC chairman Ed Gillespie. If nominated, Gillespie would be running for the seat against incumbent Democrat Mark Warner. Writes Marooned in Marin:

Meet Ed Gillespie, The Karl Rove-Approved Establishment GOP Candidate For Virginia's US Senate Seat

A passage from the Epilogue of Craig Shirley's must-read book “Rendezvous With Destiny, Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America” tells me all I need to know about why Ed Gillespie is not the right candidate to run against Warner, that he's only a pawn for the GOP establishment and close political partner Karl Rove. Shirley wrote how Gillespie met with the Manchester Union-Leader editorial board in 2003 and...”said in no uncertain terms that the days of Reaganesque Republican railings against the expansion of federal government are over.” “Today's Republican party stands for giving the American people whatever the latest polls say they want.… The people want expanded entitlement programs and a federal government that attends to their every desire, no matter how frivolous? Then that's what the Republican Party wants too.”

Wow. One can only imagine what Ronald Reagan — not to mention Bill Buckley and Margaret Thatcher — would say to that.

And so we close on that note of an aspiring GOP Senate candidate in Virginia launching a U.S. Senate campaign based on “whatever the latest polls say.”

The single most important question to be asked in 2014 of the GOP is:

Why victory?

Why winning?

If in fact the answer is that this is to be the party of Bridget Kelly, Brad Dayspring, the NRSC and Chris Christie — a party that is a fraternal order of consensus politicians and their power grasping staff — the GOP will not only not win an election they should win.

They will deserve to lose.

Again.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.