Should my advice be solicited by any ambition young writer seeking the quickest path to wealth and fame, I would outline a strategy like this:
• Establish yourself early as a “promising conservative intellectual” — Become the token conservative columnist for your college newspaper, get into a Republican youth leadership summer program, do an internship at National Review or a GOP-leaning non-profit.
• Aggressively suck up to Republican politicians — Try to land a speechwriting or “policy advisor” gig for a senator or governor who is seen as a prospect in the next presidential campaign.
• Once you’ve made a name for yourself, go “rogue” — That is to say, after leaving your job as a Republican staffer, think-tank analyst or conservative journalist, do everything possible to sabotage GOP prospects.
Followed carefully, this plan will land you a book deal before you’re 30, a regular spot as a panelist on a Sunday network news show, and a twice-weekly op-ed column in an influential newspaper.
Important magazines will devote their covers to a 5,000-word excerpt from your latest book, which must bear a provocative title like, Lose One for the Gipper: How Evangelical Extremists Hijacked the Reagan Legacy. CNN will offer you a lucrative contract as a “conservative analyst” for their coverage of GOP national convention, and you’ll be invited to all the right cocktail parties in Georgetown.
In your meteoric ascent through the ranks of the punditocracy, be sure to choose as your friends only those who are important enough to be helpful in your career. Take care never to stake yourself too clearly to any policy position that might be unfashionable with the producers of “Nightline,” and avoid directly denouncing any Democrat named Kennedy.
This way, no matter which party is in power, you’ll never be out of work and you’ll always be invited to the White House Correspondents Dinner because, after all, you’re so gosh-darn influential. In short, you will be one of The Republicans Who Really Matter.
Such prestige is never attained by anyone who is a straight-forward, down-the-line conservative, because the arbitrators of Republican prestige are not conservative. You’re not going to get favorable treatment from, say, “60 Minutes” by being a dependable voice for the grassroots GOP. Nor will any out-and-out conservative be cited as an authoritative source in the latest iteration of the twice-yearly Time magazine feature on Republican Party infighting. (Sample cover blurb: “Right-Wing Insurgency: Threat or Menace?”)
The Republicans Who Really Matter can be relied on to reinforce liberal stereotypes of the GOP, and to pen op-ed columns offering “helpful” advice to the Republican Party which, if followed, would lead to certain electoral disaster.
During the Cold War, such people always counseled friendship with the Soviet Union. They spent the 1990s alternately advocating “moderate” gun control and defending “sensible” tax increases. No Republican pundit is ever going to become influential by buddying up to Wayne LaPierre or right-to-lifers; make favorable mention of environmentalism, however, and MSNBC producers will flood your inbox with e-mail invitations to a 10-minute guest segment on “Hardball.”
One reliable method for advancing to the pinnacle as a Republican commentator is to argue that the party is badly divided, and to blame this fragmentation on some constituency universally loathed by liberals. Relentlessly criticize “Corporate America” and Rush Limbaugh, but never say a bad word about Olympia Snowe, nor write anything flattering about any Republican from Mississippi.
Another tried-and-true stratagem for the conservative craving publication on the front of the “Outlook” section of Sunday’s Washington Post: “The Conservative Case for [Insert Pet Liberal Cause Here].”
Fifty-two weeks a year, the editors of liberal newspapers are seeking thoughtful Sunday commentaries making the case for why Republicans should support late-term abortion, unrestricted immigration, tax increases, or draconian measures to limit carbon emissions. The ambitious young GOP pundit who plays his cards just right can rotate his Sundays between the op-ed pages of the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and so forth.
Of course, it goes without saying that any liberal who tries to reverse-engineer this formula will soon find himself ostracized from polite society. Fame and fortune await the Weekly Standard staffer who denounces fellow conservatives as mean-spirited bigots; poverty and obscurity is the fate of the Nation columnist who loses faith in feminism or gay rights.
No, only GOP quislings and conservative turncoats can enhance their social status by plunging knives into the backs of their alleged ideological allies and partisan friends. Somewhere out there at this very moment is the Kathleen Parker of tomorrow, the future David Gergen biding his time while waiting for the opportune moment to strike.
Today, our ambitious young assassin is just another political operative, an obscure think-tank wonk. But tomorrow — or whenever the time arrives to blame GOP woes on hateful “extremists” — he’ll be celebrated as the newest member of that elite crowd, The Republicans Who Really Matter.