Good comments all re: this morning’s breakfast — an excellent event and even better kickoff. And yes, anchoring the awful titular pun is the idea that conservative Republicans will get their comeuppance in ’06 according to Pence’s zippy formula: what we need are more conservative GOPers, not more liberal democrats. It sounds fine as a stump line, but there’s just one problem: Congress is so tightly polarized that a handful of switched seats, particularly in the Senate, can tip the balance in favor of the Dems.
I like and trust Pence — he has a first-rate team working with him at the RSC, too — but the argument can be made that the party won’t bet on real conservatives unless those conservatives hold seats vital to the party’s fortunes. And that means sitting conservatives, the status quo. Regardless of whether or not this is fair, the question must be asked: how can Congress possibly add new — that is, more — conservatives, particularly in a hunker-down, circle-the-wagons election cycle? (I’d hoped to ask this question, but duty called in Georgetown.)
Honestly, the answer I suspected seemed too deeply rooted in the establishmentarian malaise that Pence himself articulated with a short (and nominally praiseworthy) story about Tom DeLay. Conservatives who find caving on their principles less tolerable than risking unpopularity on the Hill rise to the challenge of a fiscally bloated leadership who can’t say no — and then when they win, they’re pulled over to stand beside the President and praised for sticking to their guns on rock-bottom ideals that otherwise would have been left standing at the altar. Right?
There is, as everyone in that room this morning knows, real discontent a-brewin’ — not just among the base but among the press intelligentsia, too. The power that conservative bloggers have demonstrated in setting the tone and even the content of major debates about federal policy in general and the posture of the GOP specifically is not nearly as beholden to party as some might hope. Pence and his ilk must rise in the leadership — not remain, along with everything else — at a dissatisfying status quo. And to the extent that Republicans focus above all else on holding their ground, that seems unlikely. When will conservatives, for their decisive role in a series of most decisive elections, be at last rewarded with the reins? But perhaps the initiative is never something that’s just handed to you.