It all began so innocently.
Senator Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and newly minted if long-shot 2016 presidential candidate, sat down with NBC’s Chuck Todd for an interview. Riding along in the back seat of (presumably) an SUV, the two discuss Graham’s presidential ambition. Todd poses a question wondering about what Graham thinks of the country’s current state of polarization. In a bit of a windy answer Graham blames talk radio, cable TV, and money. Then he tosses the kind of political flare that rarely gets tossed in today’s carefully restrained and tailored-for-public-consumption politics.
To illustrate his point, Graham conjures a scene of modern media covering the Constitutional Convention in 1787 Philadelphia, replete with satellite trucks surrounding Independence Hall and Ben Franklin exiting the building only to be besieged by Fox’s Sean Hannity and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. Translation: the two hosts are polarizing.
Hannity picked up on this, inviting Graham on his television show to discuss. Fatefully, Graham agreed. And in the doing (seen here) Graham quickly proceeded to illustrate exactly the problem that faces the Republican Party and the nation.
After a back and forth on polarization, with Hannity illustrating repeatedly that historical figures from Martin Luther King to Ronald Reagan were polarizing, Graham agreed. The Senator even acknowledged Hannity’s point that Graham himself had not hesitated to be polarizing when supporting the impeachment of President Clinton (as a House member) or later supporting President’s Bush’s Iraq surge. Graham also told the Fox and talk radio host that “pushing conservatism to be better is what you do.”
And then? And then Graham illustrated exactly the problem millions of conservatives have with the GOP Establishment. The topic chosen by Graham himself happened to be immigration. Said the Senator: “At the end of the day you can’t secure your border until you tell the Democrats what’s going to happen with the eleven million.” Graham went on about the need to get Democrats “on board” with immigration, adding that at the end of the day:
I’m in a different business than you are. I gotta find — somebody up here’s gotta find a way to actually solve immigration.… I’ve come to conclude whether you agree with me or not you’re never gonna secure your border first. You’ve gotta have a plan that addresses all the moving parts, and you have to have a plan that will tell the Democratic Party what happens to the eleven million.… There are some problems like immigration that I’ve come to conclude there’s no Republican solution to this…
Later still Graham asked: “How do you get Democrats to agree with it” — “it” being securing the border first.
Hannity answers that the GOP has a majority in the House and Senate and hopefully soon a GOP president, and that, in dealing with Obamacare, the GOP now has the power of the purse and refuses to use it. Graham took the bait and replied that meant shutting down the government and that made “zero sense to me.” As the debate ended, Graham added “the Republican Party… needs to knock off some of this stuff.”
So what do we have here? Graham conceded Hannity’s point on the business of being polarizing. But with that out of the way? This mere eight minute Sean Hannity interview with Graham illustrated precisely what is the core — one is tempted to say classic — problem with the Republican Party.
Lindsey Graham’s responses to Hannity are the very embodiment of what Ronald Reagan used to scorn as the “fraternal order Republican.” They are what, in the world of British politics, Margaret Thatcher called “the socialist ratchet,” something discussed in this space many times. But with that brief moment captured in this Hannity/Lindsey Graham dust-up, as the presidential campaign picks up steam it is more than worth recalling Thatcher’s wisdom. Why? Because Lindsey Graham is not alone out there as an example of just what’s wrong with the GOP. The Graham mindset in fact dominates not only the Republican House and Senate leadership of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell but in fact is the animating force behind several would-be GOP presidents and the consultant class advising these candidates.
Here, again, is Thatcher on the subject of the conservative Tory Party in her memoirs Margaret Thatcher: The Downing Street Years:
At the level of principle, rhetorically and in Opposition, it opposed these (Labour Party/socialist) doctrines and preached the gospel of free enterprise, with very little qualification. Almost every post-war Tory victory had been won on slogans such as ‘Britain Strong and Free’ or ‘Set the People Free.’ But in the fine print of policy, and especially in government, the Tory Party merely pitched camp in the long march to the left. It never tried seriously to reverse it. The Carlisle State Pubs were sold off. Taxation? Regulation? Subsidies? If these were cut down at the start of a Tory government, they gradually crept up again as its life ebbed away. The welfare state? We boasted of spending more money than Labour, not of restoring people to independence and self-reliance. The result of this accommodationist politics, as my colleague Keith Joseph complained, was that post-war politics became a ‘socialist ratchet’ — Labour moved Britain towards more statism; the Tories stood pat; and the next Labour government moved the country a little further left. The Tories loosened the corset of socialism; they never removed it.
Or, in other words, what Thatcher and Reagan explicitly opposed was their respective party Establishment’s addiction to what Thatcher disdained as “consensus” politics. Said Thatcher:
To me consensus seems to be: the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?
To bring this around to the Hannity/Graham interview, what Hannity gets Graham to admit is that in fact consensus — standing pat and accepting the latest leftward plunge on whatever policy — is exactly what Graham is all about. Say again, the Senator told Hannity — using immigration as an issue at hand — that his objective was to get Democrats “on board.” Meaning? Meaning not defeat the Left on the immigration issue but rather cater to it, encourage it, work with it, and ultimately move the GOP in the same direction. Which is why the New York Times once lovingly referred to Graham as a “consensus builder.” Consensus with political elites always means moving the country left; the only question posed by the Lindsey Grahams of the GOP is “how far now?”
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher have an answer to Lindsey Graham when Graham poses what he — and other GOP social ratcheteers — see as the problem on immigration: “At the end of the day you can’t secure your border until you tell the Democrats what’s going to happen with the eleven million” says Graham. Oh really? The Reagan/Thatcher answer is quite simple. You — elected conservatives — must take to the countryside and win over the people to the conservative point of view. The answer to immigration or any other issue is not to be found with other House and Senate members. It is found in convincing people of your vision — and then winning elections.
Don’t believe me? God Bless Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid for re-educating conservatives. Nationalized health care has been around as an issue for decades — since the Truman era at least. There was a try-and-liberal-fail in the HillaryCare Clinton era. Bill and Hillary Clinton failed top persuade the American people, and support on Capitol Hill vanished. But liberals came back. Again, and again and again. And again and again and again. By 2008 they elected a liberal to the White House, and they now had the majorities in the House and Senate. Then? Then — without a single Republican vote — even Lindsey Graham’s!! — they got it done. Forget whether Obamacare works or doesn’t or whatever the Supreme Court will rule. The point here is that liberals won a majority in the country that they in turn used to pass Obamacare. For better or worse, the American people signed on and the job — from the Left’s perspective — got done. There was no waiting around to get Republicans or conservatives, as Lindsey Graham would say, “on board.” There was no “consensus”. Liberals simply beat the pants off Republicans across the country — period. And the rest was quickly history.
In short? Win the country, the American people, first — and Capitol Hill will inevitably follow. Hannity gets this. Conservatives get this. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher got this. Establishment Republicans don’t get this. Lindsey Graham doesn’t get this. Forget about those Capitol Hill Democrats who won’t agree on immigration or anything else of major note. Answer? Persuade the country first — only then will Capitol Hill follow. That, in fact, is the time-tested success of the Constitution and American politics. Don’t cower, don’t run… persuade the people. Is it easy? No. Does it take time? Yes. Lots of it. Reagan and Thatcher understood this, spending entire political careers persuading when what they had to say about the importance of conservatism on issue A, B, or C was dismissed outright as “extreme” or worse. There is no accident as to why Americans today rate Ronald Reagan as a great president and why Brits lined the streets of London to applaud Thatcher’s casket as it passed by. In fact, take a look here at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral — where her fellow Brits burst out into spontaneous applause as the casket of the woman who made a career out of making the conservative case not just to her fellow members of the British Parliament but to the British people themselves passed through the streets of London. Thatcher didn’t just win elections — she won the minds and then the hearts of the British people. And ironically? Those who showed up to protest at her funeral were only underlining the point of her effectiveness in convincing the British people of her view.
In this one Hannity interview — set off by an innocuous imaginary scenario delivered by Graham to liberal TV anchor Chuck Todd at NBC — Lindsey Graham has now clarified exactly what is one of the central issues of the GOP presidential primary season.
Are GOP candidates running to be leaders in the mold of Reagan and Thatcher? Or are they really about being moderate, Lindsey Graham or Jeb Bush-style “consensus builders” whose policies on any given issue of the day effectively wind up moving the country left by signing on to the “socialist ratchet”? Acting not as conservatives but as socialist ratcheteers.
There will be a lot of interviews given by a lot of candidates to a lot of hosts in the 2016 election season that lies ahead. But out of the blue, this particular Hannity interview with Lindsey Graham illustrates vividly exactly what is wrong inside the GOP. Graham shows precisely why “moderate” Republican presidential candidates keep losing. Not to mention exactly why no GOP presidential candidate who has signed on to the idea of being yet another socialist ratcheteer should get within a country mile of the White House.