What Conservatives Need
It's been a lousy few days for conservatism. I have been inundated with emails from brokenhearted conservatives. It reminds me of the time period between the 2008 election and the inauguration, when people needed to talk. They were out of their minds with worry about what it would do to the country to have a neophyte with no experience in the White House. Between the inauguration and April 15, 2009, while preparing for the first Tea Party, I spent my days in front of the computer screen commiserating with and trying to empower all of the people signing up to attend.
The one thing I learned from that time was the importance of listening. It was my message in a talk I had the honor to give to a group of newly elected congressmen and women in January 2011. As our representatives, it is their duty while in office to listen to their constituents who may feel marginalized, irrelevant and, in some cases, disenfranchised from the entire political process.
Back then as today, conservatives needed a response to their emails and to know someone was on the other end listening, even if they weren't in total agreement. We didn't have outlets for this. Most Republican Central Committees were concerned with getting candidates elected -- not discussing issues and venting. And while plenty of thinking and talking goes on in think tanks, it is almost exclusively among those who work in the lofty breeding grounds of thought and intellect. Waiting hours to get 30 seconds on a radio show didn't quite hit the spot; form letters from a senator or congressman did not offer any comfort; leaving phone messages or speaking with a snarky adolescent working for a legislator didn't do the trick either. In my opinion, the need to talk, be heard, commiserate, and take action was initially what the Tea Party offered. That still seems to be the case today.
What struck me most during these post-election days has been the profound amount of pain people are experiencing. Don't get me wrong, I am bummed. We all are bummed. But our collective agony is even more acute than in 2008 and it is because we had a shot at this. Although there was initially some resistance to Romney, as conservatives got to know him and the more exposure he had unfiltered by a rabid, malicious, and lying press, indies and conservatives of all stripes genuinely rallied behind this good man. They liked his temperament, his work ethic, his experience, and his skill and they came to trust his commitment to conservatism.
Make no mistake about it -- conservatives are in mourning. They are crushed, devastated, scared. People couldn't get out of bed the following day. Leadership had to put on happy warrior faces even though they were struggling internally. And, although it is too late because the damage is already done, people needed some time to mourn without being battered by some in the punditry. They wanted facts and explanations, yes. Objectivity, yes. Cold analysis, yes. What they didn't and don't want at the moment is what they are getting -- anger, blame, and divisive finger pointing at everyone and everything.
Yes, there has to be a healthy evaluation of what happened, what we did wrong and can improve upon going forward. Thoughtful introspection and reflection are all called for and many of the pundits and radio talk show hosts are doing that.
But too many are bashing right and more right... and it is having a deleterious effect on the base.
Overwhelmingly, people are still behind Romney. Their sorrow lies in the fact that the country will never know what a Romney presidency would look like and they regard this as a profound loss for generations. Their concern lies in the question "How could 50% of this country vote for this man with such a record of failure?
Many of the people who feel this way were staunchly opposed to Romney during the primaries. They promised to vote for him only by holding their noses. But they grew to adore him, appreciate him, respect him. They came to see him as presidential and deemed he would be a good -- no; a great president. He was, for many, Reaganesque.
As I listen to many in the punditry and many radio talk show hosts rip apart Mitt's campaign, the choice of him as the nominee, the establishment, Reince Priebus, the Tea Party, and the RNC -- Monday morning quarterbacking about what they all did wrong and what Romney could have done better -- I am struck with how out of touch with the grassroots some of these pundits are. And saddened by it.
We buy your books and listen to your radio shows. We crawl over hill and dale to attend your lectures. For many of us, you are our lifeline to sanity in an insane political world. You are our comrades over the airwaves.
Ripping apart each other, the candidate, the campaign, the party, the grassroots, at this point in time is akin to attending the funeral of a 17 year old who got killed in a car crash and telling the guests, the parents and the priest that you think he was driving drunk, or maybe got a text and took his eyes off the road, or never should have gotten a license to begin with and that it's a good thing he was killed and didn't kill anyone else.
All this does is sting and offers nothing constructive to alleviate the pain.
This just might be a moment when we can take another page from the left-winger's playbook. We need to stop squabbling so brazenly and publicly with each other. We need to stop airing every little piece of dirty laundry. We have to stick up for each other as much as possible and we shouldn't turn on each other. We are too forthright and open about our shortcomings. Most of all, we should never give the left fodder to use against us.
As a tea-party activist and grassroots Republican, I try to stay true to my values and principles but at the same time employ some of the effective tactics that the left has used over the years. For example, as tempting as it is, we avoid protests at someone's home.
In the end, all of this cannibalizing causes us to self-immolate. We have the right principles for prosperity, liberty, and civil society. We need to remind ourselves of this. And although we speak with one voice, there are variations in our conservatism. We cannot let the powerful ideas we all share give way to reckless blame and deleterious infighting.
We can be reflective and introspective and analyze and evaluate without taking each other out -- without undoing all of the work we did to build unity since the primaries. Remember how divided we were during the primaries? But after a long spring and summer to cool off, once people placed their energies behind Mitt and got to know him outside of the bashing and commercials, conservatives began to believe in him not just because he was the nominee but because they saw his growth as a politician, witnessed firsthand his demeanor, understood and trusted him. With the exception of a handful of ronpaulians, we went into the convention unified and came out determined to speak with one voice and prevail.
Blame Romney all you want but it doesn't change the results. We lost and there are empirical reasons this happened as well as anecdotal. In my humble opinion, Republicans are still light years behind the Democrats at the ground game they have been building since Bush "stole" the presidency in 2000. Out of 1800 on my email list and 9 other tea parties in the Bay Area, I was only able to get about 300 people to go to Reno and walk -- 300 amazing conservative warriors with whom I was so honored to walk. But we could have done better. Almost no one in my group made phone calls.
I didn't do enough. You didn't do enough. We didn't do enough to secure the ground game.
And rather than blame Mitt, Priebus, or the RNC or the Tea Party or even Akin and Mourdock (and believe me, there is no question both men handed the left the War on Women prong of attack) we need to tackle the real cause of our defeat: all of the politicking in the world can't make up for an ill-informed, misinformed electorate that gets its information from a partisan press and corrupt educational system.
As for bringing minorities into the tent: the store is open but they aren't buying. Do we embrace them? Want them in our tent? Yes and yes. But they aren't interested and with the pop culture, the media, and the education system controlling the narrative, we have to devise a multi-pronged plan to get beyond that and gain access to this Democrat/union-dominated hydra. We need to spend money advertising all year long on the networks most viewed by minorities with messaging about who we are and what we offer; we need people in the arts to rise up and be brave and make movies and books and art that reflect our values; and we need to tackle the education system. That one is probably the toughest but I'm sure with our talent and brains, we can make it happen. My post-election advice is this: instead of blaming, we should be brainstorming about how we can turn this around and seize the Senate in 2014 and secure the White House in 2016.