Michael Medved is frustrating. The conservative talker possesses an astonishing breadth and depth of knowledge as well as almost peerless rhetorical skills, but too often deploys those talents to defend the conventional wisdom of Republican Party elites. In his most recent column, he purports to debunk the conservative base’s “naïve faith” that the key to presidential victory is running a sufficiently pure conservative candidate.
Americans, Medved writes, “vote for talented politicians with winning personalities and display no long-standing ideological pattern to their voting […] the American people don’t award either certain victory or inevitable defeat based on ideology, despite cherished conservative legends to the contrary. Voters won’t automatically prefer conservatives over moderates but they do reliably choose likeable, live-wire candidates who look like winners over stiff, dour office-seekers of any ideology who seem like they’re ready and eager to lose.”
Admittedly, this isn’t exactly wrong, and I even agree with several of Medved’s sub-points. Checking all the right ideological boxes is no substitute for competence and strategy. Mitt Romney didn’t get nominated through the machinations of some secret establishment cabal. And though the missteps that cost him the presidency were entirely predictable, I still doubt that any of his primary competitors would have fared any better.
However, in shooting down a simplistic grievance, Medved over-simplifies the position of those hungry for a true conservative champion, and cites past elections that don’t demonstrate what he thinks they do.
He writes that Ronald Reagan’s “gubernatorial record of compromise on taxes, endorsement of legalized abortion, and support for immigrants would have troubled today’s right.” But Reagan is on the record as having regretted all three of those mistakes, which he made without the benefit of hindsight. Conservatives holding today’s candidates to a higher standard do so precisely because they understand we should learn from his experience. And while there are some on the Right whose exaggerated attacks on Romney indicate they might fit Medved’s assessment here, the vast majority of us are hardly asking for perfection.
Medved asserts that George W. Bush won “by emphasizing moderate rather than his conservative credentials,” such as “increases in federal education spending, a Medicare benefit for prescription drugs, sweeping immigration reform that included a path to citizenship, and a new style of Washington leadership as ‘a uniter, not a divider.’” But Bush lost the first popular vote and only squeaked through the second one by two and a half percentage points—despite the fact that he was the president who steered the nation through the wake of September 11, was overseeing wars in two countries, and was running against a two-faced snob who launched his political career by slandering Vietnam veterans. Considering all that, 2004 should have been a landslide. He won not through “compassionate conservatism,” but thanks to voters’ unwillingness to sack a resolute commander-in-chief in the midst of conflict, and his domestic governing is what drove the GOP into the ground in 2006 and 2008.
We look at Bush, McCain, and Romney, and we see countless blunders that a candidate with a fully developed, battle-tested conservative philosophy would have seen coming a mile away. We look at Congress, and we see scores of lawmakers who can’t figure out how to stop monstrosities like ObamaCare or advance an effective narrative against Democrat governance. We imagine the future under “supremely gifted, powerfully persuasive conservatives” like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, or Chris Christie—at least three of whom have endorsed amnesty—and we just can’t convince ourselves their hype isn’t manufactured, that they really have the imagination and fortitude to deliver the party from an inept, out-of-touch status quo.
And while conservative voters may not have stayed home in 2012, Medved would be stubbornly delusional to take it for granted that the base will be good little foot soldiers the next time around. The second election in a row with a safe nominee who proved to be anything but, the GOP’s refusal to learn from its mistakes, nonexistent leadership from our Speaker of the House and RNC chair…conservatives are at our breaking point. There’s only so much more abuse and dismissiveness we can take. And the only thing keeping many of us voting for lackluster Republicans—the greater good of blocking Democrat rule—will no longer matter if the GOP accepts an amnesty plan that guarantees an insurmountable new wealth of Democrat voters.
The cries for a true conservative, and the confidence that he’d win by standing on undiluted principles, don’t come from some childish notion that down-the-line righty platitudes will automatically click with the voters’ subconsciousnesses. It comes from our yearning for someone who genuinely means it and understands it when he espouses our values.
Someone who won’t just tell us what we want to hear, but can persuade the public of conservative ideas’ power to improve their lives.
Someone who is as righteously indignant as we are about the lies, abuses, and dereliction running rampant in Washington, and is more concerned about cleaning away the filth than being perceived as overly “negative.”
Someone who won’t blindly follow conventional Beltway wisdom or abandon conservative solutions for fear of how they’ll be perceived.
In short, we want a trustworthy statesman who won’t be content to merely administer marginal improvements over his predecessor, but who assumes the presidency with the express mission of uprooting institutionalized leftism and instituting long-term shifts to the right in constitutional fidelity, fiscal responsibility, individual rights, economic freedom, and clearheaded national defense.
There’s nothing naïve about that; the real fantasy would be expecting to heal the country’s current predicament with anything less.