‘We have to win elections.”
Party strategists in Washington throw around the phrase as though it were some brilliant political insight. It’s not. Most Americans learned this concept in elementary-school civics. The reason party strategists invoke a concept most Americans learned well before they could vote is to frame politics as a binary choice only about elections. As Kevin Williamson put it recently on NRO, “Which side are you on?”
So let me join the chorus: Of course it’s critical we win elections.
But winning elections isn’t sufficient. As the founder of the Heritage Foundation, Edwin J. Feulner, explained in a speech shortly after Ronald Reagan won the presidency, conservatives also must win in the realm of policy. Put another way, political power should not be viewed as an end in and of itself, but rather the means to achieve the policy outcomes that will save the country.
Williamson invokes the common refrain that “the differences among us are minor compared with the differences between us and them, which are fundamental.”
Unfortunately, there are some fundamental differences between grassroots conservatives and the party strategists in Washington. Those differences get to the heart of whether conservatives will win in the realm of policy.
Not surprisingly, much of the difference revolves around GOP electoral consultants and candidates’ relationships with the lobbying class. In an age of multimillion-dollar elections, $5,000 checks handed over at D.C. fundraisers have become the coin of the realm. To be sure, conservatives do not want to punish lobbyists, or the special interests that hire them, for exercising their constitutionally protected First Amendment right to petition the government — but we don’t want to be giving them handouts for it either.
Look no further than the upcoming debate over the Export-Import Bank to see how this relationship impacts policy. The Bank, which is basically a Fannie Mae for exporters, is commonly known as Boeing’s Bank. The $93 billion multinational aviation company, which has acknowledged it does not need the Bank’s support, receives upwards of 80 percent of the Ex-Im Bank’s taxpayer-backed loan guarantees.