As Donald Trump and Mike Pence reenact Thelma and Louise’s visit to the bottom of a ravine, Republicans are turning to America’s favorite pastime, after baseball — blaming others. I’ve seen a dozen different version of the same story. That is, “[insert your political opinion] is the reason for Trump.”
We’re told it’s the talk-radio circuit that midwifed the foul-mouthed clown onto the national stage. We’re told it’s the base who ignored demographic reality and abandoned its principles, all because of a circus act whose main character said things that made them feel good. We’re told it’s the establishment — whatever the hell that is, the definition changes daily to suit individual politics — whose ignorance and complicity drove voters into Trump’s tiny orange hands. We’re told it was Jeb and his Right to Rise PAC, who should have spent more money on attacking Trump (they spent more on that than any other GOP candidate), or we’re told it was Ted Cruz, who fed the crocodile until it ate him last (and later deposited him out its southern approaches).
Already there’s talk of a post-November political genocide, a messily elimination of this faction or that faction from the Republican party. There will be purges. The mass graves are being dug. And some are eagerly anticipating that sweet “I told you so” on November 9.
Count me out.
This too will pass. And there is such thing as a successful retreat. The French and British at Dunkirk, the Russian tsar in the face of Napoleon’s Grand Armée, Xenophon’s Ten Thousand, and France’s heroic regrouping before the Marne. There’s no shame in taking a loss. But to take a loss and then lie prostrate on the mat would be a damn shame.
Republicans will need every able-bodied voter in the coming years. That means reconciliation, reunification, and resumption of offensive operations. And we’ll have our opportunities, starting in 2018, when 25 Senate Democrats will be vulnerable and running hard from the policies of the second Clinton administration.
Republicans will need every able-bodied voter in the coming years.
But that means that Republicans, as a party, needs to knock off the goofy rubbish we’ve pulled since 2010. It means reserving purity for the sacraments. Expecting a Republican from Illinois to talk a big game like a Republican from Mississippi is raw, unfiltered insanity. It’s how you lose seats. Losing seats is how you lose votes. And losing votes is how you get Obamacare.
It means managing expectations. Don’t run for Congress promising to renovate the place and then when you show up act surprised that it’s you and 500 other people who made the same promise.
It means ignoring theatrics on the House and Senate floor, the flashy promises to defund Obama’s golf handicap and repeal the state of Vermont. You’d call for a football coach’s head if he threw a Hail Mary every down. There’s virtue in pounding the ball a few yards at a time.
It means not making enemies out of allies. As when John Boehner took on a Democratic Senate and Obama White House, tactically outfought them to $2 trillion in spending cuts while preserving 99 percent of the Bush tax cuts, and somehow got called a liberal and run out of town for the effort.
It means acknowledging that the deep-red conservatives who listen to talk radio and watch Fox News at 8 p.m. aren’t stupid. It means refraining from snidely deriding them as hillbilly bumpkins who just need to learn things. They flip their dials to those programs because they think guys like Hannity and Rush get their frustrations. They turn to Trump for the same reason. Many of them have been left behind. That’s an opportunity, not an obstacle.
It means ditching this irrational bunker mentality that has consumed the GOP. The media are against us. Hollywood is against us. The establishment is against us. No wonder conservatives are obsessed with building walls. Everywhere we turn we see barbarians at the gate.There’s validity to some of these biases. But forming a phalanx and hiding behind our shields isn’t the fix. Worried about media bias? Go do what the Independent Journalism Review and the Free Beacon did. Start a farm system for gifted conservative writers. Leaving fiery comments in all caps on the patriot-forum message board isn’t going to move the political needle. You want change? Work for it.
So let’s cut it out with the silly talk of new parties (there won’t be one), of the GOP splitting in two (that won’t happen), and of your leaving the country if Trump gets elected. After November 9, conservatives will have an incredible opportunity — to rebuild a once grand old political party. Let’s take up that responsibility with the same hope and optimism that made America great.
— John Noonan is a former U.S. Air Force officer and Capitol Hill staffer. He is the veteran of two Republican presidential campaigns.