Politics & Policy

WHINOS: On the Martyrdom of the Holy, Holy Base

(Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty)

What’s generally misunderstood on the left is that the tea-party movement did not arise as an alternative to the Obama-Reid-Pelosi Democrats but as an alternative to the Bush-McConnell-Hastert Republicans, who were judged to have spent too much, warred too recklessly, and — most significant — to have been too ready to make themselves complicit in the bailouts.

What began as a bracing revolt quickly congealed into pasty dogma.

I’ve spent the past few days at Freedom Fest in Las Vegas, Mark Skousen’s annual gathering of liberty-minded activists — think of it as CPAC for people who like weed and gold coins and who are maybe interested in hearing a pitch about taking up domicile in Belize. Far from a doctrinaire libertarian (or even Libertarian) affair, it draws a large number of self-described constitutional conservatives and limited-government types of all persuasions, including Republican activists and candidates.

It is also WHINO central.

The WHINO is a Republican conspiracy theorist, in whose fervid imaginings all the players — victims, villains — are Republicans.

You know the RINO — Republican In Name Only — but you may be less familiar with the WHINO. The WHINO is a captive of the populist Right’s master narrative, which is the tragic tale of the holy, holy base, the victory of which would be entirely assured if not for the machinations of the perfidious Establishment. Never mind the Democrats, economic realities, Putin, ISIS, the geographical facts of the U.S.-Mexico border — all would be well and all manner of things would be well if not for the behind-the-scenes plotting of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and their enablers, who apparently can be bribed with small numbers of cocktail weenies. The WHINO is a Republican conspiracy theorist, in whose fervid imaginings all the players — victims, villains — are Republicans.

Barack Obama? Pshaw. The real enemy is Jeb Bush.

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That this is a deeply stupid view of the world should go without saying, but if you need evidence, consider that the WHINO vote has settled for the moment upon Donald Trump, a Hillary Rodham Clinton donor who supports Canadian-style single-payer health care and amnesty for as many illegal immigrants as he imagines to exist, who has 0.00 percent chance of winning a general election and who is, as if more were needed, a ridiculous buffoon.

Ask the WHINO to explain that and you will get the characteristic WHINO whine: “But what about the baaaaaaaaase!?!”

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Which is to say, the WHINO loves Trump not because Trump confounds the Democrats or because he constitutes a serious threat to a Democratic victory in 2016, but because he confounds the Republicans and constitutes a serious threat to a Republican victory in 2016.

The worst part of the WHINO approach is the campaign strategery. At Freedom Fest, I did an interview with Matthew Boyle of Breitbart Radio, a nice enough guy but a pretty good example of the WHINO style in American politics. What about Romney? Boyle demanded. Romney, he said with absolute assurance, lost to Barack Obama because millions of conservatives stayed home, finding him insufficiently committed to their cause.

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The first aspect of what is wrong with this analysis is obvious: It assumes that a “real conservative” who couldn’t beat Mitt Romney in a Republican primary dominated by “real conservatives” would have defeated Barack Obama in a national election not dominated by conservatives at all, i.e., that Romney was the weakest candidate except for all the guys who couldn’t beat him.

But the defects in this analysis do not stop there. I am not sure that the psephology actually says what the WHINOs think it does, but even if it were so, the further problem with this line of thinking is obvious: If you are a conservative, and if you believe that the way to reform American public policy is to elect conservatives, and you arrived at Election Day believing that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were, from the conservative point of view, interchangeable commodities, then you are either a fanatic or extraordinarily ill-informed. In either case, you owe it to yourself and to your country to be a better citizen, and maybe read a book. There are all sorts of good reasons to abstain from voting, but the preposterous notion that there isn’t much difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney isn’t one of them.

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Republicans would probably be more inclined to give an ear to campaign advice from people who had — stay with me here — a good record for winning elections. The anti-McConnell gang took its run with Matt Bevin in the primary and got beat like a pack of circus monkeys. Louis Gohmert made his run against John Boehner for the speakership, and there he sits. These were both fine projects — primary challenges and leadership challenges are positive developments that should generally be welcomed — but they were losers. On the other hand, the campaigns to elevate Ted Cruz over David Dewhurst and Marco Rubio over Charlie Crist — insurgencies that were supported by a lot of the same Establishment leaders and institutions abominated by the WHINOS — were successful. They were so successful, in fact, that Rubio and Cruz immediately became faces of the Establishment that we are informed is so despicable.

#related#It takes a certain quality of mind to embrace Rubio over Crist only to look over the new senator’s shoulder longingly at . . . Donald Trump.

Rhetorically, this has reached the point of silliness. When Ted Cruz was shaking the rafters, I had dinner with a state party chairman who assured me that he was a thorn in the side of the Establishment. If a party chairman isn’t the Establishment, who is?

We must give some consideration to Trump, Breitbart’s Boyle informed me, because he is a vessel for the expression of the base’s frustration.

The base should get a hobby.

Politics is a slow, maddening, incremental business. Bawling that Mitch McConnell is a mean meany won’t change that. Whining is no substitute for winning.

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