If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. The argument goes something like this:
“The GOP is so stupid. Look at how the Democrats handle controversy. They circle the wagons, no one breaks ranks, and their media help. Clinton commits perjury? Democratic leaders stand with him in solidarity on the day of the impeachment vote. The Clinton State Department botches security in Benghazi and then the Obama administration lies to the American people about the attack? Phony scandal. The IRS systematically targets conservative groups? Also a phony scandal. The Obama White House and the Democratic National Committee backed Hillary to the hilt even though she was under criminal investigation. Our Republican president is under attack, and what do you so-called conservatives do? You help the Democrats bring him down.”
The argument usually ends like this: “That’s why they win and we lose. That’s why we have to take a page from their playbook. They play hardball. We should play hardball.” Or, to put it the way it was put to me in a call yesterday, “Put on that red jersey and get on the field.”
It’s stunning to see such a bad argument gain such broad currency. It’s politically wrong, it’s wrong in concept, it’s wrong morally, and it represents a fundamental misunderstanding as to how the Left truly does prevail (when it does) in politics and culture.
First, let’s dispense with the idea that blind and unrelenting loyalty is good politics. Yes, it can help you escape impeachment. Yes, it can enable you to kick the can down the road in any given political scandal. But let’s review some rather salient political facts. Compared to the day when Bill Clinton survived his impeachment, Democratic fortunes have declined. Compared to the days when the Obama administration was burying its own political scandals, Democratic fortunes have declined.
The party is at its lowest ebb in generations. It doesn’t hold any branch of the federal government, and it’s being routed at the state level at a historic rate. Its success in short-term scandal management has arguably blinded it to its own trust problem. It nominated one of the least-liked, least-trusted Americans in modern political history (a Clinton, no less) and then was gobsmacked not only when she lost but also when it suffered crushing defeats up and down the ballot. It turns out that there is a difference between short-term wins and long-term fortunes.
Next, when we speak about “teams,” let’s define terms. My “side” isn’t just the side that supports limited government, the original meaning of the Constitution, and a strong (and realistic) commitment to national defense. It’s the side that supports those values with honor and integrity. I’m opposed to those who either oppose those values or choose to advance them dishonorably. Now, given that definition, is Michael Flynn on “my team?” How about Paul Manafort? Given the manifold and multiplying allegations of misconduct against both of those men, there is no reason for loyalty and no reason to stop or curtail investigations into their activities — no matter how much Donald Trump may want the inquiries to go away.
Republican politicians in contested elections in key swing states outperformed Trump despite campaigning differently and with far more integrity.
Consider, for example, the report that broke last night: “One of the Trump administration’s first decisions about the fight against the Islamic State was made by Michael Flynn weeks before he was fired — and it conformed to the wishes of Turkey, whose interests, unbeknownst to anyone in Washington, he’d been paid more than $500,000 to represent.”
Flynn refused to sign off on an Obama-administration plan that would have to be executed under Trump, a plan to support a rapid allied march on Raqqa, the capital of ISIS’s caliphate. The Turks opposed the plan because of the level of Kurdish involvement.
It could well be that this report is false. If the story is true, it could be that Flynn exercised his best military and political judgment independent of his undisclosed Turkish funding. Or there could be a more nefarious explanation. In any case, are you telling me that team loyalty dictates that I should cry out “deep state!” every time news like this hits the media? Sorry, but no. There is a desperate need for a credible, independent investigation into Trump associates’ ties to foreign powers. Simply put, we need to know whose “team” they were on.
As for morality, it’s simply childish to assert that another man’s misconduct and lies justify your own dishonesty. “They lie and win, therefore one must lie to win” isn’t even logically coherent. Much, much less is it morally defensible. When values matter — and they do — the urgent political and cultural task is to persuade the public of the importance of those values while modeling them as best as imperfect people can.
And no, fighting with integrity doesn’t mean that you’re not fighting. One of the great hoaxes of the Trump era is the idea that fighting like Trump defines what it means to fight. False. Republican politicians in contested elections in key swing states outperformed Trump despite campaigning differently and with far, far more integrity. Fighting dirty is not the same thing as fighting well.
Finally, the true record of leftist success is cultural, not political, and it’s not the product of reflexive loyalty to dishonest politicians but rather a generations-long march through the key institutions of American culture — the academy, Hollywood, the media, and even large segments of American Christianity.The Left has not only captured these institutions, it’s largely slammed the door on its way in — closing these communities to meaningful conservative influence. Bill Clinton couldn’t have survived impeachment, for example, without the cultural changes that relaxed American morality. His short-term political win piggybacked on a much longer-term (and far more significant) leftist cultural victory in the sexual revolution.
A Republican party that mimics Democratic scandal management is a party that would forfeit its principles for the sake of adopting the tactics of the losing political side. And it would do so in a way that harms its credibility in the longer and far more important cultural fight. The moment when social-justice hysteria and radical intolerance are causing millions of citizens to shake their heads is not the time to adopt fact-free brawling and blind loyalty as the signature styles of the American conservative movement.