The Campaign Spot

Conservatives and ‘Line in the Sand’ Issues

Earlier today I had an exchange with a reader — whom I respect a great deal — who doesn’t agree with my Twitter argument about the folly of conservatives’ staying home and not voting this cycle (or any cycle, really).

His Republican governor agreed to expand Medicaid coverage, as permitted under the Obamacare law, and he finds that a deep betrayal.

I can’t argue with that. If the issue of expanding Medicaid is your line in the sand — and there are good reasons for that! — then you have every right in the world to say, “I can’t vote for that guy.”

Of course, if you have too many “line in the sand” issues, you end up with few or no candidates you can support. And when determining your “line in the sand” issues, you probably ought to account for local issues and dynamics. It’s really hard for a Michigan Republican to be a loud-and-proud opponent of auto-industry bailouts. A congressman who represents beach towns is probably not going to be a full-throated supporter of offshore drilling. These guys do have to be the voice for their constituents, and their constituents are not always going to be down-the-line conservatives.

This reader made a reference to “all of the GOP governors expanding Medicare,” which I interpreted as a claim that all Republican governors agreed to it. They didn’t. A lot held the lines, and in places like Virginia, GOP state lawmakers held the line.

Have no illusions, opposing a Medicaid expansion is a heavy lift for most GOP governors. If a GOP governor signs on, they get rewarded now, and their state will pay later (probably after they’ve left office). If they oppose it, they’re painted as mean and uncaring about sick and poor people. Yes, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Susana Martinez signed on to the expansion. But Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker opposed it. You can’t paint the entire Republican party with too broad a brush.

Ask yourself, why should Republican governors take the political hit of opposing the Medicaid expansion when A) grassroots conservatives ignore them or pretend they don’t exist or B) self-described conservative Republicans who most strongly oppose the Medicaid expansion proudly announce they’re not going to vote?

It’s fair to fume at the “Democrats win, therefore we must be more like Democrats to win” philosophy, but if Republican voters stay home, the electorate that is guaranteed to show up shifts to the left. After a few cycles of conservatives declaring “I’m staying home because the candidates aren’t rightward enough for my tastes,” it makes absolute sense for Republicans to try to be more like Democrats, because self-described conservative Republicans announce they’re not going to vote.

A common lament of the “I’m staying home” crowd is the GOP’s failure to significantly reduce the size and cost of government at the state or federal levels. Right now there is not a public mandate for a dramatic reduction in the size and cost of government. I wish there was, but there isn’t. We have to build that. It is unrealistic to expect a Republican governor (or president!) to try to force through spending cuts that the public does not want.

You go to war with the army you have, and you govern with the electorate you have.

Finally, even if you find a GOP governor too squishy to support . . . is there anybody in the U.S. House, state legislature, city council/town council, mayor, or school-board level that you find to be any better than any other option on the ballot?

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