Conservatives have a leadership problem. This isn’t news to anyone who has been paying attention for the last seven years, but blame for this particular failure does not rest entirely on the leadership of the party. There is a very real and very damaging impulse within the movement that we seem at a loss to address, let alone correct. Despite almost certain failure, it seems worth the effort to take a stab at it.
Conservatives like to talk themselves up quite a bit. They typically cast themselves as the party of principle and reason opposed to the easily-led, cultish left.They’ll point to Obama’s meteoric rise as evidence that for the Left, narrative trumps reality.
That’s a nice bit of puffery, but it is self-delusion. Conservatives are often just as guilty as liberals of trying to turn any rando who says something consistent with their principles into an embryonic Reagan-figure. Consider a few examples:
- Samuel “Joe The Plumber” Wurzelbacher – After Obama used the words “spread the wealth around,” in answer to Wurzelbacher’s campaign stop question, Republicans breathed a great collective “Gotcha!” The third debate between McCain and Obama that year pretty much revolved around the question of Joe the Plumber. Obviously, he wasn’t the silver bullet some hoped he’d be. Nevertheless, it was enough to give Joe a few years of work in the professional conservative activist circuit and run for Congress where he lost by by a gazillion points.
- Dr. Ben Carson – The famed neurosurgeon made one speech in front of President Obama, and happened to say some very critical things about Obamacare and political correctness. He has no other political achievements or experience. That didn’t stop the “Draft Ben Carson” movement from gaining steam. Wouldn’t you know, he’s running for President now. And there are people with ‘Ben Carson 2016′ bumper stickers already. There’s no way this can end badly!
- Holly “Hobby Lobby” Fisher – This rando from West Virginia posted a picture on Twitter during the Hobby Lobby case and it went viral as did a subsequent photo of her with a gun and bible posing in front of a flag. As near as I can tell that was sufficient to grant her rising-star status in the conservative movement, as she was invited to speak on a Heritage panel along with Stephen Moore and was the subject of profile by The Daily Signal.
- Sarah Palin – She’s not running for President nor should she. While she gave life to John McCain’s dreadful 2008 campaign, she has largely been all about Sarah ever since. She flirts with possibility of running for office from time to time, getting her rabid followers in a tizzy but then — Surprise! — she doesn’t. She could have made her mark had she remained Governor of Alaska. Instead she chose political stardom.
There’s nothing wrong with people getting involved in politics. Involvement is great. But conservatives have this awful habit of looking for “the next big thing.” Too many conservative websites are pushing to give space to people who don’t really have anything original to say — but they bring traffic.
And they preach to the choir. Whoopee-damn-do.
In the meantime, we keep losing national elections because we’re so focused on the next “rising star” that we’re not laying the groundwork for victory.
We’re turning off voters because we’re not elevating people who may be a trifle boring but offer real solutions and ideas – Senator Mike Lee, for example.
It would be great to see conservative websites, publications, and organizations use their influence to talk about conservative ideas and to use the influence they have to educate people who are conservative but really just don’t know it.
The term “low information voter” is often thought of as an insult. But the fact is that “low information voter” actually means the average person who doesn’t pay attention to politics on a daily basis. Another word for them is “normal.” They are the people who go to work, raise families, pay taxes and grumble all the time about the size and scope of government. Then they look around.
They see conservatives railing about Barack Obama (THE SOCIALIST!!) who comes off as a likable enough guy and talks the middle class and healthcare. Sure, his ideas suck and his policies are awful but he’s actually talking about it.
Compare that to the onanistic outrage peddled by the Fox News flavor of the month, and it’s no wonder the normal people don’t run to embrace conservatism.
Let’s stop making buffoons into our standard bearers. Instead, let’s look to writers who know how to break through the noise and talk to people – writers like Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist and Charles C.W. Cooke of National Review. Let’s continue to elevate thoughtful politicians such as Mike Lee. Let’s look to thinkers in the conservative movement who emulate Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley rather than boorish attention-whores like Mark Levin and Ann Coulter.
We can do better.
** Jay Caruso contributed to this post.