On The GOP: Don’t Mistake Activity for Achievement

Arkansas is an odd state. The home of Bill Clinton, we’ve remained shockingly yellow-dog on the state level, even as we’ve shifted Republican on the national level.Over the past few elections, this has started to change, but our shift is incomplete. Fortunately, the Republican Establishment is here to help, just not with a slam dunk. Slam dunks aren’t really part of the conservative playbook, even when an election opens up the lane with only a short defender between us and the hoop. Even when there are only two major offices left to shift in the state — governor and senator — and the opposition candidates are hindered by weaknesses and poor defensive skills. But the establishment has gotten really effective at winning protest votes and assuming electoral victory means accomplishment.

As John Wooden said, “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.”

Part of it is a problem that Jay Caruso highlighted on this site a few months back. The GOP Establishment tends to push talent based on connections and not qualifications.But that’s not the whole problem. The establishment doesn’t always recruit the most capable candidates either. The campaign to draft Tom Cotton to run for the Senate began pretty much from the moment he was sworn in to the House. His biography is impressive. His voting record isn’t in lockstep with leadership and is actually awesome, save for a hawkishness that doesn’t necessarily match the present. Which is to say, on paper, the guy is almost perfect. In practice, he’s inexperienced and not terribly adept at explaining his votes except when he’s singing to the choir. For staunch conservatives such as us, this isn’t an issue.

Unfortunately, we aren’t the only ones who vote.

For example, John Brummett, a local Democratic spokesman who operates under the guise of op-ed writer for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, has spent months writing articles on Cotton and THE KOCH BROTHERS!!!!!1!1! ( He also tweets. See here. And here. And here. Also here. You get the idea.) Add in the aforementioned incompetent campaign manager, missteps by Cotton himself, and we have a race that is unnecessarily close. True, Mark Pryor, Cotton’s opponent, is a member of one of the state’s political dynasties, but his record is anathema to the state’s electorate. Somehow, though, Pryor remains afloat. Floundering, but afloat.

Moving on to governor, we have Republican candidate Asa Hutchinson. He’s stronger than Cotton. Which he should be as this is the fourth time he’s run for statewide office. Like Pryor, his family line is a political dynasty. The money naturally coalesced around him early. He had primary opponents. He trounced them. His adversary in the general is Mike Ross, another popular figure in the state, despite some strategic “for it but against it” Obamacare votes, the same sort of votes that should be sinking Pryor. Ross was endorsed pre-primary by popular outgoing governor Mike Beebe in an attempt at coronation. So, Asa’s a pretty good option, right?

Kind of. Have you heard of the Private Option, Arkansas’ ludicrous scheme to implement Obamacare and get that filthy federal lucre without implementing Obamacare? It was authored by Republicans, many of whom remain in the capital building in Little Rock and who are quite proud of the boondoggle they created. Hutchinson won’t explicitly state he favors repealing the Private Option. I mean, maybe that’s not a tacit approval of the program. Maybe he’ll work really tirelessly to convince the authors, members of his own party, to abandon it next time the funding vote comes around.

Maybe I’ll be elected king of the universe tomorrow.

But Arkansas is just one state and, as I mentioned, an odd one at that. Surely the establishment is driving harder toward the hoop elsewhere, especially on the national stage, working to find strong conservatives who can articulate a positive vision for the future, Cool Cal-style. Except we had the Romney trial balloons. We have Lindsay Graham openly mulling a bid. (Stop laughing. Or is that weeping?)  Jeb, as Romney’s balloon seems to have burst, refuses to vanish.

Mr. Bush is a top choice of the establishment wing of the Republican Party. His entry would help define the policy fights of the primary process, as his support for overhauling immigration law and for the Common Core national educational standards has drawn strong opposition from many conservatives.

Granted, the past 5 Republican nominees for president have been hardcore arch-conservatives. Populists who took on the establishment and promised to dramatically reduce the size of government, destroy the Byzantine labyrinth of regulation, and work to resurrect Cool Cal’s legacy.

Wait, we didn’t? Damn.

Nonetheless,the electorate has changed and I understand why the establishment is leery of us crazy conservatives. We’re the Eric Strattons of the party, throwing away election after election, while they dutifully play the role of steadfast and cautious Flounder.

Kurt Schlichter, in a discussion of the train wreck, possibly narrowly averted, that is Kansas and Pat Roberts, had this to say:

No component of our coalition is blameless. Whether it’s trashing our brand by nominating geniuses like Todd Aiken or inciting vicious primaries to preserve doddering has-beens like Thad Cochran, we need to get our … stuff … together. Our country is at stake, and this fight too important to lose because we govern ourselves with our feelings instead of our predatory reptile brains.

This is about winning, and doing what it takes to move forward under fire.

Hey, Pat Roberts is a nice guy. He served his country honorably as a Marine and for a long time as a senator. And he was too damn old to run again this time, especially since he moved out of Kansas, mentally and residentially, long ago. On the plus side, at least Roberts didn’t have to get on TV and announce that he isn’t a witch. But if it weren’t for the current crew of handlers who rode in to rescue his floundering campaign keeping him in a headlock, who knows if the ancient 78-year old candidate would have wandered over to a microphone and answered some reporter’s question with a round of speculation about the eerie powers of a woman’s uterus.

This is a different problem than Arkansas in that Roberts has a history of winning. It’s more difficult for the establishment to ask a proven winner to step down. But this is where the establishment is failing us.

As Orwell wrote in “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” “The object of power is power.” The Republican Establishment, while most definitely not a fascist organ seeking to enslave the populace, does at times get too comfortable assuming that sitting power cannot be unseated. That power is the objective.That assuming their buddies, who are swell guys when you get to know them, will move the needle on the swing voters if only we cranky conservatives stop sabotaging them and give them a chance. Most of us complainers are young whipper-snappers anyway and we need to take our plates back to the kids’ table.

But back to Schlicter.

See, having an establishment isn’t necessarily all bad. A proper establishment can look at the big picture, protect the brand, and develop future leaders. It should have responded to Robert’s idea of running for an umpteenth term with, “So Pat, who’s that going to work without a penny of funding from the national Republicans?” But the Establishment guys decided to become enablers of their buddy’s ego instead of speaking truth to mediocrity.

Awesome. Leave it to the GOP to manage to combine the worst aspects of an establishment with none of the good aspects of an establishment.

Dude, what I wouldn’t give for an actual establishment, one that understands the world as it is, not how it wants it to be, and could speak in a corresponding matter. But we don’t have it. And that’s where our challenge lies.

The establishment, the consultant class, has gotten proficient at creating jobs. For themselves. When it comes to understanding the electorate and creating jobs for the rest of us, when it comes to actual achievement, they’re abysmal.

Arkansas isn’t America writ large. But it is a microcosm. It is a stark example of a party that stands at a crossroads, deciding whether to adapt or die. Do we keep trusting the establishment to narrowly avert disaster, possibly implementing horrible policies in the process of preserving power, or do we start demanding fundamental change?

It’s true, as Schlicter pointed out, that “A bad Republican is better than the best Democrat.” But the establishment increasingly seems to have forgotten that bad Republicans can win elections while good Republicans are left sitting on the bench. Until we hold them accountable, until we demand that the bench be explored and insist that biographies don’t supplant fresh, principled ideas, we’ll keep suffering private options in an attempt to avoid magic uteri. Sure, it’s activity, but soon we’ll no longer be able to pretend it’s achievement.