Before I presume to tell you why, time after time, so many elected Republicans cave in and forsake Republican principles, I first should share with you a little of my background, lest you think that I am just some guy talking. Perhaps that will lend some credibility to my conclusions.
In the final analysis, you are free, of course, to conclude that I really am after all just some guy talking.
I have been around the political process in an up-close and personal way for 25 years now. I have lobbied the state legislature on behalf of everyday taxpayers through several legislative sessions, working at the state capitol five days a week, meeting with legislators, committee chairmen, Speakers of the House, and Senate Presidents.
I have testified before legislative committees scores of times. I have had bills drafted and passed on the floor of the House and Senate. I have helped "kill" bills that I thought were detrimental to taxpayers or the initiative process, and I have had bills of mine killed by liberal opponents.
In 1998, I was the Republican nominee for Oregon governor. I have publicly debated the governor, the secretary of state, a large number of state senators and representatives, as well as several presidents of labor unions.
At numerous national conferences and smaller private meetings, I have hobnobbed one on one with governors, legislators, congressmen and U.S. senators.
In addition to elected officials, I know many professional lobbyists whose organizations are major Republican donors; and I know several prominent political consultants and pollsters, many of whom have directed and advised political campaigns at the highest levels.
I say none of that to put a feather in my cap, but only so you will know that there is at least some foundation for my perspective.
I now must make two disclaimers before I say what’s on my mind. First, in spite of what some of the minor party spokespersons are saying these days, there truly are elected Republicans, who do not fit the squishy, cave in mold I am about to describe. They are solidly conservative and are as frustrated as other conservatives with the way a once proud and noble tradition has been compromised in recent years.
These "good guys" are not always that easy to identify, however, because most Republican office holders say the same things, even those who don’t mean them. Some have learned simply to say whatever is necessary to maintain good relations with their conservative base.
My second disclaimer is this: This article is about Republicans, not Democrats. Democrats are not usually under the same kind of pressure to cave in as the Republicans are. Their motivations for compromising their core values are usually of a different type than the ones Republicans face. I will discuss the Democrats more fully in my next article, which is titled, "Why Democrats Sell Out."
Now, let’s get to the task at hand. Why do Republican officeholders cave in with such regularity? To answer that question, we must recognize their true priorities.
The first priority of most Republican officeholders hardly needs to be stated. They simply want to get elected. Almost everything any politician does, regardless of party, is done only after considering the effect of the action on the person’s chances of reelection.
For some officeholders there is no cause or issue for which they are willing to fall upon their sword and jeopardize reelection. This seems to be especially true for Republicans today. Many simply will not take any serious political risks.
Not many of the Republicans I have known would have fought to the death with Davy Crockett and Colonel Travis at the Alamo. Most would have worked out some kind of compromise and agreed to not cause General Santa Anna any problems, if he would just pass them by and allow them stay in control of the mission.
The real question, however, is, why? Why are so many Republicans today not willing to fight? To answer this question, we must identify the Republicans’ second highest priority, which is to be in control, to be the majority party.
Being in control or being the majority party is a bigger deal to most Republicans than one might think. It is clearly more important than moving some bold legislative agenda or making the world a better place. Forget about all that issue stuff, like cutting taxes, reducing spending, preserving property rights, or limiting abortion. What matters most to many Republicans is being the majority party.
Every legislative session, the party in the majority gets to elect the Speaker, the Senate President, and/or the Majority Leader. Those leadership positions are endued with the awesome power to appoint committee chairmanships and determine to which committee each and every bill will be sent, and what instructions will accompany it, whether it is to be passed, bottled up, killed, or held hostage for purposes of negotiations.
Such power is highly coveted.
On the other hand, being a member of the minority party is no fun for a politician. Your bills usually go nowhere. They sit bottled up in committee, not even getting a public hearing, unless you are willing to spend some of your political chips or trade some of your votes to the majority party or assist them with their agenda.
This is why Republican officeholders, especially those in leadership positions, make serious compromises, sometimes highly questionable ones, in order to be the majority party and control the key leadership positions. For example, this is the primary reason why the Republican leaders who dish out campaign funds to Republican candidates frequently support squishy, RINO candidates over solidly conservative candidates.
Even though everyone knows that these "Republicans in name only" will vote against every conservative bill that hits the floor once they are in office, Republican leaders and their major donors often support the RINOs anyway, sometimes generously, because they know the RINOs will give them something that is more important to them than passing meaningful legislation, i.e., control, and what is called the "first vote." The "first vote" is the vote that occurs at the beginning of each session, the vote for leadership positions.
I hesitate to say this, but there is some logic to this strategy. If you have 100 percent solidly conservative Republicans in your caucus, but you are in the minority, you will get very little accomplished and will probably not even be able to stop the bad things the Democrats want to do. You will be right on principle, but out of power.
As I said, this strategy may seem logical, but in the final analysis it hasn’t worked. That’s because of the third priority of Republicans.
The third priority of Republicans is to keep the Democrats from being in control. Wait a minute. Isn’t that the same thing as their second priority, wanting to be in control? Not exactly. There is a very important distinction between wanting to be in control yourself and merely wanting to stop the other side from being in control. This requires a somewhat complicated explanation.
You see, Republican officeholders and traditional Republican donors, including key members of the business lobby, do not have much of an offensive strategy. That’s not what they are about. They are content merely to preserve the status quo.
They don’t want control so they can regain some of the ground that they lost when the Democrats were in control. The Republican leadership and the corporate lobbyists simply want to be in control so they won’t lose any new ground.
Over the years, I have observed that most of the larger corporations and their lobbyists are willing to accept pretty much everything they have lost in the past. Because of their "play it safe" corporate mindset, they are no longer the fighters they were when they were in their entrepreneurial phase. Instead, they are willing to live with pretty much every tax increase and every oppressive regulation the Democrats have saddled them with. They have adapted to these new realities and aren’t anxious to rock the boat or make any new enemies.
One might ask, "Why wouldn’t Republicans and their friends in the business lobby want to enact changes that benefit their constituents or help their businesses become more profitable? Why wouldn’t they want to gain back lost ground, now that they are finally in the majority and control the process?"
I believe the answer to that question is a simple one. Elected Republicans and major corporations are afraid of bad press. They are afraid of someone in the media saying that they are radical or extreme.
Next to the French, the major corporations who support Republican candidates at the state and federal levels in this country are perhaps the most spineless bunch the world has ever seen. They are wasting one of the greatest opportunities Republicans have ever had.
Think about this for a moment. These powerful politicians and huge corporations are paralyzed into inaction simply by a fear that they will take a position or support some action that will cause liberal reporters to print or broadcast something negative about them or their company in the nightly news or the morning paper.
The only time they will stand and fight is if their very existence is threatened. If there is any possible way to compromise rather than fight, they will do so.
So where does that leave us? In my opinion, it all boils down to this: Today, as I read somewhere, the Democrats are playing the game of politics to win; while the Republicans are playing merely to be liked. That little saying, disgusting as it is, pretty much says it all.
Republicans don’t want to do anything with their power; they just want to be liked. Like their big corporate donors, most are scared to death that some editor or reporter will say that they are lacking in compassion or vision or community spirit, or that they are selfish or mean-spirited. This fear paralyzes them to the point that they do nothing their entire political career rather than risk such public criticism.
Far too many Republican officeholders suffer from this "fear of man." It’s not so much that they have become cowards. It’s that they are more interested in their reputations than their principles. Unlike the Founders, the great patriots who risked literally everything to establish this country, there are very few Republican officeholders today who will risk even their reputations, let alone their lives and their fortunes, for the cause of liberty.
In my opinion, that’s why we are where we are today. When Democrats are in charge, they make things happen. They move their leftist, big-government, socialist agenda forward. When Republicans are in charge, they tread water. They are satisfied and call is success, if they can just avoid losing any new ground or getting any bad press.
That’s why it appears to many that all conservatives get with the Republicans in control is a slower death than the Democrats would provide us. That’s why many conservatives believe it makes little difference whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge.
I realize this column is already a long one, but I feel compelled to provide at least a couple of examples to illustrate the points I have made.
Over the years, I have sponsored several statewide ballot measures in my home state to lower taxes or rein in the political power of the public employee unions. During the course of those various campaigns, I have observed an interesting phenomenon. With some regularity, Republican office holders have taken me aside and privately told me that they support my measures. They usually whisper when they tell me these encouraging things, or make sure no one is watching.
Their remarks usually go something like this: "Your measure is right on, Bill, and when I mark my ballot, I am going to vote for it. But I’m afraid I am going to have to be a closet supporter. If I came out and publicly supported your measure, the editorial board of my local newspaper would have my head on a silver platter. But keep up the good work. I’m behind you all the way."
I have heard such words more times than I can remember, and often from conservative Republicans representing conservative districts where my measure had overwhelming public support. Their constituents supported my measure, but because the local editors didn’t, the legislator wouldn’t either; at least not publicly.
I am fully persuaded that most Republican officeholders are more concerned about what the liberal newspaper back home will say about them than they are with doing the right thing. Even popular conservatives are deathly afraid that some liberal editor will say that they are cold-hearted or lacking in compassion or that they don’t care about education or the poor or the elderly. So they keep their conservative principles to themselves.
Here’s another example. Republican officials tell me privately that the real problems with our public education system are entirely unrelated to money, but are due rather to a lack of discipline, a failure to stick with the basics in curriculum, and the failure to use phonics in the early grades. These same Republicans will then turn right around and outbid the Democrats in an effort to give the schools more money.
Why do Republican controlled legislatures give hundreds of millions of additional taxpayer dollars to schools year after year, when they know the money will do no good? They waste the money so can appear to be the party that supports education. The fact that the money is being thrown away is irrelevant. They spend do it anyway, because they know that their liberal hometown newspaper will measure their support for schools by one factor, and one factor only: How much money we give them.
Also, they want to say in their campaign ads that they are big supporters of public education and brag about how much money they gave to the schools.
It is easier and safer for Republicans to give schools a few hundred million more of your tax dollars and appear to be compassionate, visionary, and child loving than take the risks inherent in truly addressing the problems overwhelming our failed public education system.
The authors of The Federalist Papers saw this coming. In a democracy, they said, editors rule as surely as if they had a scepter in their hands. Their words are even more true today than when they penned them 200 plus years ago.
An angry monarch can cut off your head. An angry editor can cut off your political career. With that kind of power, it logically follows that it is the editors who will ultimately call the shots. Everyone in the capitol knows that the media can bring down any politician they want any time they want.
Let’s see if we can sum this all up. To understand Republican behavior, you must bear in mind what their true priorities are. They just want to be liked. They want to be liked, so they get reelected. They want to get reelected so they can be in the majority. They want to be in the majority so the Democrats won’t be. That’s what winning means to them. It’s that simple.
They don’t want to shake things up. They don’t want to change the world. They just want to be in control. Frankly, it’s a pretty pathetic picture.
The situation is not hopeless, however. There are answers to these problems. We shouldn’t respond by giving up or starting a new party. Frankly, I’m not sure we can survive the several election cycles it would take to build a new party structure. In my opinion, it is a safer bet to try to save the one we have.
The first thing we need to do is renew our efforts to recruit and support good conservative candidates, the kind who will not sell out or cave in. Those people are out there, but rarely run for public office. We need to recruit them and give them the money they need to win.
Second, the folks who say they believe in conservative values must start providing the money it takes to educate voters about conservative values. If Republican officeholders are afraid to stand up for conservative issues, because the cost is too high, we need to lower the cost a bit.
If the music stations and prime time television shows were laced with quality educational ads explaining why property rights are so important, why progressive taxes are unfair and counterproductive, and why higher taxes will never solve the problems in our schools or lift the poor and needy out of their plight, Republican officeholders and candidates would be proud to stand up publicly for what they know is right. They wouldn’t feel so alone in the fight. They wouldn’t be as afraid of the editors and reporters.
Those educational ads aren’t running because we conservatives don’t give enough money to pay for them. The liberal media clobber our side and undermine our positions all year round, but we only fight back at election time, if at all.
Finally, it is easy to look at the political world and become pretty disillusioned, even disgusted with what we see. But there is a thought I want to leave you with.
One of my college professors of Old Testament History said something in class 30 years ago that I have never forgotten. Discussing some of the good and really bad kings of ancient Israel, he said, "In the end, God gives a people the kind of leaders it deserves."
That’s a pretty scary thought. I am going to have to spend some more time thinking about that.