National Review Tries To Tame The Tea Party

Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry offer muted criticisms of the Republicans who shut down the government. Money quote:

There is no alternative to seeking to expand the conservative base beyond its present inadequate numbers and to win the votes of people who aren’t yet conservatives or are not yet conservatives on all issues. The defunders often said that those who predicted their failure were “defeatists.” Yet it is they who have given in to despair. They are the ones who entertain the ideas that everything has gotten worse; that the last few decades of conservative thought and action have been for nothing; that engagement in politics as traditionally conceived is hopeless; that government programs, once begun, must corrupt the citizenry so that they can never be ended or reformed; that the country will soon be past the point of regeneration, if it is not there already.

Effective political movements create the conditions for their own success. Conservatism has not done enough of that, but when it has prospered it has never been moved by despair. The apocalyptic style of politics holds that the future of the country is at stake. That is true, which is why conservatives need to get to the work of persuading and electioneering — and drop the fantasy of a shortcut.

Bernstein thinks “the problem is a bit deeper than Ponnuru and Lowry want to pretend it is”:

They really only attack the obviously suicidal: the awful Senate candidates, the shutdown strategy that had no chance of victory. Their solution is that the party should work hard to win elections in order to implement their agenda, which is all very well and good. However, it also masks something real going on here. The “True Conservative” agenda that the radicals and most mainstream conservatives claim to want, at this point, has become so radical that it probably is at least a modest electoral problem — and even more so, it would be a massive governing problem, both in practical and electoral consequences.

Drum wants to know what strategy Lowry and Ponnuru (L&P) suggest:

OK, but how will conservatives win more elections? L&P explicitly disavow the notion of the party turning left, suggesting only that they’re skeptical of “the idea that moving in the opposite direction will in itself pay political dividends.” But if they have no concrete suggestions—either in policy or tone or messaging or something—then this is just mush.

Humphreys counters:

[T]here is an alternative explanation. L&P are probably more in touch than is Drum (or me) with the pulse of Tea Party at the moment. L&P may have concluded that the alienation, rage and self-indulgence in that corner of the world are such that persuading Tea Partiers that elections matter is indeed a significant task of its own, much as it was with some leftist factions in the 1960s and 1970s. You can’t tell people how to do something that they don’t want to do in the first place. If you feel that the country is lost, that your values have been rejected and the entire system is corrupt, politics can become simply an outlet for rage. That may be the ledge the Tea Party is on, post-government-shut-down humiliation.

Erick Erickson’s response to L&P is a good example of the Tea Party mindset:

Like much of the Republican Leadership, National Review wants to win majorities before unleashing hell, but history shows us repeatedly that Republicans never unleash hell once they have the majority. They become well-fed denizens of power, using it to reward friends and influence people, instead of willingly surrendering it to shrink the leviathan.

Even Scott Johnson of Powerline thinks Erickson “doesn’t make much of an argument.”