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May 5, 2006
Party Or Principle?

Earlier today I posted on the declining job-approval ratings for President Bush and Congress, slippage that Ipsos attributes to dissatisfaction among the GOP base. Fox News has a poll showing a five-point rebound in the last three weeks, but it still has Bush below 40% and a solid majority disapproving of his performance. It comes as no surprise to traditional Reagan or Goldwater conservatives that the key GOP base has become so restive, and I pointed out a few of the reasons why dissatisfaction runs so high for both the administration and Congress.

More than a few of the disillusioned have insisted that they will not support GOP candidates this fall. They propose to either vote for third-party candidates or to stay home and vote with their silence. These sound like good solutions, but in a binary political system – which is what we have, whether we approve or not – either action results in a net gain for the opposition and therefore translates to passive support for Democrats.

If the opposition has worthy candidates, this could still prove a good strategy, but at least nationally, the Democrats offer no support for conservative principles at all. They still support big-government solutions, especially for economic issues, and will raise taxes in the guise of canceling the Bush tax cuts. Some Democrats have promised to start impeachment proceedings if they capture the House in November, raising the ante for conservatives who may not care much for Bush but are unwilling to play enablers for Bush Derangement Syndrome sufferers.

So what are conservatives to do? Interestingly, John Aravosis asks a similar question to his readers regarding the Democratic Party:

Some friends on the Hill recently asked me if the liberal blogs could lay off their attacks on Democratic members of Congress until after the election. The idea being that we need to keep promoting a public image of Dems good/Republicans bad, and that any criticism of Dems hurts our image and only helps detract attention from the Republicans' increasing number of failings.

It's an interesting question. Is it time to sit back and shut up and hold our tongue? … Should the liberal blogs, and the Democrats grassroots more generally, cut back on their criticism of the party until after the November elections? Or is there a role for criticism in making the party better and helping the election at the same time?

This delves into the question of priorities for conservatives. Does it make sense to tone down their frustration with GOP leadership (especially on spending and immigration) in order to retain at least some influence on the legislative process? Even more basic, does criticism and threats of Election-Day boycotts hurt the GOP or force it to improve? Even if it hurts, does it make a difference in the long run?

I would argue that it does hurt, it does make a difference – but now is not the time to stand down and offer unqualified support. We need to keep pressing our agenda, calling out our own leadership, especially on spending and immigration issues. Conservatives should look for worthy alternative candidates for primaries in order to get better representation of our agenda. Politicians who scornfully dismiss constituents for their concern over pork-barrel projects (Trent Lott), immigration policies, and First Amendment rights (John McCain), need credible opposition in their next elections to either mend their ways or be replaced by more responsive representatives. After all, the purpose of primary elections is to make sure the party’s overall values are reflected in our candidates. If we abdicate at that stage, we hardly have room to complain in the general election.

Once the primaries have concluded, conservatives should continue to press their agenda but need to be realistic about the choices given them. In a national sense, the parties offer very different agendas, and rational voters will have to choose between them. Abdication by voters on all ends of the spectrum only hurts the candidates closest to their own positions by robbing them of support. Conservatives need to remember that a walkout will likely return power in the House to Democrats, and the advantages of incumbency could make that stay in the wilderness lengthy.

The time will come for big-tent solidarity and practical calculations on the best way to promote conservative values in government. That time, however, has not yet arrived, especially while critical issues remain in play for this Congress and administration.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 5, 2006 7:30 AM

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