The GOP’s Puritans must be used to being politically lonely. They often speak as if their positions on issues like immigration, abortion, regulations, welfare, education, were carefully chiseled on sacred tablets somewhere, but the rest of us somehow never get it right.
“Nobody has ever run as a conservative, but that’s what people really want,” they say. Barry Goldwater was the last true conservative and made it as far as the nomination. Sixteen years later, Ronald Reagan said he was a conservative, but to get elected, he campaigned for a strong America against world evil, welfare queens, and big government. Period. He didn’t run against illegal immigration or abortion, despite his statements of personal abhorrence on the latter.
One thing Goldwater, Reagan, and the Bushes never did was to engage in low behavior and expect everyone to give them a pass, as liberals so readily did when Elizabeth Warren phonied up her Native American heritage, or when Hillary’s serial falsehoods became weekly revelations. As to Obama, well, enough already said. Their media mavens and low info voters like what they say and how they say it, and the rest matters not at all.
It must be difficult, indeed, then, for Puritans to pant principles like liberty, honor, decency, then give a pass to Mr. Trump when he attacked Senator McCain’s POW status (“a loser,” he said). Trump could have attacked McCain and others with reason and passion for what they have said or proposed, but he chooses to make his attacks gratuitously low. The Puritans jumped into the cauldron of political turpitude because Trump said things they like about Mexico sending us their criminals. Flailing about Putin, the Iranians, and other of the world’s miscreants—and all other Republicans who dare depart from purity—has done little except quicken the Puritan heartbeat. Were the election held today, however, it would be surprising if Mr. Trump received even 40% of the vote.
Why is it the Puritans—like Goldwater and today’s mountaintop denizens—have forgotten Rule #1? Reagan knew it and the Bushes knew it: You gotta get elected!
I was a young federal manager during the Reagan years, and what that master administrator knew was that legislation was one thing, but for the most part, executive orders and emplacement of the right professionals down deep in the bureaucracy was far better. Having control of the House or Senate or both was nice—when you could get them to act—but having the pen and the power of appointment was the best of all worlds. Obama’s legacy may include a flawed health care law and a disastrous foreign policy, but more so, with his pen and his appointees he has set much in motion that will be hard to undo, unconstitutional or not.
This past week, I’ve had several conversations with Thirty-Somethings, and a few common themes surface: They’ve had it with political parties that do nothing. Most like it that Trump has pointed at the gorilla in the room, but they are not comfortable with him because they say what one of the characters in my books might say: “If someone can buy the presidency, he will owe his supporters nothing.”
They want safe, secure borders, and managed, legal immigration is key. As to Planned Parenthood, let the Clinton Foundation fund it, not us. It’s about human rights. No respecters of the establishment, they’ll follow the most positive, unifying voice, not the loudest one.
What they understand—and what Puritans must understand—is that we can go beyond Reagan’s dream, but if we want good things to happen in the end, we have to make them happen, with everyone part of the action team.
What the Thirty-Somethings want is what we all want—a class act, maybe a Just-Right-of Center-Something to take us to that high place where we know we belong.