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The GOP's Death Spiral Continues: Bring It Back With Unflinching Moral Courage

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

The GOP has relapsed into a potentially fatal business-as-usual complacency. The recommendations contained in its high profile but anodyne “autopsy” represent, at best, a band-aid for a party hemorrhaging from a much more fundamental wound: being out of touch with the needs, values, and dignity of the American people.


The GOP high command today resembles nothing so much as our Generals who botched the Vietnam War, betraying our troops, humiliating America, and handing the Soviet Union a victory in the Cold War. The GOP “forensic audit,” like those reports of the Army’s whitewashing its losses in Vietnam, declares “there’s light at the end of the tunnel.” It is a false light indeed.

The Vietnam Army brass bitterly clung to a fundamentally losing doctrine long after its futility had been demonstrated by defeat after defeat. While our troops fought valiantly they were led to perdition by the thoroughly falsified doctrine of “victory through firepower.” Long afterwards, the visionary, courageous, and stubbornly brilliant General David Petraeus transformed the Army back into a winning force.

The GOP super-consultants similarly rationalize the ongoing political humiliations made inevitable by faulty doctrine. Until the GOP learns the lessons that Petraeus taught the Army the Grand Old Party will be operating under a heavy and quite likely politically fatal, handicap. These are lessons that the left fully has internalized.

What are these lessons?

The first rule of the new style of war, as of the new politics (wars being, as Clausewitz observed, politics by other means) is “You’ve got to have the people on your side...if you want to win". This was voiced by the character Pierre Raspeguy in a novel about the loss of French Indochina, The Centurians by Jean Lartéguy. That novel, in the hands of David Petraeus (and many other counterinsurgency military theorists), helped redefine modern American military doctrine. It holds the key lesson.


That lesson — You’ve got to have the people on your side … if you want to win — applies with equal force to politics. The national GOP is losing by old fashioned bad policy and bad politics: failure to champion a practical recipe for equitable prosperity for working people, failure to champion civil liberties, and failure to stand for (small r) republican principles. The GOP thereby lost, and continues to lose, the hearts and minds of the people. Instead of confronting this fact, the Republican Party elites now are focusing on...weaponizing bytes.

A recent cover essay by Thomas Powers in the New York Review of Books reviewing a spate of books on David Petraeus lays out what went wrong in Vietnam. It implicitly shows exactly what’s wrong with the GOP’s national politicos today.

General Westmoreland notoriously lost the Vietnam War by a fatal reliance on “search and destroy,” identical to the new GOP’s obsession with better software. Powers:

Asked at a press conference what it took to defeat an insurgency, Westmoreland answered with a single word: “Firepower.” Big-unit war backed by firepower was Westmoreland’s strategy for beating the Vietcong, and nothing ever altered his view.

The root error behind Westmoreland’s failure was the general’s belief that the enemy’s main force units were the problem, and that he could hammer out a win with a strategy he called “search and destroy.” The idea was General William DePuy’s, who had noted a ten-to-one kill ratio that favored Americans in early battles of the war. “We are going to stomp them to death,” DePuy told a reporter.

Nick Turse…reminds us again of what Americans mainly prefer to forget. Orders issued by Captain Ernest Medina before an attack in March 1968 on a Vietnamese village variously known to history as Pinkville, Son My, and My Lai.

“Are we supposed to kill women and children?” one of his men asked.

“Kill everything that moves,” the captain replied.


Indiscriminately napalming Democrats with negative TV advertising is wrong. It is a recipe for repeated political disaster. It will bring (vast) casualties … but not victories. Political napalm does not bring the people to your side. Scapegoating the troops — like the Tea Party and the social conservative activists — is just wrong and a recipe for continued failure.

The Republican political elites, in their “forensic audit,” engaged in a successful effort to pacify their donor base. The process resembles how the U.S. Army brass strung along its appropriators, the Congress, and the American people, all the way to the last helicopter taking off from the roof of the American embassy in Saigon.

Unquestioning donor allegiance, irrespective of results, is the key to the “super consultants’” personal power and preeminence. Karl Rove, for instance, is fighting, perhaps successfully, for his political life by weaving a counter-narrative that exculpates himself and blames the Tea Party and conservative activists.

Rove’s rap sounds like Westmoreland’s post-defeat rationalizations. Powers:

“Westmoreland had been relieved of duty, kicked upstairs for a final tour as Chief of Staff of the Army, and retired to civilian life during which he gave hundreds of speeches insisting that he had not backed a losing strategy, had not lost the war, and was not to blame for the demoralized and confused United States Army...”

While the GOP rationalizes its defeats, 21st century insurgency strategists like Wes Boyd and Joan Blades, the founders of MoveOn.org, have built a new model for the Democrats. These two brilliant strategists are playing the role of the General Giap of 21st century politics. MoveOn, CREDO, and OFA, among others, are the political equivalent of the Vietcong. And are winning, repeatedly.


This columnist considers the left wrongheaded in its policy doctrines. (There may be less to this than meets the eye. The Vietcong nominally were communists. Vietnam, after expelling America, famously turned “hyper capitalist”). But its political doctrine is impeccable. Boyd, Blades, CREDO’s Bond, and others have recruited and are leading an authentic “people’s liberation army.”

Meanwhile, the GOP’s entrenched operatives are dismissing and even insulting the GOP’s own popular base — Tea Partiers, libertarians, conservative activists, and Christians. They are emulating Westmoreland’s repeatedly failed, and frankly horrific, lust for overwhelming force.

Overwhelming force does not get the people on your side. Respect for people does.

The RNC, in its “forensic audit,” and notwithstanding a token nod to “outreach” (a euphemism for lame propaganda, rather than engagement), demonstrates complete cluelessness about this fundamental fact. The GOP was created by Lincoln to be the party of human dignity. The national GOP has fallen far short of its rhetorical commitment to human dignity and to equality of opportunity.

Will the GOP donor base continue to fund the 800-pound gorillas to the exclusion of the guerrillas? That way lies ignominious defeat. We Tea Partiers and movement conservatives certainly have our flaws. Yet the Tea Party, conservative activists, libertarians, Catholics, and Evangelicals possess a dignity, and populist legitimacy, that contains the seeds of potential political, and governance, victory.


Victory does not lie in weaponized bytes. It will derive from championing people’s values and needs. Tea Party and conservative political guerrilla leaders were not materially consulted in the RNC’s “autopsy.” Consequently, the RNC report did not reflect the views of the base. A real forensic audit would have been based on a real, not “micro-targeting,” bottom up strategy. Such introspection is nowhere in evidence.

Giving authentic authority to the rank-and-file; standing for proven policies designed to create an economic climate of opportunity and equitable prosperity, and defending the civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution are what is required. Unflinching moral courage in standing for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were, in the beginning, and remain, now, the only way to get the people on your side. Nothing less will do.

The Republican political elites have shown, to a candid world, that they will not reform themselves into a victorious leadership. Transformation arises from other sources. On the policy side, the GOP begins to align with popular interests by getting behind programs like Joint Economic Committee Chairman Kevin Brady’s sophisticated assault on the “Growth Gap.” On the values side, authentic populist conservatives such as Rep. Jim Jordan begin to attract a wide following.

Presidentially, Republican Party reform will come from a new generation of populist conservative political leaders — perhaps a Rand Paul or Marco Rubio – who may yet drag the GOP kicking and screaming into the 21st century. If so, they will do so based on one simple axiom.


You’ve got to have the people on your side … if you want to win. All else follows from this.

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