I would hesitate to go so far as to say that the argument taking place in South Carolina by partisans for Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint is a microcosm of the debate between “moderates” and conservatives across the country. In the first place, someone with a lifetime rating of 90 from the ACU (Graham) can by no means be considered a “moderate” anything. Secondly, Graham’s difficulties have been heightened by his own potty mouth trashing of conservatives who disagree with him. Calling someone a “bigot” because they want tighter border security is not the way to win friends and influence conservatives.
Rather, the debate is over whether Republicans should assist the Democrats in governing the country. This is the real issue, at least in South Carolina, where Lindsey Graham has demonstrated a desire to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats on key issues like cap and trade and the Sotomayer nomination. In short, the difference is in what we used to call the “temperament” of the legislator. And there are many who believe a legislator cannot hold to any principles if they parlay with the enemy.
And DeMint? Anyone who claims allegiance to a political party and makes a statement that he would rather have only 30 true believing GOP senators as opposed to a majority who held varied positions on some issues needs to have an intervention by some adult, and be sent away where he can weave baskets until he comes to his senses. The prescription on the bottle of pills on which he has overdosed reads: “Take two every day and destroy the Republican party.” His idea is that rock solid stupid.
From a New York Times article on the South Carolina situation:
Their grievance list was long: it cited the senator for calling opponents of immigration law change “bigots,” holding the Republican Party “hostage” by participating in bipartisan maneuvers, voting for the Wall Street bailout and tarnishing the ideals of freedom.
It even criticized Mr. Graham, a Republican and the state’s senior senator, as having “stated on many occasions that his primary concern is to ‘be relevant.’ ”
The party had no such criticism for the other senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint.
In fact, Mr. DeMint, a Republican in his first term, is the leader of a movement to pull the party in the opposite direction from Mr. Graham’s conciliatory approach. The political action committee he founded, called the Senate Conservatives Fund, backs only candidates who are rock-solid conservatives, and adherents to his views have led the efforts to censure Mr. Graham.
The two senators say they are friends whose differences are exaggerated by the news media, and Mr. DeMint has not personally criticized Mr. Graham or called for his censure.
But their contrasting strategies have brought home to South Carolina the struggle over the future of the Republican Party and have put them on opposite sides of important Senate primaries in states like Florida, where Mr. DeMint supports a vocal conservative, Marco Rubio, and Mr. Graham supports Gov. Charlie Crist.
In California, Mr. DeMint supports Chuck DeVore, in defiance of the national party leadership and Mr. Graham, who said he would campaign for Carly Fiorina.
Here in South Carolina, Mr. Graham’s vote to confirm Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, among other positions, has cost him the support of many conservatives, as have his comments that voters want politicians to reach across the aisle and that Republicans need to do a better job of attracting younger voters and minorities.
I have taken pains in the past to point out that DeMint’s idea of conservatism and someone who lives in the northeast (where only 6% of the population have a favorable view of the GOP) may differ wildly - ON THE ISSUES. The fact that so many conservatives confuse “issues” with “principles” shouldn’t surprise anyone considering they get most of their information from people like Rush Limbaugh who make the exact same mistake. A northeastern conservative can hold to the exact same principles as a southern conservative but differ in the ideological lens through which they view the world. Why this makes a northeastern conservative suspect goes to the heart of the debate in the party today.
Issues and principles are not the same, have never been the same, and will never be the same. And someone like Graham who gets a 90% lifetime conservative rating and is seen as a “moderate” by many conservatives proves my point spectacularly. In this case, DeMint conservatives are confusing temperament with principles. Just as many on the right believe that criticizing their idols like Palin, Limbaugh, and other cotton candy conservatives makes someone, somehow, less beholden to conservative principles than they. Principles be damned - it’s whether you are sufficiently hateful toward the opposition that is the yardstick where someone’s conservative bona fides are measured. If conservatism was a philosophy today instead of a rigid, ideological religion, such nonsense would be laughed out of the room.
I disagreed with Graham on Sotomayer, cap and trade, and the judges compromise. And I resented his intimations that he held a superior moral position on immigration reform - something that smacked of arrogance even if he was pandering to Hispanics by playing it that way. But Graham has been a reliable conservative vote on so many other issues, one wonders why his apostasy in these few cases would condemn him to be cast into the outer darkness by conservatives. It only proves that the DeMint notion of a party in lockstep and a prisoner of its own rigid ideology, will probably dominate the landscape in 2010.
At what cost? Let’s be frank and acknowledge that the DeMint idea of conservatism is much more ideological than pragmatic, more beholden to the holy writ of purity than reason and logic, and requires a plethora of litmus tests on issues to join his scowling band (ideologues have no sense of humor at all). Couple that with the belief that saying anything halfway nice about the president or the political opposition disqualifies one from membership and you have the perfect recipe for a permanent, minority party.
Perhaps this has to happen in order for a revival to take place. Perhaps the DeMints of the party have to be beaten so badly that they are once and for all, totally discredited in the eyes of conservatives in the rest of the country. Only then can a reasonable, pragmatic conservatism emerge that acknowledges adherence to DeMint principles, but lowers the ideological temperature to be more inclusive.
It may very well be that DeMint’s southern fried conservatism will do very well in 2010. Certainly the Democrats are helping out a ton there. But beyond that, the future is clouded by notion that events may very well play more into the Democrat’s hands in 2012 and whatever gains made at the polls in the Mid-Term elections would be washed away.
America is not an ideological country. And believing the route to majority status can be achieved by being more wild eyed and rigid than the opposition is a losing proposition. I’m not sure that Graham’s approach is 100% the way to victory. But it’s a damn sight closer to what’s needed than where DeMint wants to take the party.
Destination DeMint: Over a cliff.