Culture War 3.0 and the Charge of the Light Brigade

So, today I had the dubious pleasure of having Rush Limbaugh take a shot at me over a quote I gave Politico’s Alex Burns. And yes, if you’re in the GOP consulting world, you’ll get phone calls and emails when you get dissed by the Big Man.

Here’s where the accusations of apostasy to the cause come from: I’m one of a non-trivial number of members of the hated consultant class who think digging in for Culture War 3.0 on gay marriage is politically foolish, culturally stupid and boneheaded electorally.

It has nothing to do with my beliefs on the matter in the slightest. I’m not even going to discuss how I feel about it, because it simply isn’t relevant. It’s not an argument about religion, or Federalism, or equal protection, or Western Civilization. Nor am I dismissing the enormous complexities, social uncertainties, and religious liberty issues of integrating gay marriage into society.

This is about political counsel, based on experience and reality. I’ve worked in 38 states, not in a radio studio. I’ve helped candidates win races in deep blue states like Vermont and New York and Washington, where the GOP fears to tread. We didn’t win by living in the world we wanted, but in the world as it is.

You go to an oncologist and hear, “You’ve got cancer. Want to keep it, or we can try something else?” You know the answer.

You go to people like us…people who read and understand surveys, who study electoral data, who swim in a sea of demographic and sociological data, who test and retest and tweak the tools and messages of politics and the honest actors are going to tell you that this issue is a stinker, and it’s not going to get any easier. Cultures change, and ours has. Ignoring reality isn’t principled: it’s pigheaded.

Here’s what Limbaugh obsessed about:

“It removes the issue from the Democratic playbook of fundraising scare tactics and political demagoguery and breaks their usual messaging dynamic of, ‘You’re a beleaguered minority; let us protect you from the evil GOP — oh, and here’s your absentee ballot,’” said Florida-based Republican consultant Rick Wilson.

I don’t want Democrats to turn gay Americans into a part of their permanent dependency-class vote plantation. I don’t want gay Americans to feel like my party is relentlessly hostile and unwelcoming. Barack Obama kicked our ass down the street twice by growing the Democrat coalition. It’s a zero-sum game, and every gain for them is a loss for us. It’s a cliché, but you grow by addition, always and only.

As importantly, signifiers matter. Voters we need – Republican leaners in affluent suburbs, for instance – are with us on a range of issues, but against us on tone and presentation. Younger voters who are suffering from 25% unemployment and are about to reap the whirlwind of the Obama economy are ripe for the picking…if we understand their social reality (whether you like it, or not) is overwhelmingly opposed to our position on this matter. Bill Clinton dragged the Democratic Party out of the ditch by walking back party policies that had been bypassed by time.

Before my evangelical friends get too far into the “we’ll take a walk” political blackmail, here’s a bit of tough love: you took a walk last time, and Mitt Romney was 100% right on abortion and gay marriage and damn near everything else. You might want to spend some time changing hearts and minds in society at large before you bolt. You might want to keep this fight where you can win it, rather than trusting in the Federal government to deliver your desired endstates…that’s the other team’s strategy.

What was a bit dishonest of Limbaugh was that he falsely mangled the second, and frankly more important quote in the story:

“Democrats won’t be as happy explaining to gay business owners why Obamacare is crushing them; why the regulatory behemoth in D.C. is burying them in red tape; and why the American economy is still faltering. Republicans take an issue out of the federal domain and let states, churches and society handle it, and let’s stick to a message of growth and opportunity for every American.”

I want to fight for every vote. I want to win in places we shouldn’t be able to, and to disrupt their coalition, break their certitudes and wreck their preconceptions. I want to crush the Democratic party and make it politically radioactive. There are lots of ways to get there, but this isn’t one.

It’s not “giving up an issue” to put this fight in the rear view mirror…it’s picking advantageous battlefields, dictating the tempo of the debate, and focusing on the issues that move voters to us, rather than against us.

The Charge of the Light Brigade was romantic and dashing, but most everyone in it died.  They deployed based on bad intelligence, stuck to a stubborn approach, and were slaughtered wholesale. 

 Let’s keep that in mind before fighting Culture War 3.0.

  1. Gary The Ex-Donk

    And Pickett’s Charge was romantic and dashing too (the stuff of legends).  But after the massacre when General Lee implored George Pickett to reform his division he could only reply “General, I HAVE no division”.

  2. Joseph Eagar

    As much as I love Rush Limbaugh, he can get a bit nasty when stressed.  I do agree that politically speaking, getting the SSM issue off the table would benefit Republicans, though I don’t think the damage to society an expansive judicial ruling would cause is worth it.  National policymakers are already one of the lowest rated, least popular groups in America; no need to increase public cynicism even further.

  3. Nick Stuart

    That any social conservative sat out 2012 continues to amaze me.

    Having said that, and stipulating ad arguendo that Wilson is right that Republican politicians have to change, what should they change to?

    And after they change, will they protect the freedom to have a principled objection to SSM? Eg: if homosexuality becomes, as seems likely, a protected class like race, color, religion, etc. will a religious organization be able to refuse to rent a camp it owns to a gay group to use for an SSM retreat? Will an Orthodox Jew hotelier be protected if he/she refuses to host a honeymooning same sex couple?

    Judy Biggert, the former congresscritter from Illinois found out what happens when a Repubican is moderate on social issues and sound on fiscal issues. For her entire tenure she never missed an opportunity to brownnose her teacher union buddies and stick her finger in the eye of pro-lifers. Then in 2012 she needed their help to win a redistrict and it wasn’t there.

    GOP candidates who want to moderate to the middle have to offer social conservatives more than “vote for us, we’re not as stinky as the other guy.”

  4. Joseph Eagar
    Smokedaddy: I think the disconnect between our consultant class and our grassroots is due to a few factors:

    a) our consultants unwillingness to actually engage and explain fundamental issues and principles, as opposed to worrying about what some reporter is going to say or think about them and their candidate. I think it was Raul Labrador who said we need to be conservative in our content but moderate in our style.

    What evidence is there that the public admires and responds to “fundamental issues and principles”?  Have voters ever rewarded “principle” over, say, charisma, the promise of goodies, or any of a host of other things?

    People do not respond to principles.  Or at least, the “principles” they respond to are created by the political forces of the moment, and will follow the political winds.  George Bush’s spending binge comes to mind.

  5. Mollie Hemingway
    C
    Rick Wilson:

    Before my evangelical friends get too far into the “we’ll take a walk” political blackmail, here’s a bit of tough love: you took a walk last time, and Mitt Romney was 100% right on abortion and gay marriage and damn near everything else. You might want to spend some time changing hearts and minds in society at large before you bolt.

    That’s a great point except for how it’s not true.

    Mitt Romney got more votes from evangelicals than John McCain did.

    Also, Romney wasn’t 100% “right” on any social issue unless being right means avoiding talking about it in a principled fashion and being weird.

    Again, social conservatives are the battered wives of the GOP. I wonder why they don’t dump that guy. Particularly when the revisionist history makes it out as if they — the only reliable group Mitt Romney ever had — even though they didn’t want him — are to blame for his loss.

    Unbelievable.

  6. Rick Wilson
    C

    I’m not blaming them for his loss.  I am, however, incredibly testy when Huck and others promise to take their toys and go home en masse.

    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.

    Rick Wilson:

    Before my evangelical friends get too far into the “we’ll take a walk” political blackmail, here’s a bit of tough love: you took a walk last time, and Mitt Romney was 100% right on abortion and gay marriage and damn near everything else. You might want to spend some time changing hearts and minds in society at large before you bolt.

    That’s a great point except for how it’s not true.

    Mitt Romney got more votes from evangelicals than John McCain did.

    Also, Romney wasn’t 100% “right” on any social issue unless being right means avoiding talking about it in a principled fashion and being weird.

    Again, social conservatives are the battered wives of the GOP. I wonder why they don’t dump that guy. Particularly when the revisionist history makes it out as if they — the only reliable group Mitt Romney ever had — even though they didn’t want him — are to blame for his loss.

    Unbelievable. · 1 minute ago

  7. Mollie Hemingway
    C
    Rick Wilson: I’m not blaming them for his loss.  I am, however, incredibly testy when Huck and others promise to take their toys and go home en masse.

    3 minutes ago

    Yeah, I get that — and it does feel like a weird fatwa. But I worry that the GOP is just completely clueless and cowardly about how one approach — deciding that sexual orientation is the basis of marriage — over the time-honored, logical and universal affirmation that sexual complementarity is the basis for marriage — will produce losses of the most dramatic variety (politically, culturally, etc.).

  8. FloppyDisk90

    So basically, what the GOP needs to do is stop fighting for things it ostensibly believes in and instead pander to whoever it is they think they can persuade.  In short, become an older, nerdier version of the Democrats.

  9. Locke On
    Nick Stuart: …

    Having said that, and stipulating ad arguendo that Wilson is right that Republican politicians have to change, what should they change to?

    And after they change, will they protect the freedom to have a principled objection to SSM? Eg: if homosexuality becomes, as seems likely, a protected class like race, color, religion, etc. will a religious organization be able to refuse to rent a camp it owns to a gay group to use for an SSM retreat? Will an Orthodox Jew hotelier be protected if he/she refuses to host a honeymooning same sex couple?

    That’s the ground to fight on.  Then you’re standing on “leave me alone”, not “do/don’t what I say”.  Much more acceptable to the general populace, and all the libertarian types will stand with you.

  10. Bryan G. Stephens

    Even before the loss, the political class was preparing the argument that the SoCons cost Mitt the election.

    We sucked it up and voted for him. The consultants told us he was was the one to get elected. WFB was invoked. He is the one.

    Well, he lost. Now it is our fault that he lost? You consultants always get paid no matter who wins.

    We are losing on every front at every turn, and your suggestion is, surrender a bit more and then we will come back swinging.

    We will fight it next time.

    Meanwhile, the House passes CR that fund Obamacare. The House gives in at every turn. No one fights to win on our side.

    I am tired of losing. We have been listening to you consultants cycle after cycle and you give us ashes. Why should we listen to you now?

  11. Rick Wilson
    C

    Something I think would be more productive for them as a social marketing effort than a straight political fight…

    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.

    Rick Wilson: I’m not blaming them for his loss.  I am, however, incredibly testy when Huck and others promise to take their toys and go home en masse.

    3 minutes ago

    Yeah, I get that — and it does feel like a weird fatwa. But I worry that the GOP is just completely clueless and cowardly about how one approach — deciding that sexual orientationis the basis of marriage — over the time-honored, logical and universal affirmation that sexual complementarity is the basis for marriage — will produce losses of the most dramatic variety (politically, culturally, etc.). · 4 minutes ago

  12. Bryan G. Stephens
    Locke On

    Nick Stuart: …

    Having said that, and stipulating ad arguendo that Wilson is right that Republican politicians have to change, what should they change to?

    And after they change, will they protect the freedom to have a principled objection to SSM? Eg: if homosexuality becomes, as seems likely, a protected class like race, color, religion, etc. will a religious organization be able to refuse to rent a camp it owns to a gay group to use for an SSM retreat? Will an Orthodox Jew hotelier be protected if he/she refuses to host a honeymooning same sex couple?

    That’s the ground to fight on.  Then you’re standing on “leave me alone”, not “do/don’t what I say”.  Much more acceptable to the general populace, and allthe libertarian types will stand with you. · 2 minutes ago

    Yeah. Right. Do you have a right to refuse to marry Blacks in your church? No? Why not Gays?

    That is the argument already made. People will not be allowed to follow their beliefs. We will lost that fight too (and I am more for winning that fight than SSM in the first place). We will lose it.

  13. PHenry

     Go ahead, abandon the social issues.  Now, tell me how Republicans win any more elections without their base?  Standing for nothing in order to win elections will never actually win elections.  Ask the maverick McCain and the nice guy Romney how it worked out. 

    Rush has you guys right.  You don’t care one fig about principals, they are all for sale if it means a theoretical majority.  But you never notice that it isn’t working, do you?  

  14. Pelayo

    I cannot agree to let SSM slide as a way to gain some voters because it violates my core beliefs.  If Conservatives begin to violate their core beliefs then what is left?  I also would dispute the premise that arguing against SSM is a liability for the GOP.  I think the GOP needs to show that it does stand for the “inconvenient truth” as determined by the Bible and nature itself.  Any attempt to “dumb down” core beliefs will alienate Conservatives and will fail to attract any significant number of Liberal voters because they will see this as a veiled attempt by the GOP to gain votes and nothing more.  I am perfectly happy to cede the SSM voters to the Democrats.

  15. Jim  Ixtian

    Dear, or dear, another ‘shaming SoCons’ article. I take it about as seriously as I do Mike Murphy who somehow managed to have his bland, safe, moderate Republican candidate lose to a guy who had already proven himself to be the worst governor in the history of California.

    I’ll go one step further and suggest that the GOP drop these overpaid consultants, hire Steve Sailer, and implement the ‘Sailer Strategy‘.

  16. Jojo

    You really do sound just like viruscop.

  17. Rick Wilson
    C

    I would commend to your attention my actual quotes, not the ones in your head.

    Bryan G. Stephens: Even before the loss, the political class was preparing the argument that the SoCons cost Mitt the election.

    We sucked it up and voted for him. The consultants told us he was was the one to get elected. WFB was invoked. He is the one.

    Well, he lost. Now it is our fault that he lost? You consultants always get paid no matter who wins.

    We are losing on every front at every turn, and your suggestion is, surrender a bit more and then we will come back swinging.

    We will fight it next time.

    Meanwhile, the House passes CR that fund Obamacare. The House gives in at every turn. No one fights to win on our side.

    I am tired of losing. We have been listening to you consultants cycle after cycle and you give us ashes. Why should we listen to you now? · 11 minutes ago

  18. Rick Wilson
    C

    Amazing how many “conservatives” want Papa Fed to set the rules of the game.

  19. Mendel

    To those who blame consultants for “tricking” them into voting for Romney, I have a snarky but heartfelt response:

    If SoCons are letting their electoral decisions be heavily influenced by TV-talking head consultants they don’t agree with, in one election cycle after another, then the problem is the SoCons, not the consultants.  Fool me twice….

    And respectfully, allowing paid consultants to sway one’s most powerful political decision again and again – against one’s own better judgment – and then blaming the outcome on the consultants, strikes me as the antithesis of personal responsibility.

    After every election, the conservative base says “never again.”  And then 4 years later they do it again.  

    [/rant]

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