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.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Viator

    The GOPlite emulating the Democrat Party will cease to exist.

    • #31
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    @BrentB67

    So we don’t fight for smaller government, we don’t fight for no more debt, and now we don’t fight for a bedrock fundamental principle of life?

    What exactly is it we do fight for? Campaign donations and getting the NYT to not say bad things about conservatives? No Thank You.

    Compromise is the elite term for surrender.

    What was wrong with 2012 wasn’t SoCon’s, FisCons, or the Tea Party. What was wrong with 2012 was consultants like you who think you know what is better for me, my family, and my community better than we do. 

    • #32
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    @BrentB67
    Nick Stuart

    Rick Wilson: Amazing how many “conservatives” want Papa Fed to set the rules of the game. · 9 minutes ago

    How is that exactly?

    SoCons didn’t ask for Roe v. Wade to overturn every law affecting abortion in every state all at once. For decades we’ve been working to wrest it away from the Federal Government.

    SoCons (this SoCon anyway) didn’t want the Federal Government involved in marriage only insofar as state’s rights to manage their affairs are concerned.

    I’d still be interested to know what SoCons get out of the deal if Republicans move to the social middle? Fiscal responsibility? Smaller government? ROTFLMAO.

    You will get nothing and like it!

    • #33
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    @RickWilson

    You’ll hear no defense from me of the decade-long spending binge.

    Nick Stuart

    Rick Wilson: Amazing how many “conservatives” want Papa Fed to set the rules of the game. · 9 minutes ago

    How is that exactly?

    SoCons didn’t ask for Roe v. Wade to overturn every law affecting abortion in every state all at once. For decades we’ve been working to wrest it away from the Federal Government.

    SoCons (this SoCon anyway) didn’t want the Federal Government involved in marriage only insofar as state’s rights to manage their affairs are concerned.

    I’d still be interested to know what SoCons get out of the deal if Republicans move to the social middle? Fiscal responsibility? Smaller government? ROTFLMAO.

    Republicans spend money like drunken sailors. When they were in charge in the last decade, what part of government did they pare down exactly? · 1 hour ago

    • #34
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    @RickWilson

    Read what I said about signifiers.

    Aaron Miller: Gay voter turnout must be incredible if that 1% means so much to you. · 35 minutes ago

    • #35
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    @NickStuart
    Rick Wilson: You’ll hear no defense from me of the decade-long spending binge.

    Nick Stuart

     

    7 minutes ago

    OK, but I really would like to hear what’s in it for SoCons if the Republican party as a whole shifts to the middle?

    • #36
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    @DaveCarter
    Rick Wilson: Amazing how many “conservatives” want Papa Fed to set the rules of the game. · 2 hours ago

    Rick, the following is from Bill Clinton’s signing statement to DOMA:  

    The Act confirms the right of each state to determine its own policy with respect to same gender marriage and clarifies for purposes of federal law the operative meaning of the terms “marriage” and “spouse”.

    “Papa Fed,” didn’t step on states’ rights at all with this act.  Rather, the feds preserved the traditional definition of marriage for federal purposes only, i.e., tax code, federal benefits, etc.  The states remain free, under DOMA to do as they wish, so assigning expansive government motives to conservatives doesn’t ring particularly true.  

    Second, if I were subscribing to your approach, I would have predicted that Roe v. Wade would have, “…remove[d] the issue from the Democratic playbook of fundraising scare tactics and political demagoguery…”  But it didn’t quite work out that way, as evidenced by the “war on women” nonsense Democrats peddled in the last election.  

    In addition to standing on the wisdom of our ancestors, conservatives have an obligation to offer real alternatives to relativism gone awry. 

    • #37
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    @JClimacus

    Listen to Thomas Sowell on this point on today’s Ricochet podcast. Sounds a lot like Rush.

    • #38
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    @KCMulville
    Rick Wilson: 

    I want to fight for every vote. 

    No you don’t. I’m a social conservative. You don’t want to fight for mine. 

    When has the consultant class gone out of its way to attract me? Instead, the consultant class takes me utterly for granted. When you tell me that you’re giving me tough love … let me tell you, tough love goes both ways. 

    • #39
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    @Devereaux

    We can argue all day about whether the consultants have it right, or the SoCons have it right, what is the heart and soul of the party, and so on, but the REAL question is ….

    ?Who is the next LEADER for the conservatives. We have so far been blessed with 2 men, neither of which was much of a leader in their own right. Romney was a manager, a businessman. His job, and his world view, was working within whatever system exists to make things come out “well” – or as well as can be expected.

    What we desperately need is a leader who can state the truths that we believe in so strongly, and not make them sound like silly positions. Someone who will take on the Left and ALL their positions and show how wrong and bad they are to the people. “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” was argued against by ALL the experts – yet Reagan knew that was what was right, what was needed.

    You can’t do that, you won’t win elections, doesn’t matter what you believe or who the consultant is. Find a LEADER! Then follow him or her.

    • #40
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    @mask

    The problem for social conservatives isn’t that the GOP isn’t going full bore on the social issues 24/7 in every state and municipality it’s that the GOP is signaling retreat on social issues.  It’s one thing to say that nothing can be done on a certain social issue in a particular arena (e.g., the president isn’t going to have much impact on gay marriage) or that other issues are more immediately important (debt, spending, size and scope of government) but it’s something entirely different to concede issues.  The GOP also does this with fiscal and regulatory policy.  It’s not just social issues – when pressed about most any issue the GOP proudly tucks it’s tail and flees.

    • #41
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    @Larry3435

    In 2010 the GOP ran on Tea Party principles – small government, lower taxes, fiscal responsibility.  We crushed the Dems.

    In 2012 the GOP was focused on “have we dragged Mitt Romney far enough to the right?”  Especially on social issues.  Romney tried to adapt and, as a result, came across as an out of touch flip-flopper.

    So don’t tell me there is no ground the GOP can stake out that wins elections.  If the world changed between 2010 and 2012, the change was to make the Tea Party message more important, not less.

    There is room in the party for social conservatism, but not the kind of social conservatism that targets minority groups for approbation or scorn (mischaracterized by the Dems as “hate”).  The breakdown of the family, the coarsening of the culture, guns, religious freedom – these are all so-con issues on which the so-con position has majority support in the electorate.  So-con positions that seem to target particular groups (like gays or immigrants), however, are losers.

    We need to live with it.  Yes, that’s easy for me to say.  I’m a libertarian, not a so-con.  But facts are stubborn things…

    • #42
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    @BryanGStephens
    Rick Wilson: I would commend to your attention my actual quotes, not the ones in your head.

    4 hours ago

    You came here to blame us for the defeat of the candidate you guys picked, and I am not paying attention?

    SoCons came out and voted for Romney. Since that loss, we have been in the sites of the GOP establishment as the guys that lost the election.

    How is it, that after every GOP loss we are to blame, and not the likes of you.

    You are in Florida. Did you support Christ over Rubio?

    • #43
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    @BryanGStephens
    Rick Wilson: 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

    4 hours ago

    You seem to think the way to win me over is to insult me. Some student of human nature.

    • #44
  15. Profile Photo Inactive
    @mask
    BrentB67: So we don’t fight for smaller government, we don’t fight for no more debt, and now we don’t fight for a bedrock fundamental principle of life?

    What exactly is it we do fight for? Campaign donations and getting the NYT to not say bad things about conservatives? No Thank You.

    Compromise is the elite term for surrender.

    What was wrong with 2012 wasn’t SoCon’s, FisCons, or the Tea Party. What was wrong with 2012 was consultants like you who think you know what is better for me, my family, and my community better than we do.  · 14 hours ago

    Exactly.  It pisses me off whenever the GOP caves on any of it’s supposed principles – whether federalism, size/scope of government or social issues.  I don’t expect a candidate in a deep blue state to have the same views as those in my state (Utah) but the GOP in general – and consultants – should not signal the need for all hands to surrender on “losing” issues.  Because Rush is right – the GOP falls back to this position on almost every issue.

    • #45
  16. Profile Photo Inactive
    @mask
    Palaeologus: I’m gonna make some likely unpopular points:

    Rick isn’t the enemy.

    He’s wrong on this. Completely. 100%. Wrong. IMHO.

    This is largely (not only) because he is more or less trying to push a rope. But if you have read his many excellent posts it’s clear that it is not standard operating procedure for him to poke SoCons in the eye for fun.

    Rick didn’t choose Mitt for the GOP electorate. Maybe he backed Mitt in the primary. I honestly don’t know, or care.

    GOP primary voters picked Mitt, and they won’t pick a pro-choice or pro-SSM candidate anytime in the near future. Deal with it. · 9 hours ago

    Edited 9 hours ago

    I agree.

    Though a lot of things can be laid at the feet of crummy political consultants primary voters picked Mitt Romney.  Some consultants can be blamed for a miserable campaign but ultimately it comes down to the candidate and their own decisions.

    • #46
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    @mask
    Joseph Eagar

    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.

    So basically, the GOP isn’t spending enough time talking about how men and women complement each other?  · 6 hours ago

    Not necessarily.  In general the pro traditional marriage side’s biggest problem – as Rush also mentioned yesterday – is that it’s allowed the left to define the issue, the terms of the debate and the tone of the debate.

    The left posits that those who oppose state SSM hate gay people, want to deny them fundamental rights, etc.  None of which is true but this is the ever present backdrop to the conversation.  Even here on Ricochet those who support SSM make the same basic assumptions, so instead of actually discussing and arguing the reality of the issue you have to overcome the false impression that you hate gay people and want them to be second class citizens.

    • #47
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    @DanielJeyn

    What rings in my head are four big elephants in the room: the 25% unemployment rate among the young.  The bust of “green jobs.” The fact that “high speed rail” is a boondoggle.  Obamacare is still beyond parody.

    These are big, huge, gaping holes in vision of this administration to its supporters.  I sigh like Al Gore, disappointed in the American people, because I thought those factors would push Romney over the finish line.

    But even if the economy gets better, those factors are stuck.  As a bonus, there’s lots of obvious corruption in Democrat-run cities and states.

    So when the next generational realignment comes, six to eight years after the “Change” hooplah, where will the GOP be as an alternative?

    SoCons can be shoe-horned into this.  But not the other way around.  I say like Anton Chigurh — and with as much at stake — “that’s the best deal you’re gonna get.”

    • #48
  19. Profile Photo Inactive
    @mask
    Joseph Eagar

    That argument doesn’t fly when the federal government has so much power and gives out so many benefits (many of them through the tax code).  I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen a conservative use that particular argument.

    On it’s face, DOMA is definitely expansionist.  If it were passed to prevent SCOTUS from forcibly legalizing gay marriage in the 90s, then perhaps the net effect would be zero.  I don’t know if that’s true, though. · 6 hours ago

    How is DOMA expansionist?  It simply says that states are free to determine what marriage is in their own domains and that the federal government is free to define what marriage is for federal benefits.  I’d agree with you that the federal government is too large and has too many entitlements but as far as I can see DOMA preserves the  rights of states to determine the issue for themselves and not for federal benefits.  A particular states definition of marriage should not impact federal laws/entitlements based on another understanding of marriage.

    • #49
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    @BrentB67

    Rick – you mention in your post about reading and understanding surveys.

    What do you read and understand from the 40 comments thus far? What message will you carry back to republican federal office holders and potential candidates?

    • #50
  21. Profile Photo Member
    @

    http://ricochet.com/member-feed/Want-a-Pick-Me-Up-this-morning/(comment)/657083#comment-657083

    I think this video has you featured, too.

    • #51
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    @JamesDelingpole

    I think you’re right. I’m personally against Gay Marriage – because I think the state has no business involving itself in the affairs of institutions like the church. But it’s not an issue I would go to the wall on.

    Not when our economy’s burning and we’re on the precipice of Armageddon.

    • #52
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    @mask
    James Delingpole: I think you’re right. I’m personally against Gay Marriage – because I think the state has no business involving itself in the affairs of institutions like the church. But it’s not an issue I would go to the wall on.

    Not when our economy’s burning and we’re on the precipice of Armageddon. · 7 minutes ago

    And social conservatives are generally on board with this because most of us are also fiscal conservatives.  We can prioritize.  The problem is that the liberals won’t give up on the culture wars and it’s problematic when those in the GOP and some consultants signal surrender.  Social issues don’t have to be a priority but we don’t want to surrender either.

    Also note that this same tactic of moving away from principled positions is being played out on a number of fronts, from social issues to immigration.

    The general problem – of which the social issues retreat is but a symptom or a concrete example – is that the GOP is really bad at messaging it’s principled positions and has the mistaken belief that retreating on these positions will win over new voters.

    (continued)

    • #53
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    @mask

    (continued)

    The GOP is so bad at messaging that it doesn’t lose these debates on the merits but rather by letting the liberals define the terms of the engagement.  This is seen on every issue  from scaling back the size and reach of government, immigration, gay marriage, the federal budget and gun control.  On every one of these issues the liberals don’t engage on the issues or the principled arguments of conservatives.  They engage in character assassination: conservatives don’t like gay marriage because they are bigots who want homosexuals to be second class citizens; conservatives want to cut spending and regulation because they hate poor people.  If the GOP could actually make a principled argument to the public and not let the left define every single debate we wouldn’t have this problem.

    Instead of deciding that they need to improve their messaging of principled positions the GOP (and consultants) decide the better option is just to concede the argument to the liberals.  Almost every single time.

    (continued)

    • #54
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    @mask

    (continued)

    Could the GOP win over youth voters who don’t like the conservative stance on gay marriage?  I don’t know but if the GOP was actually effective at messaging these voters wouldn’t be alienated on the gay marriage stance – they’d see a principled and reasonable stance that they might disagree with but they wouldn’t perceive conservatives as bigots and haters.

    This is how the left prosecutes it’s case – with smears and lies and the GOP needs to change these dynamics in general.  This isn’t just about social issues – it’s about how the GOP operates in general.

    • #55
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    @RushBabe49

    Rush is correct.  Ricochetti seem to be in favor of a Conservative Party, which these days the Republicans do not appear to be.  We should emphatically NOT “move to the middle”, because there is NO MIDDLE.  There are just people who are willing to compromise their deeply-held principles to win elections  (or who don’t have any deeply-held principles).  I agree that our side needs real leaders, who can elucidate our values of small government, individual responsibility, respect for life, and religious and economic liberty.  I’m thinking that one reason those leaders don’t appear is that being in politics these days is excruciatingly difficult for conservatives, especially with the popular culture and the mainstream press so dead set against us.  I don’t have any solutions.

    • #56
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    @jetstream
    Rick Wilson: (updated) …

    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. · · 6 hours ago

    Charge of the Light Brigade … are you kidding … what we want and need is the Normandy Invasion … with Patton leading just not the 3rd Army but all of the Armies …

    • #57
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    @RobertLux

    I assume Rick Wilson likes hard data? Guess what? Social liberals tend to be fiscal liberals and social conservatives tend to be fiscal conservatives.  Good short article by political scientist, Brian Janiskee, proves the point: “The Legend of the Social Liberal-Fiscal Conservative.”  

    • #58
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    @tommeyer
    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.

    Hear, hear.Romney won the nomination by getting more Republican votes than any other candidate.  Rick Wilson and Mike Murphy didn’t nominate Mitt Romney at a cocktail party in Georgetown or smoke-filled room in Tampa: a majority of Republican primary voters in 37 states did (NB: Romney got an absolute majority of Republican voters nationally as well).

    All this whining about him being foisted on us is completely specious.  If SoCons — or libertarian Republicans, for that matter — are unhappy with how things turned out, let’s blame ourselves for failing to find a better candidate.

    • #59
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    @tommeyer

    Also, I think everyone hear needs to take stock of two things:

    • For many SoCons — who have proven themselves to be a large, very loyal block of Republican voters — SSM is a deal breaker.  Whatever else one might say about this position, that’s not to be brushed off lightly.
    • The kind of strong opposition to SSM that SoCons want turns off a substantial number of voters who might otherwise consider voting for Republican presidential candidates.

    To be sure, we know the exact extent of either of these: I’m not convinced SoCons would refuse to vote for a strongly pro-life Republican who is a squish on gay marriage, nor do I have any better an idea of just how many people really fit into that latter category than anyone else.

    SoCons have every right to hold SSM as non-negotiable, as, indeed, does everyone else within the coalition on any issue of their choosing.  But if that’s the case, then it behooves them either to make that opposition more palatable to other voters, or find some way to counterbalance its negative effect on the rest of the electorate (Hint: it doesn’t involve nominating Sen. Santorum).

    • #60
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