On Pragmatists

 

shutterstock_254757025Although I may well come across as one of those barn-burning conservatives inclined to cut off our electoral nose to spite our establishment face, I’m not. Despite my awful experience working for the GOP, I learned that there are sets of skills and knowledge that vast swaths of the base know very little about. We need “experts,” people who know voting and demographic trends, folks who can somehow deduce your stance on gun control from whether or not you own a boat, enjoy hockey, wear casual leather shoes, and drink domestic beer. There’s a lot of analysis and strategizing that happens behind the scenes that can – and often does — help good candidates win.

Regarding governance, our political system is one of checks and balances, ugly realities, and innumerable hurdles in the way of getting our message out. Sometimes, it makes sense to throw caution to the wind and push forward, regardless of how many votes we have in the Senate; sometimes, however, it does not. Although it can be beyond annoying to hear “You can’t do that” over and over, there are times when it’s exactly what we need to hear.

Firebrands like us are quick to identify — often correctly — those in the GOP establishment who are actual enemies of conservatism, the kind of politicians or consultants who wouldn’t push for defunding Planned Parenthood or overturning ObamaCare even if we did have the votes. But there is another kind within the establishment who genuinely want what’s best for America, who disagree with the base on tactics, but who ultimately want what we want. This posts is addressed to, and about, them: those pragmatists who are on our side, despite their obliviousness to what many of us would regard as obvious. It’s hard to tell these principled pragmatists apart from the cynical kind of pragmatist, but there is a difference.

Pragmatists are realists, those who fully understand “how Washington works,” the realities of what the American electorate will accept, the potential setbacks that might follow whatever steps we take, and the eternal principle which I previously described as A. Pragmatists are naturally inclined to emphasize what can actually be accomplished (and when), the ways the opposition will fight back, and what more we need — additional Congressional seats, favorable poll numbers, etc — to move our agenda forward in a tangible sense without getting whacked back down to earth by the realities of bad press or the filibuster.

These principled pragmatists — again, not the cynical, elitist, moderates who disguise themselves as such — support Tea Party candidates when they think they can win, they just tend to assume they can’t. As uninspiring as we may find them, they’re cognizant of realities that idealists often overlook. The perspective of the pragmatist may well be what keeps us from doing or saying something incredibly stupid that could cost us opportunities to effect real change.

However, as much as the pragmatists value reality, there are aspects of it they have an exceptionally difficult time grasping. As much as politics is a game of numbers, negotiation, compromise, interest groups, and back room deals, it’s also one of inspiration, idealism, belief, and a sense of belonging and purpose. All too often, the pragmatist dismisses the concerns — the feelings – of the base out of hand. The pragmatist doesn’t need a stirring speech to keep voting Republican, and consequently tends to view those who do as immature.

But just as idealism bereft of pragmatism leads to pure-believing firebrands nodding in agreement at each other at local Tea Party meetings, pragmatism bereft of idealism stifles every spark that could inspire someone to work on a campaign or convince his friend to vote this election. The pragmatist is utterly flummoxed by the conservative who supports the candidate he agrees with 60 percent of the time over the one he agrees with 85 percent of the time, failing to understand that Reagan and Truman both won largely because people liked and believed in them, even if they didn’t necessarily agree with them point-by-point on an issue checklist. “They’re not being rational!” complains the pragmatist. Correct. They’re not. People aren’t rational, not even most conservatives.

In doing so, the pragmatist leads his ideological allies to confuse him with the genuine enemies of conservatism, labeling them “stupid,” “spoiled brats,”, and “clowns.” The pragmatist leaps directly to rational argument when he’s addressing somebody who’s mad as hell, failing to recognize that such an approach tends to make people even more emotionally defensive, immediately switching to derision when “reason” doesn’t work. “I know this sucks, really, but this is the best we can do right now” works far better than demanding infinite gratitude for Harry Reid no longer being Majority Leader. “Let me listen to and explore your ideas (however harebrained they might seem to me at the moment)” gives people a sense you actually give a damn what they think. “You idiot, don’t you know Obama will just veto it!?” does not. Pragmatists — even the good ones — too often respond with variations of “Shut up and listen to us” when they should be offering (and asking for) constructive feedback about what can be done given current circumstances.

Some in the base have no clue “how Washington works,” others understand all too well and despise it. But the principled pragmatist conflates them, equating the ignorance of the former with the latter’s informed understanding of the risks. Moreover, the hyper-rational pragmatist typically can’t grasp that many of us could accept losing if we felt that our leaders understood the urgency of our cause, that they worked with our belief that things need to change now instead of hoping to stifle it, and that they’re really trying.

The pragmatist is naturally risk-averse and so bogged-down in the details that he often gives the impression that he’s given up on his conservative hopes and dreams, even if he hasn’t. Thus, he fails to acknowledge the reality that giving the impression you’re actually doing something matters almost as much as actually doing something, especially during those times when doing something proves exceptionally difficult. People need inspiration: the sense they’re being led by somebody who wants what they want, who is disappointed by what disappoints them, and who dreams what they dream. McBoehnell is the opposite of that.

The principled pragmatist might argue that — for now – stopping Obama from furthering his agenda and keeping Hillary from winning the presidency might temporarily suffice as political victories. In the actual sense it won’t. Conservative leaders need to give reminders — evidence, you might say — that we’re fighters even if we lose and assurance we’re on the right track in a way that doesn’t come across as condescending. Conservatives need to know that the pollsters, consultants, and Congressional leadership want what we want, that we’ll get a respectful and sympathetic explanation for why the bill didn’t make it to the president’s desk like we were promised. Constant cries that “We can’t do anything to forward our agenda until we have the Presidency and sixty votes in the Senate” or “I know I said we could pass a bill overturning Obamacare using reconciliation but didn’t really mean it” are counterproductive.

Whatever the polling data might tell you, ignoring this is far from pragmatic. Yes, we need to be realistic, but we also need to push the bounds of reality a bit. A principled GOP pragmatist should respond to “Public opinion isn’t with us on this one” with “let’s start changing public opinion.” Boldness is among the most essential traits we need to change Washington; today, it might seem fruitless, but being bold under such circumstances breeds confidence that we will continue to be so when things improve. No matter how many seats we have in Congress or what party controls the presidency, the media, academia, bureaucracy, pop culture, and Self magazine will be just as against us then are they are now. It’s going to require courage to change things no matter what happens at the ballot box. Pragmatists need to show us they’ve actually got some of it; without it, no rational argument or cry of “President Hillary will be your fault” will convince many of us there’s any reason to vote for them.

Moreover, the Pragmatist needs to distinguish himself from the Washington elites who don’t want to effect actual change, the Chamber of Commerce types who plan to run primary opponents against perfectly electable Tea Party favorites, and who would voraciously oppose Ted Cruz especially if even if the polling data indicated he’d win in a landslide. At present, the principled pragmatist who believes in waiting for a more opportune moment to push a conservative agenda advocates the same short-term strategy as the elitist who wants to stifle anything that hints of breaking the “Washington Cartel.” Not being cognizant of how downright condescending he can sound, the principled pragmatist gives the impression that there’s nothing to differentiate him from Trent Lott.

Finally, the good pragmatist needs to admit that he’s sometimes wrong. I’ve yet to encounter a single one who’s admitted he was wrong about how Ted Cruz’s “government shutdown” attempt would keep us from taking the Senate in 2014, nor consider for an instant that it might be part of the reason we did so well. Under pragmatic leadership, the base feels ignored, uninspired, and that the GOP is as much opposed to doing anything about our mess in Washington as the Democrats. The pragmatists believes such beliefs are nonsense, failing to see how he — unwittingly and undeservedly – gave such an impression.

The base may be “unsophisticated,” but its passion has the potential to affect change far more reaching that anything “sufficient voter contacts” or focus group-derived talking points ever could. The base may be overly-inclined to believe that “telling it like it is” is a sure way to win every election, but the pragmatist is too quick to conclude that the same truth-telling surely leads to defeat. If it’s irrational to assume that every conservative firebrand will lead to Reagan-sized landslides, might it not also be irrational to assume that anyone to the right of Bob Dole will result in Goldwater-sized defeats?

Indeed, the charts and data and polling trends provide us with information we need to win elections, and the pragmatist understands this like the base never will. However, the base would be far more likely to heed the cautious advice of the pragmatist were he a bit less inclined to call them “clowns,” a bit more inclined to acknowledge that there’s political reality that can’t be neatly encapsulated in charts and graphs, and were his advice not quite so cautious all the time.

According to a poll I keep hearing about — but am unable to locate — that merely 20% of Republicans are happy with their leadership, whereas 60% of Democrats approve of theirs. The pragmatist likely assumes that this is because Democratic leaders have enough power to effect actual policy changes in their favor. What if it’s the other way around, that Democrats have power because they inspire their base? What if the Republican base is correct in its “unsophisticated” and “irrational” notion that it’s impossible to grow a “big tent” without risking driving its current occupants out? Has the pragmatist noticed that as he continually encourages his base to be patient, Democrats encourage their base to remain perpetually riled-up?

The principled pragmatist encourages caution, and sometimes caution is appropriate. Unfortunately, these are perilous times, times during which caution simply will not suffice. Everything that could possibly engender change requires risk, so it’s time for the pragmatist to use his expertise to maximize the effectiveness of bold strokes instead of discouraging anybody who might consider them, and to step aside and allow some creativity.

The only reason I can tell the difference between the principled pragmatists and the cynical elites who genuinely oppose conservative principle is that I’ve personally interacted with enough of each to tell the difference. I’ve had long conversations late into the night with realists who’ve shown me that they want what I want, but staunchly disagree with me strategically. Most of the base has had no such opportunity. They’ve no reason to believe the pragmatists actually support them when the only thing they’ve ever heard from them is “not yet.”

So Mr. Pragmatist, you may know from the depths of your heart that you’d do everything in your power to effect actual conservative change if given the actual chance. We don’t, and we won’t until you prove it.

Members have made 77 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Brad2971 Inactive

    I’m going to ask you a two-part question, now that I’ve read this rather long post:

    1. Would you know what a conservative agenda would look like if there was enough nationwide demand to pass it?

    2. Should one get passed, would you subject yourself and/or your family to that conservative agenda?

    • #1
    • August 9, 2015 at 10:38 pm
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  2. Profile photo of Martel Member
    Martel Post author

    Brad2971:I’m going to ask you a two-part question, now that I’ve read this rather long post:

    1. Would you know what a conservative agenda would look like if there was enough nationwide demand to pass it?

    2. Should one get passed, would you subject yourself and/or your family to that conservative agenda?

    1. Yes, I would. Domestically, it would include restrictive border and immigration controls, reduction in the size and power of Washington and its bureaucracy, a substantial simplification, overhaul, or replacement of the tax code, actual spending reductions (focusing first on controversial programs like Planned Parenthood or superfluous ones like Cowboy Poetry Festivals), most likely some sort of entitlement reform, a shift in power back to the states for issues not Constitutionally mandated for the feds, and debt reduction.

    2. Yes, I would. I’m aware that in some ways it would be difficult, which is part of why I’d be satisfied with things going in the right direction (even if not as quickly as I’d like) so long as they’re actually going in the right direction. Indeed, things would be tough if we did some of this stuff, but they’ll be much tougher if we don’t.

    • #2
    • August 9, 2015 at 11:00 pm
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  3. Profile photo of Leigh Member

    So… the way you can tell is if the Pragmatist in question has been a governor.

    • #3
    • August 10, 2015 at 4:34 am
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  4. Profile photo of Martel Member
    Martel Post author

    Leigh:So… the way you can tell is if the Pragmatist in question has been a governor.

    Perhaps, but not necessarily.

    W had a fairly strong record as governor of Texas, but when he got to Washington and considered himself to be leading the entire country he became far more pragmatic.

    But I think if the governor of a blue or purple state governed as an effective conservative, that’s a better indication of how he’d be as “governor” of the purple country as a whole. Governors of red states may or may not have had much Democratic opposition or powerful leftie constituencies to contend with, so we don’t know how they’d respond in a more “purple” environment.

    • #4
    • August 10, 2015 at 5:57 am
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  5. Profile photo of Austin Murrey Inactive

    Another excellent post Martel, bravo!

    • #5
    • August 10, 2015 at 6:06 am
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  6. Profile photo of Leigh Member

    Martel: Perhaps, but not necessarily. W had a fairly strong record as governor of Texas, but when he got to Washington and considered himself to be leading the entire country he became far more pragmatic. But I think if the governor of a blue or purple state governed as an effective conservative, that’s a better indication of how he’d be as “governor” of the purple country as a whole. Governors of red states may or may not have had much Democratic opposition or powerful leftie constituencies to contend with, so we don’t know how they’d respond in a more “purple” environment.

    Absolutely agreed. This is why I ultimately trust Scott Walker more than Ted Cruz. I don’t doubt Cruz’s sincerity, but I just have no idea how someone who’s spent his short political career attacking leadership would respond once he found himself in leadership with the responsibility of actually passing a budget and needing to get votes. I’m not sure Cruz knows himself.

    There again, it can be hard to evaluate a blue-state governor who has been unfortunate enough to be stuck with a Democratic legislature. But we know a lot about Walker or Kasich.

    • #6
    • August 10, 2015 at 6:32 am
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  7. Profile photo of Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Martel: Firebrands like us are quick to identify — often correctly — those in the GOP establishment who are actual enemies of conservatism, the kind of politicians or consultants who wouldn’t push for defunding Planned Parenthood or overturning ObamaCare even if we did have the votes. But there is another kind within the establishment who genuinely want what’s best for America, who disagree with the base on tactics, but who ultimately want what we want…

    The only reason I can tell the difference between the principled pragmatists and the cynical elites who genuinely oppose conservative principle is that I’ve personally interacted with enough of each to tell the difference. I’ve had long conversations late into the night with realists who’ve shown me that they want what I want, but staunchly disagree with me strategically. Most of the base has had no such opportunity. They’ve no reason to believe the pragmatists actually support them when the only thing they’ve ever heard from them is “not yet.”

    Do you have any suggestions for how to speed the process of telling the difference, if given the opportunity? What kinds of questions would separate the principled GOP pragmatist from the cynical kind?

    • #7
    • August 10, 2015 at 7:08 am
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  8. Profile photo of I Walton Member

    Chesterton “The great elk did not say, “Cloven hoofs are very much worn now.” He polished his own weapons for his own use. But in the reasoning animal there has arisen a more horrible danger, that he may fail through perceiving his own failure. When modern sociologist talk of the necessity of accommodating one’s self to the trend of the time, they forget that the trend of the time at its best consists entirely of people who will not accommodate themselves to anything. …Every man speaks of public opinion, and means by public opinion, public opinion minus his opinion. Every man makes his contribution negative under the erroneous impression that the next man’s contribution is positive. Every man surrenders his fancy to a general tone which is itself a surrender”

    I’d add an observation– there is no such thing as public opinion. There are people with strong views and people without strong views on an infinitude of matters and these cannot be measured in any meaningful way and to the extent we measure them the averages lose all the important information. Leadership can shape short term outcomes on polls, on elections and folks can be stirred up to send checks and letters. But when we say we must be pragmatic we’re speaking about special interests and the implication is that we must capitulate to them before we’ve even designed a strategy to manage them.

    • #8
    • August 10, 2015 at 7:11 am
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  9. Profile photo of John Hendrix Inactive

    Your analysis of Pragmatists kept reminding me of Mike Murphy. Particularly Murphy’s annoying attitude that political campaigns should be warped around whatever is the most convenient for him.

    • #9
    • August 10, 2015 at 7:12 am
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  10. Profile photo of Guruforhire Member

    Even assuming good faith, the pragmatics have no pragmatism.

    • #10
    • August 10, 2015 at 7:16 am
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  11. Profile photo of Martel Member
    Martel Post author

    Leigh:Absolutely agreed. This is why I ultimately trust Scott Walker more than Ted Cruz. I don’t doubt Cruz’s sincerity, but I just have no idea how someone who’s spent his short political career attacking leadership would respond once he found himself in leadership with the responsibility of actually passing a budget and needing to get votes. I’m not sure Cruz knows himself.

    There again, it can be hard to evaluate a blue-state governor who has been unfortunate enough to be stuck with a Democratic legislature. But we know a lot about Walker or Kasich.

    I think we can safely conclude that Cruz is an idealist. You’re correct that the question is whether he’s pragmatic enough to effect the change both he and I would want him to effect. Not unlike the governor of a blue state, it’s hard to know what a freshman Senator is capable of when McConnell is in charge of the Senate. We know he’s made a lot of enemies, but it’s hard to say if that was necessary or a misstep? (I incline towards the former opinion myself). That said, he’s had about as much effect as a freshman can have.

    On Kasich, did he expand Medicare for ideological or pragmatic reasons, did he do it because he believed it best for his state or because it would help him stay in office?

    Walker seems to have a strong combination of idealism and pragmatism.

    • #11
    • August 10, 2015 at 9:06 am
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  12. Profile photo of Martel Member
    Martel Post author

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:Do you have any suggestions for how to speed the process of telling the difference, if given the opportunity? What kinds of questions would separate the principled GOP pragmatist from the cynical kind?

    Like I’ve said, it’s difficult to tell, which is why I put the onus on them to prove they’re not.

    When sharing an idea on how to change something, the pragmatist just a bit more likely to sound like he actually heard what you have to say before telling you it can’t be done. When telling you it can’t be done, the pragmatist might seem just a bit disappointed, whereas the elitist will seem a bit more smug.

    The pragmatist is more likely to have an instinctive affinity for conservative thought when discussing the ideals he’d like to see; the elitist steers such conversation away from ideology and towards inside baseball and name-dropping. Pragmatists are far more likely to have read the likes of Thomas Sowell or other thinkers than elites.

    As a taking head on television, pragmatists and elites sound remarkably alike, but when confronted with an actual flesh-and-blood person, somehow the pragmatist will usually subtly express some sort of affinity for him and his beliefs. The elitist will try to hide his disgust.

    But there are some damn good actors out there who can fool you. This being a question of the heart, ultimately it requires insight to tell which is which.

    • #12
    • August 10, 2015 at 9:22 am
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  13. Profile photo of Martel Member
    Martel Post author

    John Hendrix:Your analysis of Pragmatists kept reminding me of Mike Murphy. Particularly Murphy’s annoying attitude that political campaigns should be warped around whatever is the most convenient for him.

    Like I’ve said at other times, you can’t always tell which is which. However, my best guess is that Murphy is more of an elitist than pragmatist, whereas I suspect Rick Wilson is more pragmatic.

    But I’m an expert on neither and have met neither so I could be wrong.

    • #13
    • August 10, 2015 at 9:24 am
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  14. Profile photo of Martel Member
    Martel Post author

    Guruforhire:Even assuming good faith, the pragmatics have no pragmatism.

    They’re often definitely lacking in wisdom, I’ll give you that.

    • #14
    • August 10, 2015 at 9:25 am
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  15. Profile photo of Quinn the Eskimo Member

    I don’t know where I fall in all of this. Although I have a lot of strategy disagreements with the base and I also believe that Congressional leadership is not doing a fraction of what it could or should be doing.

    I agree with you that inspiration is important. But just as important is what is being inspired. I see much more about burning things down than about building up a conservative future.

    • #15
    • August 10, 2015 at 9:31 am
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  16. Profile photo of Leigh Member

    Martel: On Kasich, did he expand Medicare for ideological or pragmatic reasons, did he do it because he believed it best for his state or because it would help him stay in office?

    I really don’t know. Perhaps I should have said the information about Kasich is out there rather than that we know it. If I had lived in Ohio and followed him as closely as Walker, I would maybe have a better sense.

    He certainly makes an ideological case for it, but his ideological case is so anti-conservative that I have a hard time believing he means it from what little I know of his previous record. I wonder if losing that battle with the unions did something to his judgment.

    I agree Cruz is an idealist. I have to admit it rubs me the wrong way when a brand new Senator from Texas — where his idealism actually does benefit him politically — lectures a stage full of people from New Jersey, Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio about being just “campaign conservatives.” Even when I don’t like some of their compromises, it almost makes me defensive on their behalf.

    • #16
    • August 10, 2015 at 9:33 am
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  17. Profile photo of Martel Member
    Martel Post author

    Quinn the Eskimo:I don’t know where I fall in all of this. Although I have a lot of strategy disagreements with the base and I also believe that Congressional leadership is not doing a fraction of what it could or should be doing.

    This might mean you’re a pragmatist who actually believes in something. When communicating with idealists, perhaps ensure you’ve established you’re in ideological agreement before emphasizing your tactical disagreements.

    I agree with you that inspiration is important. But just as important is what is being inspired. I see much more about burning things down than about building up a conservative future.

    People need to be inspired, so if nobody advocating the right thing inspires them, they’ll gravitate towards an “inspirational” person advocating the wrong thing.

    There is an aspect of “burn it all down” to the base, but the base has been misled repeatedly. Had the establishment made more of an effort to reassure the base it’s actually doing what it can to promote conservatism or made an effort to guide the base’s fervor instead of stamp it out this would be less of a problem.

    • #17
    • August 10, 2015 at 9:50 am
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  18. Profile photo of Quinn the Eskimo Member

    Leigh: I have to admit it rubs me the wrong way when a brand new Senator from Texas — where his idealism actually does benefit him politically — lectures a stage full of people from New Jersey, Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio about being just “campaign conservatives.” Even when I don’t like some of their compromises, it almost makes me defensive on their behalf.

    Agreed. It’s easy when the tide is going your way. I don’t begrudge Cruz is enthusiasm, but a little context is in order. I am glad he is the Senator from Texas, but I don’t think he could get elected as the Senator from New Jersey. Sure, some of them could do better. Could we really expect a whole lot more from Scott Walker?

    • #18
    • August 10, 2015 at 9:56 am
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  19. Profile photo of Martel Member
    Martel Post author

    Leigh:

    Martel: On Kasich, did he expand Medicare for ideological or pragmatic reasons, did he do it because he believed it best for his state or because it would help him stay in office?

    […]

    He certainly makes an ideological case for it, but his ideological case is so anti-conservative that I have a hard time believing he means it from what little I know of his previous record. I wonder if losing that battle with the unions did something to his judgment.

    I haven’t followed closely enough to know, either. If he did it for ideological reasons, he’s a moderate. If for practical reasons, he might be a bit too pragmatic. I realize that sometimes we have to give a little to get a little, but in Washington if we give much more there will be nothing more to give.

    I agree Cruz is an idealist. I have to admit it rubs me the wrong way when a brand new Senator from Texas — where his idealism actually does benefit him politically — lectures a stage full of people from New Jersey, Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio about being just “campaign conservatives.” Even when I don’t like some of their compromises, it almost makes me defensive on their behalf.

    Yet when McConnell says before the election he’ll repeal Obamacare with 51 votes (and the rest of the Senate fails to call him on it) it practically begs for that type of criticism.

    • #19
    • August 10, 2015 at 10:03 am
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  20. Profile photo of Quinn the Eskimo Member

    Martel: This might mean you’re a pragmatist who actually believes in something. When communicating with idealists, perhaps ensure you’ve established you’re in ideological agreement before emphasizing your tactical disagreements.

    I certainly think I do. I’d like to think that my comment did what you said. If I didn’t let me know.

    • #20
    • August 10, 2015 at 10:09 am
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  21. Profile photo of Martel Member
    Martel Post author

    Quinn the Eskimo:

    Martel: This might mean you’re a pragmatist who actually believes in something. When communicating with idealists, perhaps ensure you’ve established you’re in ideological agreement before emphasizing your tactical disagreements.

    I certainly think I do. I’d like to think that my comment did what you said. If I didn’t let me know.

    You didn’t seem anything even remotely close to combative or smug, so I’ve no complaints.

    Those pragmatists who do exhibit such tendencies here on Ricochet haven’t shown up in this thread. Which disappoints me because I’d really like to hear what they have to say on this.

    • #21
    • August 10, 2015 at 10:11 am
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  22. Profile photo of Leigh Member

    Martel: Yet when McConnell says before the election he’ll repeal Obamacare with 51 votes (and the rest of the Senate fails to call him on it) it practically begs for that type of criticism.

    Sure, but he wasn’t on that stage.

    To be fair I’m not aware of Cruz crossing the line in attacking his fellow candidates so far. But you can see the fireworks coming.

    And — seeing his willingness to engage in criticism of other Republicans — he ought to take Trump on. He doesn’t have to get involved in the “politically incorrect” debate. Just do us all a favor and set the record straight on single payer.

    • #22
    • August 10, 2015 at 10:23 am
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  23. Profile photo of Quinn the Eskimo Member

    Martel: There is an aspect of “burn it all down” to the base, but the base has been misled repeatedly. Had the establishment made more of an effort to reassure the base it’s actually doing what it can to promote conservatism or made an effort to guide the base’s fervor instead of stamp it out this would be less of a problem.

    I half-agree, or maybe more. I think the leadership has been terrible, timid and demoralizing. All fair.

    That said, we all bear our own responsibility for dealing with hardship. When time get tough, some people strive to do better and some people reach for the bottle (or the noose). I say this out of the absolute conviction that we are so much better than what we are allowing ourselves to become.

    We are the heirs of the politics of freedom and prosperity. We have a good message. All I want out of my political life is to make people happy and free and rich. Other than self-defense, I’m not looking to hurt anybody. Maybe that’s crazy talk to a lot of people. All I know is that it motivates me.

    • #23
    • August 10, 2015 at 10:39 am
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  24. Profile photo of Jim Kearney Contributor

    We need “experts,” people who know voting and demographic trends, folks who can somehow deduce your stance on gun control from …

    Data science is indeed crucial for electoral success. It is the best thing Democrats have going for them right now, or perhaps second only to their understanding of media and their dominance in that domain.

    Whether you use data science for national security or for winning elections, the more detailed the data, the better the algorithms, the more reliable the analytics. We need to know more about e.g. Trump poll respondents, question shorthand terms like the “base,” and avoid overly broad groupings such as “enemies of conservatism.”

    Ultimately, each individual voter profile should be as exact as possible on the issues, on personality type, emotional needs, and on other key levers such as influence, likelihood to contribute funds, and so on.

    On “enemies of conservatism” — Could we possibly save this one for ISIS and MoveOn.org?

    Suppose I felt passionate enough to donate to Scott Brown’s initial campaign to block the Democrats’ 60th vote in the Senate. Am I an “enemy of conservatism” because, like Brown, I support abortion rights, and oppose cutting off birth control funds via Planned Parenthood? Replace “defunding Planned Parenthood” with “opposes raising taxes” in paragraph three above, as a politically significant parallel to overturning Obamacare, and I’m still listening to your argument.

    Is a Virginia voter who abstained on Ken Cuccinelli due to social issues an “enemy of conservatism” even if he voted for Ed Gillespie’s almost-successful upset campaign for a Virginia Senate seat? Why did he or she do so? Instead of identifying a voter as “an enemy of conservatism” for one belief, use his information to trigger more Gillespie votes on his next run.

    Maybe more exact terms, like “enemy of social conservatism” communicates better, since such a person can be a bulwark of other forms of conservatism. Sheldon Adelson, e.g. is both pro-Israel and pro-choice, and was the largest contributor to Newt Gingrich’s conservative campaign in 2012.

    On “the base” — Whose base is it, anyway? Are there different bases in different districts and states?

    Which past GW Bush voters who sat out Obama-Romney did so because of Romney’s Mormon faith? Because he “didn’t care about people like me?” Because he didn’t respond actively to Hurricane Sandy? Do we have this data? If a voter self-profiles as “very conservative” does that make them part of the base, even if they live in a close purple state and didn’t vote for Romney?

    Which voters in Ohio didn’t vote for Romney but did vote for John Kasich’s re-election campaign? Are they in “the base” if they are also registered Republicans? Is a Republican cop who retired to Florida a part of the base, even if his wife still subscribes to The New York Times and he polls for Donald Trump?

    If you have ever attended a Tea Party rally, but never go to Church, are you in the base? If you’re in the top 20% of consistent Republican voters in California, check Drudge and Rush for news, give to the NRA, and have a same sex civil union which you may soon upgrade, can you, too, be part of the base?

    Terms like “the base” are useful shorthand for Rush Limbaugh, but really his base is those who listen to him because they like most of what he says. Maybe there are several versions of the conservative base, and all this talk of “the” base is really only asking “who’s on first?” and leaving other bases uncovered.

    Conclusion: The dichotomy between “pragmatists” and “firebrands” is imperfect. Without more sharply defined detailed voter profiles and more precise interpretive language, it could blur rather than refine actionable intelligence for winning states and districts.

    • #24
    • August 10, 2015 at 11:12 am
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    Martel Post author

    Leigh:

    Martel: Yet when McConnell says before the election he’ll repeal Obamacare with 51 votes (and the rest of the Senate fails to call him on it) it practically begs for that type of criticism.

    Sure, but he wasn’t on that stage.

    To be fair I’m not aware of Cruz crossing the line in attacking his fellow candidates so far. But you can see the fireworks coming.

    And — seeing his willingness to engage in criticism of other Republicans — he ought to take Trump on. He doesn’t have to get involved in the “politically incorrect” debate. Just do us all a favor and set the record straight on single payer.

    I suspect his strategy is to eventually harness Trump’s support by letting the other candidates rip into him until they marginalize him enough to get out. Were he to criticize Trump that wouldn’t happen. Regarding the morality of his approach, it’s not like Trump is going uncriticized; he’s just letting the other candidates do it.

    I think also that the establishment is so terrified of Trump that Cruz might eventually strike them as reasonable by comparison.

    • #25
    • August 10, 2015 at 11:14 am
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    Quinn the Eskimo:

    Martel: There is an aspect of “burn it all down” to the base, but the base has been misled repeatedly. Had the establishment made more of an effort to reassure the base it’s actually doing what it can to promote conservatism or made an effort to guide the base’s fervor instead of stamp it out this would be less of a problem.

    I half-agree, or maybe more. I think the leadership has been terrible, timid and demoralizing. All fair.

    That said, we all bear our own responsibility for dealing with hardship. When time get tough, some people strive to do better and some people reach for the bottle (or the noose). I say this out of the absolute conviction that we are so much better than what we are allowing ourselves to become.

    You’re not incorrect. However, to help people become what they should be we first have to recognize what they are.

    Indeed, each person is responsible for making morally correct decisions. Yet human nature being what it is is horribly flawed.

    Part of the reason the Constitution and Christianity have been so successful is that each understands people thoroughly. After acknowledging our sinful nature, we can do wonders. When (like lots of GOP politicos) we just pretend people aren’t going to get mad and count on them to do the right thing, all too often they won’t.

    People are mad. Rational or not, we can’t ignore that.

    • #26
    • August 10, 2015 at 11:21 am
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    Martel Post author

    Jim Kearney:Data science is indeed crucial for electoral success. It is the best thing Democrats have going for them right now, or perhaps second only to their understanding of media and their dominance in that domain.

    Whether you use data science for national security or for winning elections, the more detailed the data, the better the algorithms, the more reliable the analytics. We need to know more about e.g. Trump poll respondents, question shorthand terms like the “base,” and avoid overly broad groupings such as “enemies of conservatism.”

    Ultimately, each individual voter profile should be as exact as possible on the issues, on personality type, emotional needs, and on other key levers such as influence, likelihood to contribute funds, and so on.

    Correct. Collecting and compiling such data is a science, but aspects of knowing what to do with such data is often more of an art. I’ve worked with those of such a scientific temperament, but I’ve seen firsthand how their left-brained approach all to often misses things that are obvious to somebody a bit less analytical.

    It’s conventional wisdom that although voters say they hate negative ads that they still work. However, focus groups also say they want politicians who “can reach across” the aisle but then vote for the most partisan member of the Senate over the guy who said “reach across the aisle” every time he spoke.

    Yet tell this to an “expert” and he’ll just roll his eyes.

    • #27
    • August 10, 2015 at 11:33 am
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    Martel Post author

    Jim Kearney:On “enemies of conservatism” – Could we possibly save this one for ISIS and MoveOn.org?

    I’d love to, but there are indeed people on our side of the aisle who are more likely to stand in the way of shrinking the size of government than to support it.

    Suppose I felt passionate enough to donate to Scott Brown’s initial campaign to block the Democrats’ 60th vote in the Senate. Am I an “enemy of conservatism” because, like Brown, I support abortion rights, and oppose cutting off birth control funds via Planned Parenthood? Replace “defunding Planned Parenthood” with “opposes raising taxes” in paragraph three above, as a politically significant parallel to overturning Obamacare, and I’m still listening to your argument.

    Being inclined towards libertarianism myself, on some issues conservatives consider me an enemy, on others they love me.

    The way I’d break it down is that overall you’re an ally, but on some issues you’re an opponent (not enemy). However, although the exact line is difficult to draw, eventually there comes a point when you’re more against me than for me. Moreover, an individual in Virginia who wants to keep funding PP is less of an “enemy” than a Senator doing the same.

    Nobody is with me all the time, but some folks just seem to happen to get in the way virtually every time it matters.

    • #28
    • August 10, 2015 at 11:40 am
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    Martel Post author

    Jim Kearney:Is a Virginia voter who abstained on Ken Cuccinelli due to social issues an “enemy of conservatism” even if he voted for Ed Gillespie’s almost-successful upset campaign for a Virginia Senate seat? Why did he or she do so? Instead of identifying a voter as “an enemy of conservatism” for one belief, use his information to trigger more Gillespie votes on his next run.

    Again, alliances are shifting, usually partial, and often temporary. However, as much as I’d love to write a post delineating every possible variation of conservative, libertarian, partial ally, etc., this post is long enough as it is.

    Maybe more exact terms, like “enemy of social conservatism” communicates better, since such a person can be a bulwark of other forms of conservatism. Sheldon Adelson, e.g. is both pro-Israel and pro-choice, and was the largest contributor to Newt Gingrich’s conservative campaign in 2012.

    And the Koch brothers support gay marriage. Still, as much as I oppose gay marriage, the Kochs are with me often enough to consider them allies. Still, when writing about broad national trends getting too bogged down in every contingency can be counter-productive.

    • #29
    • August 10, 2015 at 11:45 am
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    Martel Post author

    Jim Kearney:On “the base” – Whose base is it, anyway? Are there different bases in different districts and states?

    I’d argue that the base are those voters who largely adhere, believe in, and vote to promote conservative principle and governance. Yes, it’s an imperfect definition. Indeed, the Republican base is different in Connecticut than of Alaska. However, generalities can in fact be drawn.

    When trying to devise a strategy for a specific race or outreach program, defining “the base” as specifically as possible with zillions of little subgroups makes perfect sense. When describing overall trends and tendencies in a blog post that’s by nature much more limited in scope it doesn’t.

    Conclusion: The dichotomy between “pragmatists” and “firebrands” is imperfect. Without more sharply defined detailed voter profiles and more precise interpretive language, it could blur rather than refine actionable intelligence for winning states and districts.

    This exemplifies the “scientific” mindset I described earlier, essential yet too detail-oriented to work effectively without an “artistic” counterpart.

    There are people who advocate doing what’s right consequence be damned virtually all the time. There are others who approach everything with calculation and precision. Still others are somewhere in the middle.

    Yet the obvious fact that each one of us is an individual in no way detracts from the validity of a description of people’s general tendencies.

    Were I devising a detailed campaign strategy for a specific race, you’d be more correct. But I’m not.

    • #30
    • August 10, 2015 at 11:58 am
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