Do you want to be right, or do you want to win?
This was a question I had to ask many candidates while campaigning for them before I got into the journalism business. Believe it or not, the choice comes down to one or the other more often than not. Sometimes you can have both, but that’s a rare day.
Being “right” and winning tend to be mutually exclusive concepts in politics. The battle between ego and victory is a costly one if it goes on too long. I bring this up because I read an interesting article on Politico today that explained the tension between the National Rifle Association and the conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Conservatives are mad at the NRA because they 1) Didn’t oppose Eric Holder as Attorney General, 2) Didn’t oppose Sonia Sotomayor as Supreme Court Justice and 3) Might support Harry Reid in Nevada.
Rather than rehash the article, which is worth a read, I can’t help but chuckle at the unearned sense of entitlement some conservatives have towards other organizations, even if they are traditional allies.
Quoting from the article, RedState.com founder Erick Erickson said “The NRA is all about the NRA and not necessarily the cause. There’s an argument to be made that we either hang together or all hang separately in the conservative movement. A lot of conservatives think the NRA has become much more interested in wooing the bipartisan label than in being really effective Second Amendment fighters.”
Well, why not? It’s worked pretty well so far. There’s a difference between not getting what you want and getting what you want in a way you don’t like.
I’m a Republican, albeit a recent convert after wandering the “Desert of the Independents” for years. Why join? I wanted a seat at the table here in Kansas. The August primary is where the real work gets done, and I wanted my vote to count for something. Mostly, having been a Democrat in my youth, and witnessing their patented “Circular Firing Squad” method of solving problems, I also wanted to be part of a group that, at least nominally, was disciplined enough to accomplish their goals.
George Stephanopoulos wrote about this is his Clinton-era memoir “All Too Human” (another good read). He said, and I’m paraphrasing, that the weakness of the Democratic Party is that it had become a fiefdom of separate kingdoms, each with their own constituencies to satisfy, rather than a unified, disciplined movement.
The GOP, until recently, didn’t have that problem. Internal combat usually stayed internal. On election day, everyone was, more or less, on the same page. Now, the infighting has escaped the tent. We’re seeing terms like RINOs, and the beginnings of an ideological standard that would make a Soviet-era political officer blush.
Will it win though? Does having a litmus test expand a movement? Does it have to be all or nothing? I’m all for preaching to the choir on occasion, because that’s how you make them really sing. However, what use is a choir if there’s nobody around to hear them, because the song turns people off?
It’s a symbiotic relationship with groups like the NRA. Yes, Republicans are traditional allies of gun-rights groups because they put it front and center. That does not imply that either side outright owes the other side anything. They help and hurt each other equally. The same goes for pro-life movements, Tea Parties, social conservative movements or what have you. In fact, I’d argue that these groups need the GOP more than the GOP needs them. The party provides a filter – allowing the essentials of the message to be disseminated while blocking the more radical elements that tend to turn off all but the true believers.
Politically, true believers are most often the enemies of real progress, which leads back to the original question – do you want to be right or do you want to win?
Being right is an exercise in ego, which leads to defeat. If you want to be right, then winning becomes an afterthought. Making a statement comes to the forefront. and “making a statement” is a weak, half-assed excuse for getting in the game to begin with. There are tons of ways to make a statement that don’t involve someone else’s time or money. A true believer thinks making a statement is enough. It isn’t.
Winning, however, gives you both in a way. When you win, you make statements from the only place that really counts at the end of the day – the dais, the legislature, the congress or the Oval Office. Winners keep their eyes on the prize, like the NRA is doing. Their mission is protecting the 2nd Amendment, not promoting a catch-all conservative philosophy. If they can get a better deal from a Democrat, they will, as they should.
I worry that the GOP is becoming more concerned with ideological purity than winning. There will always be those that latch on to a party because of prevailing sentiment, but that’s not a universal condition. The Democrats won in 2008 because they were disciplined and unified. Granted, it didn’t last, because that will always be a party of factions. Let’s not have the GOP go down the same road. Conservatives can’t go to a group like the NRA and demand they be in lockstep. They can’t purge moderates and third-party allies and expect their base to grow. That’s a recipe for a few short-term gains, and a lot of long-term defeat.
Some might measure success by how tightly a standard is clung to. As for me, I look at the scoreboard. Nobody cares about how much finesse a team brought to the field if the other team walks away with the win.
In the real world, winning forgives a lot.