For years now, I’ve been lamenting that we tend to conflate passion with ideological purity. For too many of us, the measuring stick for determining “how conservative” you are is based on one’s level of anger — not commitment to a conservative philosophy (as demonstrated by a voting record).
Yesterday’s failed coup in the House was a perfect illustration of this point. The candidate who emerged as Boehner’s rival was a Florida representative named Daniel Webster.
He was brave! — he was daring! — he was an insurgent! What he wasn’t was terribly conservative. In fact, it turns out that Webster has earned just a 56 percent rating on Heritage Action’s scorecard.
Was supporting this failed effort worth “burning up the phone lines” over? For all the talk about wanting a real conservative as speaker, defining victory as the installment of someone who earned a failing grade in conservatism class seems absurd. (In fairness, Webster has a 67 percent rating from the Club for Growth, so we can give him a “D+” on fiscal issues.)
But don’t take my word that this was a fool’s errand. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who voted against Boehner last time, but for him this time, makes the case better than anyone. If you haven’t read his explanation on Facebook, you can read the whole thing here.
For our purposes, this excerpt is especially on point:
Some people tried to argue that voting against Boehner would give conservatives leverage, or somehow force him to lead in a more conservative fashion, even if the coup attempt failed. All I can say to that is that the exact opposite happened two years ago: conservatives were marginalized, and Boehner was even freer to work with moderates and Democrats. My guess is that the exact same thing will happen again now. And I fail to see how that helps anything that conservatives know needs to be done in Washington.
I understand people’s frustration and anger over what is happening in Washington. And I also acknowledge that John Boehner may be partly to blame. But this was a fool’s errand. I am all for fighting, but I am more interested in fighting and winning than I am fighting an unwinnable battle.
Finally, the most troubling accusation I have heard regarding the Boehner vote is that I have “sold out” my conservative principles. All I can say is this: take a look at my voting record. It is one of the most conservative in Congress. And I was joined today by the likes of Jim Jordan, Raul Labrador, Trey Gowdy, Mark Sanford, Trent Franks, Tom McClintock, Matt Salmon, Tom Price, Sam Johnson, and Jeb Hensarling. If I “sold out” then I did so joined by some of the most tried and tested conservative voices in Washington.
In other words, Mulvaney is making the same points that I (and others) have been making. Hopefully this proves once and for all that most of these internecine fights are not about ideology, but instead, about strategy.
Personally, I hope a bolder conservative eventually does assume leadership in the Republican caucus, but to do so, they will have to be smarter than they have been. It will require planning and strategy and “cheerful persistence” — attributes that are often clouded and undermined by childish anger, impatience, and a lack of discipline.