The Right Resistance: GOP leaders’ risk avoidance and outright cowardice costs conservatives dearly
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Completely avoiding risk leads to failure every time.
There are lots of historical examples to illustrate the concept. In the early years of the American Civil War, for example, President Abraham Lincoln put his faith in General George B. McClellan to accomplish the mission of stifling the rebellion by capturing the capital of the southern Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, a mere one hundred miles from Washington DC.
Towards that goal, in early 1862, Lincoln provided “Little Mac” an enormous 130,000+ man army, all the resources the government could muster and the flexibility to execute the maneuvers on McClellan’s timeline. The only problem being the overly cautious general was in absolutely no hurry – and the Confederate army was actually establishing itself as a formidable opponent. Thus, the advantages of superior numbers and quality supplies were dwindling by the day, and the prospect of a relatively speedy end to the war was going by the wayside.
It certainly seemed like McClellan was unwilling to fight. He didn’t want to risk the destruction of any parts of his force and therefore kept the whole body sitting around while the Confederates conducted cavalry raids, marched around flanks and put on exhibitions (like General Magruder at Yorktown) to fool the timid federal commander into inaction and retreat.
Lincoln soon learned that nothing ventured equals nothing gained. He removed and reinstated McClellan a couple times and then decided he’d had enough of “Little Mac’s” excuses after the bloody battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg, where the U.S. force outnumbered Robert E. Lee’s much smaller but more aggressive army by more than two-to-one yet the outcome ended in a stalemate.
One can’t help but recognize similar timidity patterns having cost the Republican Party a chance at large congressional governing majorities this year. The GOP’s unwillingness to risk putting forth real, substantive policy proposals didn’t provide sufficient incentive for voters to choose Republican candidates in the most tightly contested races. Democrats, like the Confederates in the War Between the States (or War of Northern Aggression as it’s known down here below the Mason-Dixon line) used the GOP’s inertia to ride circles around conservatives at the worst possible time.
With inflation running rampant, the southern border crisis raging out of control (with millions of illegal aliens and poisonous drugs entering without abundant opposition), an unpopular president/vice president combination, a virtual economic recession plaguing the country and “woke” culture burning up many of the local school districts, winning this year should’ve been a foregone conclusion.
Yet the aging and wimpy Republican leadership wouldn’t budge. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. In a piece titled “Josh Hawley Blasts GOP Leadership for Midterm Showing”, Philip Wegmann reported at Real Clear Politics:
“Hawley took issue in particular with an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal by Sen. Mitt Romney arguing that it was time for Republicans to get serious about excessive spending, including ‘nondiscretionary spending on entitlements, such as Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid, and on servicing the debt.’ …
“Mostly, Hawley blames McConnell. He told RCP that he will not vote for him as Republican Senate Leader, regardless of which party controls the Senate. ‘I’m not going to support the current leadership in the party,’ he said, citing ‘key decisions’ that were made over the last two years. ‘I did not agree with the decision to take away the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens in the form of the big gun control bill,’ he said referring to bipartisan gun reform legislation passed in June. ‘I thought that was a mistake.’
“’I did not agree with spending billions and billions of dollars of taxpayer money on climate initiatives that was billed as infrastructure. I thought that was a mistake,’ he continued, adding ‘We surrendered when we should’ve fought.’ ‘I did not agree with failing to have any kind of an agenda to run on in these midterms. I did not agree with the decision to bad-mouth our candidates in the middle of the campaign, I did not agree with the decision to leave Blake Masters for dead in Arizona,’ he concluded.”
At the end of Wegmann’s article Hawley’s office indicated the Missouri senator has no plans to run for GOP senate leader. Is this nothing ventured, nothing gained? Hawley’s opinions are certainly spot on and he’s entirely justified in announcing that he won’t be fooled again by voting for Mitch McConnell to lead the caucus, but doesn’t someone need to step forward and accept the mantle? (Note: GOP leadership elections are slated for Wednesday.)
Donald Trump gained an instant foothold in the Republican Party – even opposite the stodgy party establishment – simply by putting himself on the line, both personally and financially, to do something about the nation’s problems. He didn’t just whine about what was wrong and not risk getting bloodied and bruised. Trump leaped right into the political mosh pit and started throwing elbows. And look what it got him.
Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell has advanced throughout his political career mostly by letting others commit mistakes that ticked off the voters just enough to allow his Republicans to gain power through not completely blowing it. In this, McConnell treats politics like a head football coach who’s ahead by a few points at the end of the game and opts to go into a “Victory formation” to run out the clock. He wouldn’t do it if the game were tied, because your team won’t gain any yards – but at least they won’t fumble.
For far too long, and under far too many George B. McClellan-like “leaders”, Republicans have taken the easy way out and counted on getting power by default. Hawley was correct, this year’s campaign was a perfect example of risking nothing and gaining (but necessarily outright losing) nothing. For months, writers such as myself urged the GOP leadership to put forth a content-based agenda that would fill in the blanks as to what voters could expect if the congressional majorities were reversed and there was a new (or at least a different one from the current ruling junta) sheriff in town.
Senator Rick Scott tried introducing a plan only to have it shot down without much elaboration by Mitch McConnell and the rest of the wussy GOP senate leadership who would rather hope that things went their way – and gripe about bad candidates – than put money on the line and possibly offend someone along the way.
Life won’t allow it, and neither will American politics. Trump won in 2016 precisely because he offered substance, as did Ronald Reagan in the eighties and Newt Gingrich (for Congress) in the 1990’s. it’s not difficult – at least not any harder than basic strategy at a gambling casino.
Imagine you were sitting at a Blackjack table and the House didn’t require you to place your minimum bet until after the dealer had already dealt the cards. Not only that, but instead of concealing one card and leaving just the top one exposed, the dealer tosses out both cards face up. The first card you receive is a promising face card; the second is a big fat six, equaling the dreaded “16”. The decision on whether to go further isn’t challenging, you simply opt not to participate in this hand – or, if still under the rules – withdraw or reduce your bet based on the miniscule possibility of success.
Is politics really so dissimilar? If the results of this year’s federal midterm are a “teaching moment”, then in future elections, the Republican party heads will take the lessons to heart and start tossing out real solutions to political issues rather than relying on citizen anger and dislike of the awful Democrats to provide the half dozen-or so points that would make the difference in so many of the closest races.
The question is whether GOPers like Josh Hawley will carry through with their vows not to support the failed current leadership of the party. The same problem has plagued conservatives in the House who twice in the last decade had the opportunity to install a real flame-thrower like Jim Jordan to lead the Republican representatives. Instead, when John Boehner was finally forced to the side, the establishment promoted wishy-washy wuss Paul Ryan to the front – and he “reluctantly” agreed to serve.
Then, when Ryan read the writing on the wall and announced his “retirement” (even though he wasn’t even 50 years old yet), Republicans committed another huge blunder by anointing the somewhat feckless Kevin McCarthy to take the reins. While McCarthy appears to have more fight in him than his two predecessors, who honestly expects the GOP to (figuratively) burn the House down after four years of Nancy Pelosi and crew?
Or will Kevin simply retreat to the old ruling class position of “Uh, we don’t have the votes to get this done” and, “Wait until we have a bigger majority”, or, even worse, “We need bipartisan ‘compromise’ to do the work of the American people”.
Would a bold and aggressive GOP lead to losses in swing districts for some of its members? Perhaps. American voters seem to favor milquetoast “half a loaf” politicians in certain places. But a Republican Party that actually stands for something – such as vigorously opposing the “party of death” – would reap real gains, too. If three-quarters of the public says the country is going in the wrong direction, don’t citizens crave real leaders?
Republicans won’t get anything unless they’re willing to risk something. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, remember?
For those searching for real answers to what went wrong a week ago, they might cease scapegoating Donald Trump alone long enough to remember that Republican congressional non-leaders bear a big chunk of the blame for their non-substantive campaigns. Trump will be responsible for his own words and actions, but who will step up for the rest of the party?