Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Doctrinal Purity & Minority Status

Although I admire and largely agree with Republican Wisconsin legislators elected in the Wisconsin counties of Washington and Waukesha and the conservative talk radio hosts and bloggers who cater to them, they have been drinking their own wine.

Many are figuratively willing to throw more moderate Republicans elected in other counties under the bus, threatening to field more conservative Primary Election challengers to them. Instead of concentrating on the 85 percent of issues on which moderates and conservatives agree, they focus on the 15 percent where they disagree. Some have talked about toppling leaders they perceive as moderates.

They believe the lesson of the 2006 election Republican bloodbath is not a Newt-like Contract with Wisconsin of lower taxes, more opportunities and government reform, but more leeches. What elected them in Washington and Waukesha, however, is not always the same as that which elects Republicans in other counties. As Speaker, Newt understood this and did not always insist on doctrinal purity.

They have failed to consider three other inconvenient facts. First, backing an unsuccessful Primary Election against an incumbent is a risky strategy. If the incumbent is returned, retribution will be swift. Second, because Wisconsin’s primary is so late, fending off a primary challenge diverts resources from the General Election. It would be hard cheese if the Republican incumbent, with whom they agree 85 percent of the time, were replaced by a Democrat with whom they might agree 15 percent of the time. Third, if toppling leadership were easy, the U.S. Senate would no longer be led by Harry Reid. It is wrong to underestimate the power of caucus leaders to punish and reward.

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