Bring on the GOP Slugfest

January 4th, 2010 at 10:44 pm | 30 Comments |

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Jeb Golinkin has been a strong advocate for selecting Congressman Mark Kirk as the GOP standard-bearer for the 2010 Senate election in Illinois. Kirk, Golinkin writes,

is the best vote-getter and fundraiser that Republicans have in Illinois. He won outright majorities of the vote in his North Shore district in 2006 and 2008 – despite a 61% Obama landslide in his district.

Golinkin is right about Kirk’s strength in an increasingly Democratic state.

The last Republican Senator, Peter Fitzgerald, won (in 1998) only because he faced a scandal-ridden incumbent Democrat, Carol Moseley Braun. And Fitzgerald’s successor, Barack Obama, was elected with some 70% of the vote.

Even dull Democratic party apparatchik Dick Durbin captured 68% of the vote last year when running for his third term in the Senate.

Question though: Is there anything to say about Kirk beyond electability?

Political parties, after all, exist not just to elect politicians to office; they exist as vehicles to advance substantive ideas and public policies.

In fact, articulating and championing reformist ideas and public policies is especially crucial for the Republican Party, given the GOP’s manifest failures while at the helm of government during the Bush-Gingrich years.

Golinkin fears a “bloody primary fight that divides the party and weakens its nominee.” Such a fight, he laments, “will leave smiles only on the face of Illinois Democrats and the Obama administration.”

I’ll acknowledge that a primary contest which devolves into an idealess food fight is a real risk, and one the GOP should avoid. However, a substantive contest of ideas should not only be countenanced; it should actively be encouraged: because it will help to invigorate and strengthen a GOP that urgently needs new ideas and new public-policy proposals, and for both substantive and political reasons.

Substantively, the GOP needs to address the great and pressing issues of our time: fractured countries and failed states, international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, a weak and fragile financial system, runaway entitlement spending (which threatens to bankrupt our country), chronic under- and un-employment, a lack of economic growth, et al.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the presidency because he offered up to the American people a positive reform agenda of marginal-rate tax cuts, military rearmament, an assertive U.S. foreign policy, and economic and cultural renewal.

Also in 1980, not coincidentally, the GOP won control of the Senate for the first time in a quarter-century, while picking up 35 seats in the House of Representatives.

The reason for the Republicans’ newfound success was recognized by no less a figure than Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who in 1981 said: “The Republicans are now the party of ideas.”

Moynihan’s christening of the GOP as a wellspring of policy ferment is significant because he himself had come to Washington in the 1960s as part of President Kennedy’s “best and brightest” generation. Indeed, Moynihan was a renowned public intellectual and academic (but not political) neoconservative who had done much in his own right to transform the public-policy landscape.

But where are today’s GOP policy gurus? Where are the party’s bold and innovative ideas? It’s telling, is it not, that in making his case for Kirk, Golinkin does not so much as specify one new or innovative idea. Instead, he touts Kirk’s academic credentials and biography.

He has a bachelor’s degree from Cornell, a Law degree from Georgetown, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics. Beyond having been elected to Congress, Kirk has worked in the upper levels of the State Department for not one but two presidents.

Kirk has fought for his country in three different conflicts, and he is one of two congressmen that remain active in the reserves.

As a reservist myself, and as a proud Marine vet of the Iraq War, I agree, of course, that military service is laudatory and noteworthy. But military service in itself does not demonstrate that a candidate has any real idea about how to address vexing public-policy questions.

Nor necessarily do academic credentials. Graduating from elite colleges and universities is laudable; it is a serious sign that a candidate may have real substance and promise. But potential does not equal achievement; promise does not equal fulfillment.

America faces a host of vexing problems ranging from nuclear proliferation and international terrorism to a fragile financial system and runaway entitlement spending — and these problems simply do not lend themselves to easy or facile solutions.

Thus, we will need, in the coming years and decades, leaders with intellect and imagination and a practical, worldly bent. We will need the very best that our nation can and does produce. We will need true independent thought and analysis. And the time to demand that is now, within the political primaries.

For these reasons I say, contra Golinkin: Bring it on. Let’s have a good old-fashioned intraparty donnybrook over ideas and public policy. Now.

Recent Posts by John Guardiano

30 Comments so far ↓

  • CaraHellend

    On one side are Hispanic voters – a growing and influential bloc willing to listen to the GOP titans and one the candidates may need in the general election. On the other is a group that Hutchison and Perry cannot afford to anger: the Republican base of religious, largely white and conservative voters.

  • handworn

    The point about blue states, so-called, is that it’ll take a different set of appeals to values to attract moderates, independents and conservative Democrats, who must be courted to win there. The usual emotionalistic red-state shtick ain’t gonna work, any more than a Southern-California style of liberal argument would work in Pennsylvania. So have a donnybrook all you want, but don’t think your intended audience is the same all over.

  • franco 2

    I think you are quite right here John. I would add that if the GOP tries to downplay the opposition to Kirk or disparage it only serves to anger the base. The base aren’t all right-wing maniacs, many just don’t want the bosses in the GOP making decisions for them. Many can hold their noses and vote for this guy if he wins the primary unless they have been unduly offended.

    This is a blue state and Obamas’ old seat, so conservatives can’t expect too much. Still there is a point of diminishing returns. If the Republican votes with Democrats on important issues, what has been gained? When a guy like Kirk, with his resume can pretend he knows better than the other Republican “rubes” on cap and trade etc, this is a propaganda victory for Dems and mitigates the advantage of having one more Republican in the Senate. Lastly we have seen from both sides the danger of electing pols who”take a wide stance” (sorry Larry Craig) Specter Jeffords and Democrat Griffith jump ship when pushed to the brink.

    When you have a clear fight in the general even if our side (R) loses, the loss is honorable and the statements and the debate sinks in to the electorate. If you have a “me too (but a little less)” Republican you have no place to stand when the next election comes around, as you were essentially for the same failed policies as the Dem.

  • Stewardship

    Handworn is correct. We need to be surgical in our approach to candidates for each state or district. franco 2, I don’t want to devolve into another topic but since you mentioned cap and trade…Crain’s Business Detroit even got behind it today with an article on how climate protection policy will boost our economy. Whether a person is a “believer” or “skeptic”, conservative climate policy would spur innovation, jobs, exports, strengthen national security, lower our foreign trade deficit, and strengthen the dollar. And it would be in the wheelhouse of most mainstream religious organizations which have issued “stewardship of God’s creation” plans. Had we not left this in the hands of Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, and Barbara Boxer, it would or could be a conservative’s dream public policy initiative.

  • sinz54

    Mr. Guardiano: In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the presidency because he offered up to the American people a positive reform agenda
    You omitted a very important piece of history:

    The first attempt by the Reaganite insurgents was in 1976, when they tried to take the GOP nomination away from the incumbent, Gerald Ford. They failed. The party split weakened the GOP and helped the Dems win a close election–and gave the nation the disastrous Carter presidency. But the Reaganites persisted, and won in 1980.

    Years earlier, in 1968, antiwar insurgents campaigned against their incumbent, LBJ. They too failed–but split the Dem party and enabled the Republican, Nixon, to win. They persisted–and gave us McGovern, in 1972.

    A “vigorous debate” costs money, splits the party, and can cause the losers to be disaffected and not return to the fold to support the eventual nominee in the general election campaign. If you’re thinking long term, that can eventually lead to a true revival of the party with fresh ideas and leaders–but you had better be prepared to lose in the short term.

    So what’s our goal here? To lay the foundation for a revived GOP in 2012 or 2014–or to win the immediate races that are open this year?

    If the goal is to win this year, then all the “sluggers” have to pledge that however the primary process turns out, they will support the eventual nominee, and not walk away in disgust if the eventual nominee isn’t someone they had supported.

    So far, the Tea Partiers have said they will NOT do this.

  • chicago_guy

    I live in Kirk’s district, and can tell you that if the GOP put a charismatic ideologue like Gingrich in the race, and he or she got the nomination, they would go down to defeat. It’s a long way from November, and Kirk winning the state is still far from a given; any perceived shift to the clutches of the Palin/Limbaugh wing of the Republican party would be a major handicap for him.

    Kirk is electable as a Republican Senator from Illinois BECAUSE he is what Republicans USED to be before they became the representatives of the Flat Earth Society and the Young Earth movement. He’s dull. He’s ok with incremental changes rather than revolutions. On Cap and Trade, you guys see “liberal whackjob”, and folks like me, who are agnostic on the man-made element of climate change, see “better safe than sorry” (really, what’s the downside for reducing carbon emissions? Does anything think they’re GOOD for the environment?).

    If the national party is really ready to fight for candidates who toe the line on the hardest right of Republican thought on each and every issue, than they’ll see themselves pushed even back in moderate states like Illinois. If, on the other hand, they’re interested in finding a way to appeal to anyone outside of the old confederacy (and the old folks home), they’ll realize that the center HAS shifted to the left in the last few years, and look for candidates who support the major principles of conservatism without swallowing some of the whackiest elements of the Dixiecan agenda.

  • PracticalGirl

    Great responses.

    One of the things I find most interesting about posts and positions like John’s is that it demonstrates a certain myopic, let-them-eat cake approach that some Conservatives are taking with the next elections. Intraparty donnybrook? Hogwash. What would happen if the GOP stopped trying to force one-size-fits-all positions on all regions and actually started listening to the electorate, area by area, state by state?

  • TAZ

    Reagan (my hero) had sound conservative ideas everyone could relate with, and a tent big enough to get elected. Lets not forget the Regan Democrats.

    Today, we are not only refusing to consider accepting Democrat votes, but are actively working to purify our party of great leaders / thinkers like Powell, Gingrich and other newly coined”RINO’s”.

    God, Guns and Gays will not secure us the Independents or the former Reagan Democrats needed to capture the White House.

    We need to get back to common sense conservatism and shove our crazies (Birthers / Palin supporters / Religious Far Right) in the closet.

  • WillyP

    says taz,

    “Reagan (my hero) had sound conservative ideas everyone could relate with, and a tent big enough to get elected. Lets not forget the Regan Democrats… Today, we are not only refusing to consider accepting Democrat votes, but are actively working to purify our party of great leaders / thinkers like Powell, Gingrich and other newly coined”RINO’s”.”

    This is talk about history, and then completely twisting the lesson. Reagan wasn’t a pander to the left sort of guy. He actually ridiculed his liberal opponents openly and regularly. While you are not going to build a coalition around “the birthers” or the “Religious Far Right,” there is room for them in your big tent. As for “not wanting Democratic votes,” I couldn’t disagree more. Most Democrats aren’t ideological voters – only the far left. There is a HUGE percentage of Democrats that will vote for a candidate that talks like a conservative – conservativism, particularly small government conservativism, is popular, after all.

    There’s no need to chase away the religious right, either. Most would happily vote for a candidate that said s/he opposed abortion and gay marriage. Most would probably even vote for a candidate that said – look, I am against abortion and Roe v. Wade, and against defining marriage as between the same sex. However, I am a Federalist, and I believe these issues are best determined by the states. At the same time, I will use my presidential bully pulpit to promote my views and also keep these divisive issues out of national politics – hence, promoting a true pro-choice agenda.

    We are not electing a theologian, and I think any questions that ask pointedly about the candidate’s faith should be dismissed, and the candidate should respond in general terms to which most Americans would agree: I believe in one God, the creator; I believe that rights are God given; and I believe that decent, common human morality has much to thank to religious beliefs. No need to go Huckabee, or start arguing about the filial clause, or debating whether Jesus was ever in North America. All this is completely ridiculous material for a presidential debate, which, after all, is supposed to be about POLITICS.

    I believe Palin would accomplished these goals with ease, but I am not committed to a Palin presidency necessarily.

    TAZ, it would seem to me that you genuinely have a problem with the religious right, with the birthers, and with Sarah Palin. Please don’t extrapolate your half-baked, spiteful ideas to Republican coalition building.

  • WillyP

    as for the “great thinker” powell, well… that confused backstabber speaks for himself.

  • WillyP

    chicago guy says:

    “On Cap and Trade, you guys see “liberal whackjob”, and folks like me, who are agnostic on the man-made element of climate change, see “better safe than sorry” (really, what’s the downside for reducing carbon emissions? Does anything think they’re GOOD for the environment?).”

    forgive me for the shameless self-promotion:

    as for whether carbon is good for “the environment,” well yes, of course. carbon *dioxide* is what plants to produce oxygen. everything in moderation, you see. except socialism, that is.

  • rbottoms

    Yum. Pass the popcorn.

    Let the circular firing squad commence.

  • TAZ


    I didn’t mean we should exclude the far right wing of our party from elections, just take the reigns of power away from them. I do not want to kick out the nuts, they are votes. I want ALL votes, BIG TENT.

    I also agree a right leaning candidate can win. I myself think the country naturally leans middle right in most cases. But “crazy” right it is not. Unless you give a person a reason to vote AGAINST a Republican, Republicans should stand the best chances at getting elected.

    But it is we in our own party that are kicking people to the curb in the name of purity…….

    As for the Religious right, I have no problems with them as long as they grant me the individual liberty / rights / responsibilities a conservative should stand for.

    As for Palin supporters and the Birthers, they are without substance, skill, intelligence, or ethics.

    I will take Gingrich, Powell, Barbour, Buchannan, and Bush Sr. over Hannity, Limbaugh, Palin and the Birthers every day of the week…..

  • rbottoms

    Some nice folks on Twitter have informed me of the actual culprits behind the wave of “birther” calls to Glenn Beck’s radio show: a coordinated campaign dubbed “Operation Flood It.”

    Here’s the explanation and the mission, as posted on Dec. 21 on the forum of the anti-Obama church ATLAH Worldwide:

    Anyone that gets through will say this: We love Glenn, BUT

    * Glenn talks about the constitution, but he is ignoring the grossest violation…Obama’s ineligibility.

    * Glenn is united with the MSM and he is part of this 16 month media black out that Orly Taitz has compared to the media in the USSR.

    * PENDING LAWSUITS against the president of the United States are not being reported, but I am sure that this would be a different story if Obama was a conservative; regardless of his race.

    * Did the Saudi Prince that owns Fox stocks and Rupert Murdoch order that this issue NOT be reported?

    I love the smell of insanity in the morning.

    It smell like… victory.

  • aDude

    It is not a matter of chasing the religious right away from the party. It is a matter of setting priorities.

    In the old days, the Democrats had a shotgun approach to policy. They were going to do everything so it was a list that including banning all guns, implementing racial/sexual/whatever quotas for everything everywhere, moving everyone to mass transit, banning suburbs, etc. You had to believe in all of this to be a Democrat. That didn’t work very well.

    So, for 2008 they established a prioritized list:

    – Stabilize the economy (continue TARP, implement a stimulus package)
    – Implement universal health care financing
    – Improve gay rights (mostly this means overturning Don’t Ask Don’t Tell)
    – Immigration reform
    – Improve/maintain abortion rights

    Higher priority items win. So the economy came before health care. Health care reform was more important than abortion rights so they diminished abortion rights in order to get health care. Immigration reform will come before they ever try to overturn the Hyde amendment. And so on. This meant that pro-life candidates who believe strongly in health care finance reform could be Democrats because the Democrats did not place as high a priority on abortion rights as they do on health care finance reform.

    Republicans need to establish the same type of priorities. For example:

    – Reduce long term entitlement expenses
    – Establish free trade
    – Tax reform to emphasize savings and investment
    – Reduce Federal regulatory involvement in the economy
    – Reduce Federal involvement in state matters (Education, etc)
    – Reduce/eliminate abortion rights

    The same rule applies. If you are a pro-choice candidate who believes in reducing the size and scope of the Federal government, you can be a Republican because the elimination of abortion rights takes a back seat to shrinking government.

    The religious right doesn’t get excluded. But their social issues are not as high a priority as shrinking the power of the Federal government.

    So let each candidate set their priorities. In some constituencies, a candidate who proposes criminalizing abortion, pushing creationism into the public school, and banning Playboy from the newsstands will succeed. In other places, limiting the list to reducing the size of government will succeed. As long as everyone understands the common priority list at a national level, then the strongest candidate for each area will emerge.

    But, if the party acts like the Democrats of old, then we may see a nation of NY-23′s.

  • WillyP

    yeah, i basically agree with aDude.

    his specific prioritization aside, this is the right approach.

  • rbottoms

    – Reduce long term entitlement expenses
    – Establish free trade
    – Tax reform to emphasize savings and investment
    – Reduce Federal regulatory involvement in the economy
    – Reduce Federal involvement in state matters (Education, etc)
    – Reduce/eliminate abortion rights

    Don’t vote for anything Obama proposes, even if we really agree with it.


  • WillyP

    rbottoms, do you really take us all for fools? if so, why spend your time associating with people so idiotic that they cannot identify when someone is advancing their own goals?

    obama functions like the socialist he really is. i will take no heat for saying this. everything the man has stood for in life, and everything he has enacted, supports my apt description.

    and for you truly idiotic souls who are going to say “obama isn’t a socialist! just because blah blah says he’s a socialist, doesn’t mean he’s actually a socialist!,” well, i’d suggest 2 things:
    1) you should learn what socialism really is, and what beliefs it rests on
    2) you should realize that socialist isn’t merely a slur, and in fact many people have run on the label “socialist” proudly, believing they held the moral high ground. you see, obama isn’t just a functional socialist, he’s a proud socialist!

  • rbottoms

    rbottoms, do you really take us all for fools?

    No, just the fools. Like yourself for instance.

  • WillyP

    coming from you, that’s a compliment.

  • rbottoms

    I pity the fool.

  • rbottoms

    You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.

    ~ Jim

  • WillyP

    hey, shouldn’t your pc party be banning mel brooks films?

  • aDude

    I must admit I didn’t put a lot of time into the list. I would like to see what others think the prioritized list should be.

  • TAZ

    I would like to see:

    Balanced Budget Amendment.
    Line item veto.
    Ban on “for private profit” use of eminent domain.
    Pay as you go.
    Flat tax / consumption tax / IRS dismantling.
    Smart / limited financial institution oversight / regulation.
    Veteran services expansion.

  • rbottoms

    hey, shouldn’t your pc party be banning mel brooks films?

    We leave the book burning and suppression of artists to you guys.

    He’s at it again. New York City’s self-proclaimed Decency Commissioner, Rudolph Giuliani, is attacking yet another art venue for daring to express a viewpoint he doesn’t agree with.

    Now it’s the Bronx Museum of the Arts that is feeling the Wrath of Giuliani. This time it has nothing to do with the Catholic Church, the Madonna or the Last Supper. Criticizing the police has been added to Giuliani’s list of forbidden subjects for artists and museums.

    The great thing about Giuliani is that he never stops giving you evidence of where he’s coming from or the utter hypocrisy behind it. Last week I had an opportunity to debate the Decency Commission on live radio (1050AM WEVD, the Alan Colmes Show) with one of its’ members, the Mayor’s divorce attorney, Raoul Felder.

    Don’t your dictionaries have the word irony in them?

  • WillyP


    that’s nice. your side is a bunch of sissies-
    see here:

    Give up? Let’s go to the Yale Daily News:

    “The [Freshman Class Council] has decided to change the design of its shirts after the original design, which was submitted by students and voted on by the freshman class, sparked outcry from members within the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. …

    The original design, which won out over five other entries, displayed an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote in the front — “I think of all Harvard men as sissies” — in bold white letters. The back of the long-sleeved, navy blue T-shirt said “WE AGREE” in capital letters, with “The Game 2009” scrawled in script underneath it.”

  • handworn

    Put your money where your mouth is, WillyP. Define socialism.

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