On election night, as the excitement of the event crescendoed, Heather Wilhelm made an observation. Not all were swayed.
Don’t Immanentize the Eschaton
Charles Cooke, writing in National Review, warns of the folly of looking for a conservative savior. His advice is prudent. We’re conservatives, dammit, and we don’t need an earthly savior. But the siren song of a conservative who can actually speak English and woo voters is just so enticing.
As a rule, we on the right like to tell ourselves that we are steadfastly opposed to heroes in politics, and that we are especially opposed to heroes who promise that their election to the executive branch will result in sweeping changes or in a post-partisan utopia. The United States, we argue, was set up in opposition to princes and to aristocrats, with the express recognition that politics will always be with us and with the explicit understanding that the influence of individual players would be strictly limited by the system.
Has Walker promised sweeping changes and a utopia? Not exactly. But conservatives, let’s admit it, are prone to seeking the next Reagan, the savior who will rebuild a shining city on the hill and make conservatism anew. We shouldn’t do that. Even as it helps to have a candidate who can articulate a positive vision for the future, we shouldn’t forget that the plate has to have a steak on it in order to have sizzle.
The Throne Made of the Skulls of His Enemies
Does Walker sizzle? Not exactly. Is he a particularly charismatic speaker? No, he isn’t. But does he sit upon a throne made of the skulls of his enemies? Yes, yes he does. The November 4 election proved that in a definitive fashion. And though we are a constitutional republic not given to men upon thrones, this particular throne deserves consideration for a national position. And, despite Joy’s argument to the contrary, we will never go wrong with Cool Cal.
The people cannot look to legislation generally for success. Industry, thrift, character, are not conferred by act or resolve. Government cannot relieve from toil. It can provide no substitute for the rewards of service. It can, of course, care for the defective and recognize distinguished merit. The normal must care for themselves. Self-government means self-support.
Exactly. In 2016, the goal is subtraction, of untangling the Byzantine layers upon Byzantine layers wrapped around a gooey center of rancid nougat. If there is one thing all but the most stubborn of Progressives have learned, it is that legislation generally does a craptastic job when it comes to offering us individual success. Instead, it hamstrings us. Taxes us excessively. Makes l-i-v-i-n’ more expensive. No one is arguing that we should throw granny off a cliff—skipping right past a Hillary joke here—but we do need to take a step back, strip layers from the labyrinth, and focus on the economy, not because we wish to save money, but people.
A Message That Resonates?
One can argue that nominating a modern-day Coolidge on the heels of the Great Recession and to follow a man who was initially thought of as a dynamic, charismatic speaker would be an idiotic idea. But it’s time for Republicans to get idiotic. To do the opposite of everything our guts are telling us. It’s time to embrace our inner George Costanza.
In 2008, we went with the cranky, possibly crazy, curmudgeon known as John McCain. We probably should have gone with Mitt Romney. In 2012, we went with Romney. His promise of competent, effective management coupled with all the excitement of Walker plus a side of toast was not well received. We probably should’ve gone with a sleeveless Rick Perry. With those facts in mind, in 2016, we should definitely go for a candidate with more charisma, right? Not so fast.
Look at Walker’s results. He slashed money from a bloated education budget. He dismantled collective bargaining rights for public employees. He reduced Medicaid spending. And he keeps getting elected in a state given to Prairie Populism, despite the fact that, like Coolidge, he tends to think citizens should be given to self-support.
But what does he offer our collective imagination? What does he do to inspire us to rally around a cause? What are you, a raging lefty? You’re missing the point. Walker doesn’t offer us anything, and we should be cool with that. It’s what we cynical GenXers have been working for—getting the government off our damn lawn.
As for the Millennials, they’ll get on board once they learn about things like “jobs” and “money” and “not living in the basement.” What does Walker’s tenure look like with regard to those? Well, despite his obvious hatred for most living humans, pretty damn good. Unemployment in Wisconsin has been consistently below the national average during his tenure. But what about education? Surely performance suffered with the death blows Walker dealt to the unions and education spending. Oof, wrong again. So though the man himself doesn’t sizzle, his record does. And as conservatives, we should celebrate that. We should also acknowledge Walker can capably discuss those accomplishments even if he doesn’t exactly sizzle in the process.
Act 10’s collective-bargaining reforms allowed the state to balance the budget, and counties to restrain or even reduce the property taxes that had increased 27% over the decade before Mr. Walker. But the legislation also improved Wisconsin in ways that ‘wouldn’t seem quite as obvious,’ he says. By eliminating tenure and seniority work rules, ‘we can hire and fire based on merit and pay based on performance, we can put the best and brightest in our classrooms—and voilà, graduation rates are up. ACT scores are up, now second best in the country. Third-grade reading scores are up. The left certainly doesn’t acknowledge this: Our schools are better.’
But Hillary is Formidable
As a native resident of Arkansas, I am well aware of the danger in underestimating the Clinton Machine. Nevertheless, I will wager dollars to donuts that Hillary Clinton will not be the nominee in 2016. Part of it is the Democratic tendency for “squirrel!,” but there is also the hard truth that the 2014 election was especially not good for Hillary.
Hillary Clinton is famous, ambitious, methodical, and clever. As I write, she faces no significant challengers for the Democratic nomination. She is the frontrunner to win the 2016 election. But she is not flawless. Her political skills are limited. She says things she later walks back. She represents the past. There are so many skeletons in her family’s closets that the skeletons have closets. Her favorable numbers have already returned to Earth, and she will spend the next two years under attack by both Democrats and Republicans.
These two items open the door for a campaign by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is demurring less and less these days. Warren, the populist champion, does have deep pockets and deep-pocketed donors. Granted, those donors don’t want her to challenge Hillary. Remember when she was inevitable in 2008? Then, squirrel! 2016 is unlikely to be different. The Clinton Machine, especially with the shellacking of candidates it backed in 2014, is quickly becoming a relic and not the well-oiled engine it once was. Of course, by 2015 Warren will also be old-hat and the really new shiny object will be prepared to disabuse Hillary and Warren of their notions about the presidency.
It’s the Economy, Stupid
But what about those social issues, which didn’t seem to hurt conservatives one iota this cycle? Look, we can have a candidate who is pure on those fronts or we can have a candidate who runs on issues that appeal to a wide swathe of the electorate. Despite my own affinity for science and the truth that life is life, I’d rather not hitch my wagon to a Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum. Let’s focus on the issues with broad support and make inroads with hearts and minds rather than going all-in on the culture wars.
Ashe Schow makes a similar argument.
What I’m saying is that they need to stay away from partisan social issues they know the Democrats will vote against and that Obama will veto anyway.
Seriously, GOP, take it from someone in a constituency you don’t do well with in presidential elections (unmarried female millennial). Continuously focusing on social issues over jobs is nauseating.
This isn’t a popular sentiment, but the subtext is important. If conservatives head into 2016 with a focus on issues that are doomed to fail, then they risk turning the contest into a referendum on their achievements. And rightly so, especially if all they’ve achieved are a panoply of vetoed bills. Like it or not, the electorate tends to equate passage with governance. Walker’s waffling suggests he understands that. This isn’t to say social issues aren’t important, but that conservatives need to build momentum by attacking Progressives where they are weakest and building upon those successes. When people, including young Millennial women, have money in the bank, then we’ll have the opportunity to start expanding our scope. Walker’s biggest victories may be ones of subtraction, but they also required legislative victories.
The Possibility of Scott Walker’s Victory Lies in the Attack
So should we reassess Walker’s promise now that the joy of the evening, and the fog of the moonshine, has faded? No, we should not. Though Sun Tzu wrote, “Invincibility lies in the defense; the possibility of victory in the attack,” he also wrote, “Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.” Though Walker is wooden and still like the mountains, late in the governor’s race, he also moved with the wind. Perhaps that is his strength. He has a canny ability to lull his opponents into a torpor and await a moment to strike. As we gear up for whomever versus Squirrel! 2016, we should be open to the possibility that winning may best be achieved by someone whose plans are dark and impenetrable as the night, poised to fall like a thunderbolt, and crafted from the extreme comfort of a throne made of the skulls of enemies.