“Jokers to the Right,” Pt. I

Prior to the conclusion of the 2012 presidential election, conservative pollster and strategist Dick Morris made his now-infamous prediction that Mitt Romney would defeat President Obama in a 325 to 213 landslide. He maintained this position even to the eve of the election,[1] only to be proven embarrassingly wrong by the actual results in which President Obama defeated Mitt Romney by an even greater electoral margin than Morris had predicted for Romney. For the next three months after the election, he did not appear on the air at Fox News, with which he had a contract, until the network ultimately decided not to renew his contract.[2]

Good riddance.

For decades, the Republican Party has been governed by men like Morris – governed, corrupted, and, in recent years, offered up like a sheep for slaughter on Election Day. Their electoral models have failed. Their hand-selected political candidates have been rejected. And all along the way, the Republican Party follows but a few steps behind the Democratic Party in this country’s march towards statism.

Morris’s failure in 2012 is but one example of a broader pathology in the GOP’s intellectual leadership. It is a pathology that operates on poor political theory. There are, fundamentally, two problems here: one in clinging to the irrational ideals of some imaginary “better time” from the past, and the other of deciding it better to accept and employ the arguments of the Left than to challenge them on any significant level. Ultimately, the Republicans resign themselves to defeat from the outset – if not by losing at the ballot box in the short-run, by selling out and letting the Democratic Party achieve their policy goals in the long-run.

The Republicans and the right more generally have erected an entire intellectual establishment married to a formula, an idealized notion of political strategy divorced from reason and experience alike — and one that is being painfully repudiated every four years. It is an entrenched group of dogmatists where the “tried and true” electoral models must be pursued regardless of the results; where, if results are not produced, the shortcoming is explained as a failure to consistently adhere to the models than as a failure of the models themselves; where appealing to anything but “faith, family, and the flag” for political support is tantamount to rebellion; where reason and any attempts to bring the GOP in-line with the principles of reason are quickly shouted down as “radical.”

And indeed, appealing to reason is a radical, extremist notion in the twenty-first century – one the Republican Party would do well to adopt. Even so, the intellectuals at the helm of the Republican Party – perhaps not directly, but certainly on an ideological and political level – stand in the wake of two consecutive losses in presidential races, issuing the same diatribes against legitimate, limited government candidates that the intellectuals attribute to the GOP’s losses, conveniently overlooking the fact that the GOP has not selected a legitimate proponent of limited government ideals as its presidential nominee for decades, if not longer. Thus, they argue for more of the same: more centrism, more saturating political speeches with irrelevant talk of family, religion, and “traditional American values,” and more contempt for civil liberties in the name of national security.

As decadent as the GOP’s intellectual leadership is, worse still is that these faulty theories are breeding a new generation of Republican leaders to repeat the mistakes of their forbears. The College Republican National Committee only recently released a report detailing their thoughts on why the GOP fails to attract younger voters (the general apathy of young voters not being included). In it, you can see the echoes of the theories possessed by the current Republican Establishment. As Katie Glueck of Politico writes:

The 95-page study, which looked at the party’s views on social and economic issues, as well as its messaging and outreach, echoes a March report on the election debacle issued by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, which presented a devastating assessment of the party’s current state of affairs.

But in some ways the new report from inside the GOP tent is even more scathing and ominous — since it comes from the party’s next generation.

Titled the ‘Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation,’ the report is sharply critical of the GOP on several fronts. The study slams some Republicans’ almost singular focus on downsizing Big Government and cutting taxes; candidates’ use of offensive, polarizing rhetoric; and the party’s belly-flop efforts at messaging and outreach, even as the report presents a way forward and, at times, strikes an optimistic tone.

The College Republicans believe their political leaders have a problem in an “almost singular focus on downsizing Big Government and cutting taxes?” Certainly, a limited number of Republican statesmen honestly pursue those goals – not perfectly, but honestly – but that the College Republicans believe this is at all detrimental to the party is indicative not only of the scale of the problem among Republicans, but a signal that it may be here to stay for the foreseeable feature. The report itself offers a limited range of good points which are to be expected from young Republicans of the twenty-first century (e.g. a softened stance towards gay marriage and open criticism of gaffes such as those from Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock), but the rest may as well have been regurgitated from John McCain’s or Mitt Romney’s talking points. Despite the assertion by the College Republicans that they offer a “significantly different approach” to winning elections than has been used in recent years, the claim is unsubstantiated – it is more of the same strategy that the Republicans have always employed after losing elections: regroup, recover, and slide to the left.[3]

In response, there is only one recourse left to those advocates of reason and individual rights working to change the Republican Party: an intellectual revolution. The entire intellectual establishment of the Republican Party must be unseated, cast aside, and replaced with a new generation of ideologues and strategists.

I do not use the word “entire” figuratively. Except for one or two “Republican” voices who could hardly be called mainstream, the vast majority of the right’s anti-intellectual establishment is hostile to reason, hostile to ideas, hostile to the principles of limited government, and hostile to secularism.

There is a massive counter-culture on the right – massive enough to produce a number of meaningful Tea Party victories – more than willing to replace this aristocracy, and they should. There needs to be a new generation of Republican intellectuals to match the new generation of Republican statesmen – men to replace figures like Sen. John McCain (AZ), Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC), Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), Gov. Nathan Deal (GA), Sen. Saxby Chambliss (GA), Speaker Boehner (OH), etc. in the Republican Party and produce more leaders like Rep. Thomas Massie (KY), Rep. Justin Amash (MI), Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), Sen. Mike Lee (UT), Sen. Rand Paul (KY), and others.

It is the purpose of this series to identify a number of the errors of the present intellectual aristocracy in the GOP, explain them, demonstrate their faults, and offer a rational alternative. In short, I intend to say what current Republican intellectuals will not – possibly because they do not know it, and possibly because they fear it. They fear that the decades of political science and theory on which their strategies and careers are based are wrong. If Dick Morris’s loss of contract at Fox News is indicative of anything, it is that they are right to be fearful.


[1]. Dick Morris, “Prediction: Romney 325, Obama 213,” The Hill, 5 Nov. 2012, http://thehill.com/opinion/columnists/dick-morris/266027-prediction-romney-325-obama-213-.

[2]. Dylan Byers, “Dick Morris out at Fox News,” Politico, 5 Feb. 2013, http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2013/02/dick-morris-out-at-fox-news-156210.html.

[3]. I have, in general, been very critical of the College Republicans as an organization in the past. For more, see “Young Democrats outshine College Republicans in political conviction” here in the Red & Black.

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