Saturday, January 16, 2010

Are Conservatives Ready to Choose Pragmatism Over Party Purity? -- The Impact of Scott Brown On the Illinois Senate Race (UPDATED)

Congressman Mark Kirk, who is running for the Illinois seat in the U.S. Senate currently held by disgraced former governor Blagojevich's appointee, Roland Burris, looks to be an easy win for the upcoming primary election on February 2nd. He's crushing his more conservative GOP opponents in fundraising, and according to the latest polling, enjoys a commanding lead over his nearest competitors, and is snapping up endorsements from all the major papers like the Tribune, Sun-Times, Daily Herald and others. In fact, the papers are consistent in their opinions that deem Kirk the "obvious choice" if Republicans want to gain this seat back, which they have not held since Peter Fitzgerald defeated Carol Moseley Braun in 1998.

However, a fair portion of likely GOP primary voters are dissatisifed with Kirk, claiming that he is too liberal for their tastes. Based on comments here and elsewhere in the blogosphere, some of these conservative Republicans vow that not only will they not vote to support Kirk in the primary (regardless of whether he is the only GOP candidate with a realistic chance to prevail in the general election), they will not vote for him in the general election, which, considering the prospect of ushering in the Dem nominee (likely Alexi Giannoulias, who will be guaranteed to support all of Obama's policies and none of the GOP's) as a result of withholding their support, seems to make little sense.

But these are the folks that seem to place ideals of party purity above all else, even winning elections.

It's this crowd that GOP contender Patrick Hughes tries to cater to as he criss-crosses the state, claiming that this Senate race is a battle for the 'soul' of the Republican party, notwithstanding the fact that he's raised little money, and no one (except Pat) seems to suggest that even if he won the primary, he'd have any chance against the Dems in the general. Pat's been looking desperately to national conservative groups for support, hoping that his message of unyeilding Republican principles will reasonate with the folks who have money to throw his way, like Senator Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund.

But a funny thing happened on the road to ideological purity. Scott Brown, a little-known Republican state senator in Massachusetts, now seems to be well-positioned to upset his Democratic opponent, MA Attorney General Martha Coakley. In fact, the liberals are so panicked that they may lose their 60-vote filibuster-proof majority and skew the path to their draconian vision of healthcare reform, perhaps irreparably, President Obama himself is parachuting in over the weekend to try to save what should have been a safe seat for the Dems after the death of Ted Kennedy left it vacant--to say nothing of the damage to the Obama brand if this seat should be lost.

Brown has became a cause célèbre among even the Tea Party crowd, which includes many folks who like to consider themselves the most conservative of the conservatives, but who are hungry for victory against Obama's radical agenda. In fact, even Senator DeMint has taken up Brown's cause on his Senate Conservative Fund website (though he's not endorsed Hughes, tellingly). But the interesting thing about this phenomenon is that Brown is not, in fact, particularly conservative (and certainly not a Tea Partier), at least, not compared to pols in the rest of the nation (Massachusetts being a very liberal state, where even the few conservatives in the state legislature might seem liberal to many).

University of Chicago Professor Boris Shor even suggests that, based on his voting record research, Brown is less conservative that Dede Scozzafava, who was excoriated in the NY-23 special election for not being 'conservative enough'). The explanation for this seems simple enough for Professor Shor:

Of course, while the Republicans [in Massachusetts] are liberal, Democrats are incredibly liberal. In comparison to them, Brown is a conservative. He was also the most conservative of the tiny handful of Republican State Senators. [snip]

It makes perfect sense that Scott Brown, a liberal Massachusetts Republican, has attracted Republican and conservative support. He’s perfectly suited for his liberal state electorate. Dede Scozzafava, in fact considerably more conservative than Scott Brown was not nearly so well matched to her intended constituency, the relatively conservative 23rd District that had returned moderate conservative John McHugh since the 1992 election.

What this shows, however, is that the conservative base in the United States, far from dragging their party moblike into an unelectable extreme, has made the decentralized decision to support the realistically best candidate they can relative to the context in which he’s being elected.

Even Senator Jim DeMint (who if Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is 99% conservative, DeMint is 110% conservative) has decided that due to the critical fact that a Brown victory would be a guaranteed vote against ObamaCare, he is supporting Brown (even though he admits that a formal endorsement of the SCF is not possible since Brown does not meet their conservative criteria).

Thus, it seems that even the ideological purists have decided that when pragmatism and the goal of actually having an impact on a national issue like healthcare is at stake, they may be willing to overlook issues such as being pro-choice, as Brown is. While this might seem like an obvious point to many of us, it's likely not a position that many conservatives came to easily. But the fact that they did so in Brown's case gives us hope in IL-10 that the conservatives will yet rally around Congressman Kirk as the best real chance to win this Senate seat for Republicans.

No one, not even Pat Hughes (or even Andy Martin, for that matter) has ever suggested that Mark Kirk would not be a reliable vote to block Obama's misguided version of healthcare reform if Kirk were in the Senate. If you doubt that, call House Minority Leader John Boehner, with whom Kirk worked closely to craft Republican alternatives to ObamaCare, and ask him. For that matter, you don't get asked to give the Republican weekly radio address in response to the President, and present the GOP alternative, like Mark Kirk did back in November 2009, if you're not rock-solid on that issue.

So if a vote against ObamaCare, and Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democrats, is good enough for even Jim DeMint, Illinois conservatives ought to think again about Mark Kirk, and whether the seductive prospect of actually winning this seat back for the GOP is worth swallowing some of their angst over what they see as Kirk's failings. As we see from Professor Shor's research, if you want to win elections, you need to consider the electorate in the area in which you are running. As I've said often before in the context of IL-10, Congressman Kirk's congressional district, Kirk is the most conservative congressman that was ever going to be elected in our fairly liberal district. The same goes for Illinois -- in a state that's so blue, the GOP holds no state-wide offices, we need a moderate like Kirk who is going to be able to appeal to conservative Republicans, moderates, independents, and maybe even a few Dems.

I contributed to Scott Brown's campaign and I hope he wins. But a Brown victory will be a victory for 'big tent' Republicans and independents that came together to refute the radical policies of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, not a victory for the ideological purists that may mistakenly see Brown as a rallying point for right-wing exclusivity.

UPDATED: I saw this earlier today but didn't have time to fit it in. But given the number of people (both R's and D's) who seem to be insisting (for their own purposes) that Scott Brown is a fire-breathing right-winger (as one commentor put it), I wanted to quote from the endorsement of the Cape Cod Times of Brown:

It is no surprise that Brown has been gaining momentum in a state, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one. He has run an energetic campaign and has been outspoken on the issues. More importantly, however, we believe he is less likely of the two candidates to toe the party line. For example, in an editorial board meeting with the Cape Cod Times earlier this week, Brown was critical of President Bush and defended President Obama regarding the current financial crisis.

In his last re-election to the state Senate in 2008, Brown won by a 59-41 percent margin. Part of his success comes from his willingness to work with Democrats on important issues.

"I would not have been overwhelmingly re-elected if I didn't know how to work across party lines," Brown said in the primary. "If the Democrats have a good idea, I'd be happy to vote with them."

Brown is exactly what Washington needs — someone who will vote his conscience rather than spew party rhetoric.

Doesn't sound like much of a fire-breather to me. Conservatives, Tea Partiers, please keep supporting Brown. We need everyone to push him over the finish line. But do it because you think he can win, don't do it because you've been fooled or mislead into thinking he's a hard-line right-winger, because he's not. And a Scott Brown win, which will hopefully occur, should inspire Illinois conservatives to support Mark Kirk, not oppose him.


Anonymous said...

Spot-on to Team America. I am anxiously awaiting for the right-winger Kirk haters to wake up from their Friday night hangovers and comment on this excellent analysis/commentary.

Blue Wind said...

Brown is a conservative and tea-partier. He is the equivalent of Hughes in IL. He is certainly much more conservative socially than Kirk. The only reason for which Kirk has been competitive in IL is that he is socially very liberal and that makes him far more acceptable to mainstream voters.

In any case, Brown will lose Tuesday, remember me on that. And so will Kirk in November. Brown will lose because he is too far to the right and the last moment the MA voters will wake up. Kirk will lose because he is neither a real conservative nor a real liberal. He is something like Arlen Specter in PA, who will also lose his seat in November. Lack of principles is not a good thing these days.

Anonymous said...

Blue wind, since local democrats have been saying this seat was yours since porter cast his vote on monica-gate, I think you better revise your remarks.

You listen to democrats and in the first breath mark is a fire breathing right winger, in the next he's too liberal. campaigns that have 2 messages like this generally have one result in november: Defeat.

To Team America's points

1. Waging war on the right wing is a really bad idea. There are moderates like andy mckenna and ray lahood who are just awful. A lot of d.c. right wingers like mitch mcconnell and haley barbour believe in big tent. There are losers on the right who won't vote for mark because they would rather try again in 6 years, but there are also losers on the left of our party like coulson,mckenna,lahood, jim jeffords and arlen specter who stand for nothing.

2. Brown shows bush is off the table. Alexi's big argument is that Mark is a bush d.c. republican. People are past that. If ever there was a state where that would be an epithet, it's the land of chowdah, clams, doug flutie, and dukakis. Essentially the democrats biggest weapon has been skunked.

3. For the first time since Mark was in law school democrats are vulnerable on domestic policymaking outside of the south. Brown is not running as a moderate republican the way romney and bill weld and cellucci did, he's running full bore against washington democrats. We haven't seen this work in 20 years. You can run against the democrats on domestic policy and win now.

4. If I'm the dolt, green or friedman campaign I am going to my people and saying this race shows you dont have to pretend to be a republican to win. coulson's big argument is that she's the better general election candidate because democrats are won over by her fiscal liberalism. Brown is running as a fiscal hawk in massachusettes and thats why hes winning. You dont have to be ashamed to be a republican this year as coulson has been for the last 15 years. to win.

5. Democrats are really screwed. In 2006 the NRCC sent half of the republican in washington to california to try and save the seat of duke cunningham. It was as republican as any in the country and the party barely survived against a no name democrat opposed to the party on every position. When they have to go full bore in massachusettes, coming on the heels of drubbings in increasingly blue virginia and new jersey, their moderate suburban base that clinton had cultivated is moving right.


Anonymous said...


Great analysis. Go Kirk!

Team America said...

FOKLAEAPS - I'm doing anything but declaring war on the right wing. The whole point of the post is to convince that segment of the conservatives that refuse to support a candidate who can, to try to see the light. TA supports conservatives like Thunder Dan Sugrue who have earned our loyalty and have a chance to win. TA himself is fairly conservative, but 'tolerant' and firm believer in the big tent philosophy. Once the GOP starts winning some elections in this state, there will be plenty of time to out-Republican each other. Till then, we have to pull together to defeat the Dems.

Anonymous said...

TA. Spot on. As a member of several Tea Party and 9/12 groups, I hear the conservative litmus test constantly. There are many who say Brown is too liberal. I say an incremental move to the right for a far left leaning state like MA is a conservative victory. Mark Kirk is far from my choice as a senator. However I know Kirk has begun listening to us. Which for Kirk is an incremental move to the right.
@Blue Wind Brown is enjoying support form Tea Partiers because he represents a move to the right from far left Obama socialist agenda supporting Taxachussetts. He is not conservative. Please post your mia culpa bright and early Wednesday the 20th after Coakley and team Obama suffer a back breaking defeat.

Anonymous said...

Spot on?

Anonymous said...

spot on is british for right on brother!

Team America, I agree. I will support every day a Jeff Flake who is an arch conservative and the best fiscal hawk in congress but I will also support an olympia snowe. Snowe is a little liberal for my taste,but she and collins can be real fiscal watchdogs.

Tea Party members if you read their stuff are more fiscal hawks. they are not social warriors. In fact the social warriors are the problem as people like huckabee and sarah palin actually believe in big government for social spending purposes.

Thunder Dan Segrue is a force as is Hamilton Chang (e) is in my name.


Anonymous said...

Well said TA. Republicans (of any sort) are suceeding in Blue states because they are returning to the playbook of '94: NATIONALIZING a local race. Brown is close because the folks (dem and repub) don't want this healthcare obamanation and know that Brown is the 41st vote against it. That is if Harry Reid will seat him, should he win,before a cloture vote on healthcare.

Anonymous said...

I know that "spot on" is British.

Anonymous said...


You are exactly right. The point is not to pitch moderate versus conservative, but rather come together (especially in the general election) to elect Republicans.

We tried party-purity litmus tests in 2004. It was called Alan Keyes. That got us Barack Obama.

Time to grow up and play in the major leagues again.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:20, your words ring true. If only the entire legion of those of us who DO want to elect Republicans back into the Senate and the House can stop the labeling of who is too far this and too far that and actually get off the couch and get out and vote for every Republican in each district can we begin to turn the tide. If it's more important for those who hang onto the far right to stay home, then expect to have Alexi for 6 years and lord knows what in the 10th and other districts. It's long past time to cling to ideologies and come together as Republicans ALL. IF not now, when.