Saturday night’s out-of-control, heated Republican presidential debate underscored an important point many conservatives hopefully agree with: The Republican Party should not nominate a narcissistic loose cannon that would recklessly take us to war for petty reasons, or punish political rivals and trash the constitution.
Nominating such a horrible candidate – and person, for that matter – would be a disaster for conservatives.
No, I’m not talking just about Donald Trump. He’s awful too, but I’m also talking about Chris Christie. Yes, the New Jersey governor thankfully left the race before he had the opportunity to blabber on another debate stage – and he hopefully let the door hit him on the way out – but the back-and-forth yelling, insult trading and display of egos definitely made me think of the loudmouth governor Saturday night.
Christie’s overwhelming narcissism was probably overshadowed in the race by Trump’s louder, more bizarre styling of the same. Christie’s attitude was also masked by perceived pragmatism of being in elected office. But don’t be fooled by the title in front of Christie’s name: his ideas to shoot down Russian planes and prosecute dissenters of the Patriot Act are just as insane as Trump’s ideas to build a wall paid for by Mexico and close down the Internet.
Trump is terrible, and I’d gladly start a GoFundMe page to get him to dropout of the race tomorrow. But we should stop pretending like he’s the only arrogant, anti-constitutional loud voice in the GOP. And even those who don’t deserve such harsh adjectives thrown their way have had their rhetoric lowered by the tone of the 2016 election. The jabs traded in the GOP debate Saturday night may have been started by Trump, but they were exchanged by nearly everyone on stage (depending if you still consider Ben Carson to be “on stage”). Narcissism, abrasiveness and anger have helped the right in recent history, but it’s time to let that go.
Tapping into anger certainly helped win a wave election in 2010, and it probably helped in 2014, but at a certain point conservatives need to put aside tough guy rhetoric and offer real policy solutions that present a positive alternative to a larger, more intrusive government.
Otherwise you get things like Saturday night, where you have four men in Trump, Jeb! Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz raising their voices and tossing insults, thinking they need to be the loudest and angriest of the bunch. It’s also a problem that being fueled by anger is profitable on the right. Former conservative darling Sarah Palin capitalized on the fame she received from the 2008 presidential election by cashing in on “anti-establishment” appeal. Palin’s anti-establishment self-promotion has granted her a net worth of $12 million, and her endorsement of Trump was only meant to sustain that fame from fading. Anger also gets you talk radio hosts like Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh, building up rage to boost ratings and fight to “take our country back.”
But take back from who, and implement what policies? Why is a conservative vision for the future the best option for Americans? Being angry and having a bully-like attitude does not answer that question for people on the fence.
In many ways the Obama presidency was great for the conservative grassroots, and it spurred a lot of careers that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. But the grassroots has to be about actual policies and not just rhetoric. I use the anecdote of Christie because in terms of policy, he should have been rejected quicker for his stances on gun control, Planned Parenthood funding, health care and more. But his tough guy, straight talk was endearing for a while, and made him appealing to voters who were angry with the status quo. After six years, though, it was evident that the attitude was just a shtick, he’s actually a lunatic, and rhetoric does not equal policy.
It’s encouraging that Christie was turned away in the GOP primary field, but the worrisome attitudes and rhetoric clearly still exist, even when excluding Trump.
Cruz – who courageously will go in front of any conservative audience and tell them exactly what they want to hear – seems to be playing the caricature of a conservative daydream. And while the Texas senator takes a few solid positions, his cookie-cutter conservative brand has unfortunately not matched his record on the Senate floor.
“Under the Senate rules, absence is the equivalent of a no vote. It is identical procedurally.”
That is what Cruz said following his absence in voting against Loretta Lynch’s confirmation. Cruz was already campaigning for president then, and did not find the time to make it back to cast what was viewed as a pretty important vote. But, by Cruz’ logic, not being there was the same as voting “no.”
So I guess if we are taking him at his word, his absence Jan. 12 on the long-awaited “Audit the Fed” vote was the equivalent to a “no” vote. Cruz insisted in a Republican presidential debate that he still supports the legislation and looked forward to signing it into law “when he is president,” but his record makes it hard to believe. And his flip-flopping on the NSA, Patriot Act, immigration and enhanced interrogation make it even harder to buy what Cruz is selling, even if his message is gift wrapped in the fanciest wrapping paper and bow.
Trust Ted? It’s hard to do. Because angry rhetoric is only so much, and at a certain point someone needs a track record of a commitment to limited government that promises a brighter future for individuals across the country.
It’s no secret conservatives lag behind the left on messaging, but even the messages they do have are too often angry, non-substantive and adverse to a free society.
Saying goodbye to authoritarians like Christie is a positive, but a healthy skepticism of the rhetoric throughout the Republican Party would be a good thing.
The GOP needs a humbler message. You didn’t hear one Saturday night, or often over the last few years, but voters should really ask for one.