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2006 Election &Virginia politics Richard Falknor on 18 Oct 2006 02:17 am

Virginia Conservatives, “RINO-plasty,” and 2006

ED: This posting first appeared on NoVaPolitics.

There are too many reports of conservatives acquiescing in a 2006 Congressional defeat, perhaps escaping into their fantasy that Republicans will somehow be “punished” for straying from historic principles, and that a consequently “cleansed” party can return to power easily in 2008.

Theirs is a perilous path to follow. Jim Geraghty in National Review Online addressed this line of thought last May:

“Your effort to re-conservativize the Republican Party in Washington by staying home this year will have the effect of massacring the actual conservatives and empowering the moderates who you disdain. Perhaps we can call this counterproductive maneuver ‘RINO-plasty.’

But that’s okay, the staying-at-home-conservatives insist. The GOP will win back the House and Senate in 2008, establishing a true conservative majority.”

Geraghty explained:

“. . . [w]hat kind of lengths do you think the Democrats will go to in order to keep power once they’ve got it? Does the “Fairness Doctrine” ring a bell? You think Pelosi and Reid wouldn’t try that tactic to hinder conservative talk radio? How about McCain-Feingold 2.0, with a particular focus on controlling “unregulated speech” on the Internet and blogs?”

And how about cooked elections?

“Think the GOP can prevail in close races once they’re out of power? Ask the members of the military who had their ballots in Florida blocked. Ask Doug Forrester how well his anti-Torricelli campaign worked when he suddenly faced Frank Lautenberg at the last minute. Ask Dino Rossi. Ask Democrat Tim Johnson if he’s glad the last county in South Dakota to report its results just happened to have enough of a Democratic margin to put him over the top in 2002.”

So what is Geraghty’s solution for conservatives?

“The real fight on so many of these issues is in the Republican Presidential Primary. Obviously, many, many conservatives are furious with President Bush for his policies on spending, the Medicare prescription drug bill, and most of all, immigration.

The 2008 race will really begin early next year. Look hard at the candidates, and volunteer early for the guy who stands where you want the party to stand.”

But here are some specific steps Northern Virginia conservatives can take right away.

  • One is to insist that local Republican Party committees start a continuing dialogue with Republican incumbents on their current votes and positions. Some party bureaucrats and incumbents naturally prefer that local Republican organizations limit themselves to cheer-leading in off years, and to furnishing extensive volunteer labor during campaigns. Conservatives simply should not allow this inward-looking practice to continue. Had the Loudoun County Republican Committee, for example, called State Senator Russell Potts to account for his legislative record as it developed, the conservative cause in the General Assembly might well have been significantly strengthened.
  • Another important conservative step would be to help Republican county supervisors develop some kind of coherent center-right progam. Fairfax and Loudoun Counties are mega-jurisdictions whose budgets approach those of small states. But one does not see the kind of fiscally conservative, low-tax, pro-jobs, less-regulation platform that prominent conservative candidates in other states put forward. Of course, there are worthy, if sporadic, efforts to slow the rise of property taxes, and occasionally to cut some piece of egregious local spending, but these are at best holding actions. As Steve Malanga of the Manhattan Institute points out – – – ” For the past 40 years, a new political dynamic has been emerging at the state and local level, as those who benefit from an expanding government have formed into an effective coalition that has grabbed ever more political power, often using it to advocate for higher taxes and more spending.”
  • Conservatives should also understand that they will not prevail locally in northern Virginia if they do not associate low-tax free-market, and property-rights groups with faith-based organizations as well as independent businesses and school reformers and Second Amendment advocates. The old Virginia (and Maryland) Republican Parties appear to have been cemented as much by social affinity as by common policy. But the Reagan Revolution put in place a new model nationally. That watershed advance should now be reflected on the state and local level. In both northern Virginia and in Maryland, the faith-based voices appear to be the best organized. There does not appear, however, to be any organized county-level fiscal-reform effort: lifting local regulatory burdens to encourage independent businesses, for example, or privatizing many functions of local government, or even putting numbers on its outlandish growth. The Fairfax County Taxpayers Association under Arthur Purves leadership has done extraordinary work in illuminating and explaining taxing and spending patterns, not just in Fairfax County, but in Virginia at the state level. Yet, as this writer can testify, few local and state elected officials in Virginia or Maryland (even Republicans presumably sailing under conservative flags) have adopted Purves’s easily understood approach. Not many seem to “get” the larger fiscal battle, apart from property-tax rate and zoning skirmishes. But these are all ad hoc stop-gaps against the growing threat from state and local tax predators.

Returning to the 2006 Congressional elections, Geraghty on Monday left us with this warning:

“Immigration? Again – the GOPers most at risk this year are the Rick Santorums of the World, the House GOP majority, the ones who held the line on an amnesty bill. Folks angry about illegal immigration who stay home will ensure a pro-amnesty House, a pro-amnesty majority in the Senate, and a president eager to sign a big beyond-a-fence bill as part of his legacy.”

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