Who Fills the Vacuum in the Illinois GOP “Civil War”, and Why?
Jonah Goldberg has written an article in National Review talking about the recent primary election for Senator in Alabama. I was struck by how much the points he made apply to the current situation within the Republican Party in Illinois.
From the article:
“The conservative movement is caught in a Catch-22 of its own making. In the war against “the establishment,” we have made being an outsider the most important qualification for a politician. The problem? Once elected, outsiders by definition become insiders. This isn’t just a semantic point. The Constitution requires politicians to work through the system if they’re going to get anything done.
Look at all the senators who rode the tea-party wave into power…To one extent or another, they are now seen as swamp things, not swamp drainers, by the pitchfork populists…
But there’s a larger dynamic at work. It’s like taking the job seriously is an automatic disqualification for the perpetually furious. Merely talking like a halfway responsible politician — “we don’t have the votes,” “we have to pay for it” — is proof of selling out… What’s both funny and sad is that there is remarkably little intellectual or ideological substance to the current populist fever…
A lot of people are simply mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore. Republican politicians can’t ignore the anger. Ideally they’d channel it toward productive ends, as they did in the past. But further stoking the anger for political gain is not just ill-advised, it’s pointless, because eventually politicians have to govern.”
We’re seeing the same thing playing out here in Illinois. In July, 15 of my Republican colleagues voted to override the Governor’s veto of a budget bill. Since then, the long knives have been out, with a well-funded effort to primary those members which has resulted in the decision of 11 of them (as of this writing) to not run in 2018. Calling them “tax traitors” and worse, they’ve created an environment which makes it impossible to have a serious conversation about the most pressing problems facing this state. The primary challengers are running as “outsiders”, with promises of the kind of financial support that would drain resources and make it virtually impossible to withstand a well-funded Democrat challenge in the general election.
But here’s the funny thing: the Governor who was betrayed by those 15 members is now being excoriated by those same critics for having signed a bill that provides for taxpayer funding of abortion. Without getting into the specifics of what led up to the signing of the bill, which I opposed (my take on it can be found here), I find it highly ironic that there’s now a movement afoot to back a slate of legislative candidates whose primary qualification is that they aren’t “insiders”, as well as finding a replacement for the governor that the “tax-traitor” insiders stabbed in the back.
What’s happened here is that the pitchfork populists have created a vacuum in which they can insert themselves. They have their slate of legislative candidates, and now they’ve turned on the Governor, who’s mostly to blame for the mess in which he now finds himself. If it wasn’t the abortion bill that tipped the scales, it would have been something else. The Governor just made it easier for them. The populists set fire to a shoebox full of dog squeeze on his porch and rang the doorbell. The Governor opened the door and stepped right into it.
I believe it was George Bernard Shaw who said: “Those that can do, do. Those who can’t, teach”. We have a political corollary here: “Those who can win, win. Those who can’t, agitate”. Let’s take a closer look at who benefits by filling that vacuum. In their version of politics, there must be high drama. Without it, people might stop for a second and notice that there isn’t anything else to their message. So what’s their motivation? It’s hard to resist the temptation to say that it’s personal gain. When you’re the leader of a movement that dispenses goodies to its followers, there’s bound to be some that sticks to your own fingers.
If I were to give one bit of advice to my colleagues who chose to not run or are being primaried by this crowd, it would be this: Stay on the ballot, stick to your guns. If you have to bring a knife to a gunfight because nobody will write you a check and you lose, at least you’ve run the full arc of your principles. You did what you ran for office to do: you governed.
But of course I understand why they wouldn’t want to do that. Again, it was George Bernard Shaw who said: “I learned long ago, never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it”.