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Rules for Conservatives


If the Left had a religion (which of course they don’t), their Bible would be a book by tactical guru Saul Alinsky entitled Rules for Radicals.  The original “community organizer,” Alinsky’s seminal work has been the “how to” guide for the extreme Left for several generations.

Using Alinsky’s rules, liberals (now re-branded progressives) have generally out-maneuvered conservatives on the ideological battlefield.  After an extended period of time conservatives have somewhat caught onto the Left’s tactics, but still it would be helpful for the Right to have its own set of rules.  This is difficult because unlike the Left, which moves in politically correct lockstep, conservatives actually think for themselves making unity more difficult.  But, herewith I am willing to offer some suggested Rules for Conservatives:

Rule # 7:  Talk about why we can win, not why we can’t.  As the current presidential campaign has unfolded conservatives have fallen into the mainstream media trap of talking about why their candidates cannot win. Trump can’t win because he has a big mouth.  Rubio can’t win because he isn’t sufficiently conservative.  Cruz can’t win because he is too conservative.  Rather than focus on why each potential candidate can’t win, talk about why he or she can win.

Rule # 6: Obey the ‘Buckley Rule’.  William F. Buckley, one of the founding fathers of modern day conservatism back in 1964 observed that we should support “the rightward most viable candidate.”  Conservatives love to stand on principle, and while we should never abandon our core beliefs, we must also take elect-ability into account when deciding which candidate to support.

Rule # 5: Don’t fight over minor policy differences. Especially in crowded primary fights candidates and their supporters tend to fixate on even the tiniest differences in policy positions.  This causes voters’ eyes to glaze over and worse obstructs their view of the big picture.  Yes, at some point those minor differences will become important.  But not until you actually win the election and are in a position of power.

Rule # 4: Accept partial victories.  We all have a policy end game.  But the political process generally unfolds in small steps not in big, bold moves. The Left understands this and is willing to accept a small victory then come back and fight for more.  Conservatives demand all or nothing, and all too often end up with nothing.  Remember, change is a marathon, not a sprint.

Rule # 3: Don’t hold grudges.  The old saying “friends are temporary, but enemies are forever” often applies to conservatives.  Your competitor in this election cycle or on one policy fight just might be your ally in the next.  Be willing to forgive because there aren’t enough of us to be divided by past grievances.

Rule # 2: Be a happy warrior.  Even when almost felled by a would-be assassin’s bullet Ronald Reagan joked with doctors on his way into the operating room.  We are not the dour old Left that sits around worried about the world vaporizing because of climate change.  We live in the greatest nation known to man with freedoms granted to us by our Creator.  This is a cause for celebration and joy. Act accordingly.

Rule # 1: Never give up.  Yes, some of our candidates will lose and the Left will win more than their share of policy battles.  But there is always another election and there will inevitably be a new policy battle.  Ronald Reagan lost a string of early primaries in 1980 and was given up for politically dead.  But he pushed through the defeats, eventually winning enough delegates to claim the nomination and ultimately the presidency.  Ronald Reagan never gave up, and neither should we.

I’m sure you could probably add a few more rules of you own to this list, but as a new and pivotal year in American history is about to unfold we need to keep our goals in mind, focus on what is most important, and fight hard for freedom.  After all, this gift called America is now in our possession and it is our duty to preserve, protect and defend what Abraham Lincoln called “the last best hope” of man on Earth.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org. )

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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Why is the Party of Free Enterprise Afraid of Competition?


An early, but unofficial, entry into the 2016 Presidential race by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush jump started the fight for the Republican presidential nomination.  National party leaders are working hard to see that it also ends early. This in the mistaken belief that a battle lasting deep into the primary season harmed Mitt Romney in 2012 and would likewise handicap the party’s 2016 nominee.

The theory is hold the intra-party skirmishing to a minimum, identify the nominee early, give the new standard bearer more time to organize and prepare for the General Election campaign.   The problem with that reasoning is that it cuts voters in most states out of the candidate selection process depriving the ultimate nominee of a solid base of support.  It also puts an early bullseye on the nominee giving Democrats more time to attack – which is precisely what Barack Obama did in the spring and early summer of 2012.

Those unwilling to admit the party nominated a deeply flawed candidate in 2012 point to the supposed “lengthy” primary battle as a reason for his defeat.  The fact is Mitt Romney essentially wrapped up the nomination by mid-April before primary voters in some of the more populous states, including Pennsylvania and California, went to the polls.  Four years earlier, John McCain closed the door on Romney and a large field of candidates by mid-February.  Despite the early end to that primary season McCain also went down to defeat.

There is an argument to be made that contests lasting deep into the primary season better prepares the candidate for the fall campaign.  In 2008 it was June before Hillary Clinton conceded defeat to Barack Obama.  Obama, of course, beat McCain who had the luxury of having wrapped up his nomination months earlier.  In 1980, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush battled until late May before Bush ended his quest for the nomination.  In fact, Reagan lost many early primaries that year before finding his footing, emerging victorious and eventually defeating incumbent President Jimmy Carter in November.

The real reason the establishment wants to truncate the nomination race is so that it can exert more control over the ultimate nominee.  A shorter primary and caucus season makes it more difficult for a grassroots candidate to emerge and plays to the advantage of those with the party machinery behind them.  This, of course, makes it far less likely a candidate from the conservative wing of the party claims the nomination.

To push for such a scenario ignores the central lesson of the 2012 nomination process.  Voters four years ago made it abundantly clear they did not want Mitt Romney as their nominee.  Romney was not a front-runner until very late in the process.  As alternatives to Romney emerged his campaign destroyed them one by one in an electoral version of whack-a-mole.  Tim Pawlenty, Michelle Bachman, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, each surged to the top of the polls only to be destroyed by Romney.  Even after all of that, the movement of just a few thousand voters in the Michigan and Ohio primaries would have given the nomination to Santorum.

Voters wanted anybody but Romney, but the establishment prevailed, ended the contest halfway through the primary calendar and anointed a candidate who went on lose an eminently winnable general election.  The GOP lost the presidency in 2012 not because the primary season went on too long; it lost because it ignored the message being sent by voters.

Headed into 2016 the national GOP hopes to arrive at a nominee early in the year.  With a large field of highly qualified candidates that would be yet another big mistake.  It is important that voters all across America get the opportunity to participate in the process.  The goal should be to nominate a candidate who can win, not to nominate a candidate quickly.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org).

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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