Complacent conservatives should learn the Murkowski lesson

· October 5, 2018  
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Lisa Murkowski
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg | Getty Images

If we are so busy “owning the libs” that we ignore the libs festering within our own ranks to the point where “our party” agrees with 90 percent of what the libs want, isn’t it time we focused on cleaning our own house?

The biggest news of the day outside the Kavanaugh cloture vote in the Senate is that one Republican, Lisa Murkowski from the solid red state of Alaska, voted against him. Suddenly, conservative commentators, writers, fund-raisers, and noisemakers are appalled by her behavior and reminiscing about the 2010 primary, when Joe Miller successfully wrestled the GOP nomination away from Murkowski, only to lose to her in a write-in bid for the general election. Some have focused on GOP establishment figures helping Murkowski behind the scenes to win in the general election. But what everyone seems to miss is that there was another challenge in 2016, after six more years of betrayals from Murkowski, including voting for almost all of Obama’s judicial nominees. The fact that so many of these “professional” activists don’t even recall that election is itself problematic.

A healthy conservative movement would have ensured that McConnell and party leaders denied Murkowski support for the GOP nomination in 2016 after she left the party in 2010, was pro-abortion, and failed to exhibit a modicum of support for anything in the party’s platform. Yet our side, always lacking the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time, was so fixated on Trump and the liberal reaction to Trump – and the reaction to the reaction – that it missed the trend of nominating more liberals than ever to the House and Senate. We all are painfully aware of how we paid for complacency in 2016. That complacency continued into this year, when all we cared about was the Democrats and the media and we allowed many seats to fall into the hands of RINOs. This is why almost all the victories we’ve had were that things Trump was able to do without Congress.

Joe Miller managed to secure the Libertarian Party nomination to challenge Murkowski in a four-person race in the general election of 2016. As I noted in my endorsement of Miller, he had a terrific shot at winning, given the dynamics. Indeed, Murkowski only got 44 percent of the vote. Miller had a strong showing at 30 percent, but had not a penny to his name because no conservative organization, much less the party establishment, focused on him.

Don’t give me the excuse of party labels. Everyone knew that Miller was really a conservative Republican using the other party for ballot access and that he would be a solid vote for all Trump’s nominees. Everyone knew where Murkowski was on judicial nominees, and indeed, Miller warned about this very outcome on my podcast during the 2016 election.

But we were all complacent, as we have been in almost every single primary the past two cycles. We allow one RINO after another in the reddest of states and districts to continue winning, and many of them even get Trump’s support.

Primaries matter. Nominating Republicans who will fight on the budget, immigration, and health care matters.

Look around the map and name me a handful of House and Senate candidates you are inspired by. No, we don’t need a Dave Brat or Jim Jordan from every state, although that would be nice. Is it too much to ask that we strive for a Marsha Blackburn from every red state? At least she is promoting our messaging on immigration and other issues. Many of the other candidates that we so badly hope will win have Liberty Scores in the 30s, support amnesty, and are running on the core elements of Obamacare.

Where is our strategy for the day after November 7 to work state by state and district by district for 2020 to select the best Republicans and to pressure Trump to lend his support to the right candidates? Where is our strategy to ensure that we don’t continue codifying Democrat priorities on almost every domestic policy issue?

There is still one outstanding race left this year. The primary for the open seat left by Thad Cochran in Mississippi is being held on general election day. Mitch McConnell ensured that the governor appointed a know-nothing big-government Republican who was a Democrat her entire life. Will Cindy Hyde-Smith be as bad as Murkowski and sink GOP judicial nominees? No. But is this the best we can do from a state this red with a guy like Chris McDaniel running against her? He is just five points behind, yet because conservatives have been asleep, Trump was given a free pass to endorse the Swamp against a man who arguably catalyzed the Trump movement and won the Republican vote against Thad Cochran in 2014.

So, what are we going to do after November? Just focus on the presidential election? We will never change the outcome of most domestic policy with the same congressional leaders and rank-and-file, especially when Trump signals support for Kevin McCarthy as GOP leader. The outcome will not be any better than it was this term. We need a strategy to elect better Republicans early on and pressure a ready and willing President Trump to get on the right side of this. He can’t drain the Swamp by refilling it.

Without Trump’s support, it is nearly impossible to win a primary against the party apparatus. Conservative candidates are all torn to shreds by endless smears, some of which are almost as bad as the ones against Kavanaugh. Except, unlike Kavanaugh, who is revered by the establishment, for these candidates, most D.C. conservative media figures join the pile-on or completely ignore the attacks.

We have a blueprint to electing more conservatives by ensuring grassroots candidates that if they toss their hats in the ring, we will help secure a Trump endorsement, which is worth more than $1 million in donations. That in itself will help attract better grassroots candidates if they know they will have his backing, which will protect them from the inevitable smear machine.

Ultimately, there is a third option between voting Republican or Democrat in November. It’s engaging in all the primaries before November and also staying engaged and using our platforms in this industry to inform our core base of the key legislative fights and make the members feel the pressure and the pain.

It’s lazy and intellectually dishonest to ignore almost every meaningful policy fight and primary opportunity within a two-year interval, only to focus on voting Republican at all costs on the first Tuesday in every November. I could respect the “we can’t let Democrats win” crowd a lot more if they actually joined us and methodically ensured long before November that we are not indeed nominating Democrats under our own banner.

It’s time to learn from our mistakes and get to work.


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Author: Daniel Horowitz

Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.