The truth is dead on the Right. It has been replaced by tribalism. And the fact is, it’s been that way for a while.
My first exposure to this came during the 2008 Iowa caucuses, which is when I cut my teeth and made my bones politically. I was working for the most influential media outlet for the state’s conservatives and surveying the presidential candidates. I didn’t see anyone who totally blew me away, but there were a couple I liked. With one of them, however — Mike Huckabee — I had more in common culturally than politically. I was to the Right of him on several issues.
But in the end, I decided to support Huckabee vociferously in that campaign. Many in the media credited my show for the role it played in his historic upset. One of the primary reasons for my support was the clear double standard I witnessed within “conservative media.” There was another Republican governor whom many in “conservative media” preferred in that cycle — Mitt Romney. And though I had issues with some of Huckabee’s gubernatorial record, when I looked at Romney’s in Massachusetts, it was comprehensively liberal.
Heck, with Romneycare, Mitt gave Obama his worst idea before he had it. Even the battles Obamacare spawned, like forcing religious institutions to violate their consciences, for instance, had their origins in Romney’s Massachusetts (as did so-called “gay marriage”).
Yet those of us who simply wanted to vet Romney’s record with the same care as Huckabee’s were instantly labeled “anti-Mormon bigots” by the allegedly smart set in “conservative media.” Nothing but a bunch of fundy rubes, because there was no reason to believe a Massachusetts liberal might not be the “the next Reagan” other than that you just hate Joseph Smith.
Now, do I agree with Mormon theology? No, because if I did, I’d be a Mormon, obviously. However, my book “Rules for Patriots” was inspired by the winning advice I gave to the first Mormon to win statewide office here in Iowa. For the second time in my career, I just finished taking my audience through a weekly series right out of “The 5,000 Year Leap,” written by the great BYU professor (and LDS church member) Cleon Skousen. I have a movie deal for my last book, “A Nefarious Plot,” because Believe Entertainment heard about me through the Glenn Beck show.
So kindly take your “anti-Mormon bigotry” card and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. When you call me a “bigot” simply for wanting to look critically at someone’s record, I know you’re demagoguing me like the Left does. And if you do me like the Left does, I’m gonna do you like I do the Left.
So I destroyed Romney’s caucus candidacy that cycle. I’m not the reason Huckabee won, because candidates win elections, not talk show hosts. But I am definitely the reason Romney lost in Iowa, and I have never regretted it. I did the opposition research Huckabee didn’t have either the stomach or the resources for.
Many of you reading this have had a similar awakening. Yes, you winced at Todd Akin’s ridiculously dumb comments. But you also smelled a rat when you saw the establishment threaten churches in Missouri with loss of their tax-exempt status (I saw the emails myself) if they didn’t join in urging him to drop out of the race. You’ve noticed these past few years that there are two sets of standards — the one they hold us to, and the one they don’t hold themselves to.
However, while we’ve correctly diagnosed the disease, my fear is that we’ve chosen the wrong cure. For many of us have also decided the best way to defeat their double standard is to have one of our own.
And now all is tribalism. Tribalism is all.
So we are no longer having the GOP’s traditional ideological argument between moderates and conservatives, or RINOs and activists. What we’re really having now is a power struggle between two factions that no longer wish to work together. And like every nasty divorce, once you make up your mind that the other side is the enemy, you justify defeating them by any means necessary.
That brings us to the title of this column.
My wife and I have watched every episode of “Survivor.” We know all its archetypes and tropes. And if you want to know what the Republican Party has become, and what will happen next, “Survivor” is a Rosetta Stone.
Every season on “Survivor,” there’s a merge, when all the competing tribes are merged into one for the final push to the end. Once this merge occurs, two competing alliances will immediately form and attempt to get rid of each other through scheming and plotting — much of it shady.
However, there’s always at least one holdout from this binary choice. The holdout attempts to rise above the rancor and deception, walk the narrow road, call balls and strikes — maintain integrity.
The holdout is always voted out first — because the only thing both untrustworthy tribes can agree on is they don’t trust the fence-straddlers.
This is where things are now in the Republican Party.
After the victorious 2016 election, all these tribes were merged into one. And now there are two alliances. There’s the “smart set” (Swamp, establishment, etc.) and the Bannon set (grassroots, activists, etc.) Oh, it’s more complicated than that; people can’t be painted with a broad brush, and this battle predates Bannon’s recent rise by several years, but perception is also reality.
Thus, since that is the perception, that is our reality.
What will happen next is we all must choose. Not choosing will be considered a choice, and those who make that non-choice and try to rise above will be voted out first — for they will be trusted least. And you’re already seeing that when you look at who’s winning primaries, who’s drawing ratings/traffic, gaining followers, etc.
That leaves three options.
One tribe believes its control over the system is needed to either line their donors’ pockets, rein in a rabid base they’re actually ashamed of, maintain the status quo for the purposes of keeping the cultural peace, etc. Some subscribe to all of these reasons, or maybe just one of them. Regardless, this is why they’re in this alliance. And they believe so much in this alliance that they will do and say things to those in the other alliance they’d never do or say about the Democrats.
The other tribe believes the status quo must be disrupted, because the country is at an existential crossroads. And since there’s no platform other than the GOP to oppose the Left on the cultural battlefield, they will even overlook the failings of their champions for what they see as the greater good. Plus, they’re tired of disarming for virtue’s sake against those who never return the favor — either on the Left or in the other alliance. So it’s storm the Bastille or bust.
If you are right of center, you will not be able to accomplish anything worth the trouble that comes with being active in politics unless you join one of these tribes.
And when you join, you must join. It’s like a marriage. You know the other person has faults, but your love for them overcomes those faults — even the crazy in-laws. From there, you will either hang together, or you will hang separately, depending on who wins.
Finally, for those of you who can’t bring yourselves to join either of these tribes, you have no place here. You’re voted out. So choose another path — Convention of the States, ministry, worldview training, forming a new party, or another career altogether.
Oh, and if you think the access the liberal media is giving you to keep it real is helping you reach the unwashed, think again. Sure, I get those emails, too, from folks happy to find “a reasonable conservative” after I hold both sides to the same standard. But the moment I actually prove on the air that I’m an actual conservative and not David Rodham Gergen, many of those same people who previously thanked me for my honesty email me back with their “disappointment” (while calling me a racist, misogynist, homophobe, etc.).
See, we’re giving progressives the siren song they want to hear. Even when we call out the Left while calling out our own, they just ignore that part. Because they abandoned the standard we’re holding ourselves to long ago. Therefore, all they hear is “the Right is as hypocritical as we think, so we have permission to hate them and continue destroying the country.” Then they thank us for it by booking/requesting more appearances, while many in our base see us as giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
It’s heads they win, tails we lose.
All of us now will have to make a choice. Play the game, or decide the only way to win the game is not to play.
And I do mean all of us.