It's a daunting moment for conservatives. To have even a chance for a semblance of a conservative future in the United States, we probably need (1) to elect a GOP Congress in 2014, which (2) does well enough in the majority for the next two years to (3) allow a Republican to win the White House in 2016, who will then (4) have to restore our military strength and morale while (5) dealing urgently with serious threats abroad, in the meantime (6) repealing and replacing Obamacare, (7) moving decisively to roll back the smothering and enervating nanny state, (8) enacting an economic growth agenda that benefits Middle America, and (9) saving the Supreme Court and therewith the Constitution. Then (10) this conservative president has to get reelected in 2020.
I’m not sure there’s a single one of these items conservatives can afford not to accomplish. I am sure there are other important tasks I haven’t mentioned. And all of this will have to be achieved over the resistance of media, educational, and government elites, with the support of a public suffering from a certain amount of cultural confusion, in a nation many of whose crucial institutions have been weakened or corrupted.
Dealing with some of these tasks will require caution and diligence. Dealing with others will require boldness and daring. In fact, dealing with each of these challenges will demand a mixture of caution and boldness, of diligence and daring.
That’s one reason politics is interesting. It’s hard to know ahead of time just when to be bold and when cautious, when daring and when diligent. In fact, it’s a mistake to think that you can figure that out ahead of time. One might call it a fatal conceit. In any case, in a free society, in a free political movement, there will be differences on such questions. The belief that there will be unity about strategy and tactics, or emphases and priorities, is a fantasy.
So there’ll be disagreement and debate on the right over the next year and a half. There’ll be disagreement and debate about congressional strategy and tactics. There’ll be disagreement and debate about the merits of various presidential possibilities. There’ll be honest differences of opinion and inevitable divergences of ambition.
There’s not much point worrying about it. Conservatives nonetheless will. It’s human nature, and it’s perhaps especially conservatives’ nature to cherish harmony and to hope that one’s own side will be in accord. There will be dismay about effort wasted fighting among ourselves, and laments about circular firing squads, and exasperation that everyone isn’t marching to the beat of the same drummer. But in today’s conservative movement there’s no drum major.
And there shouldn’t be. No one faction will have it all right. The establishment will overvalue going along to get along, and insurgents will overly cherish fighting for fighting’s sake. The partisans of various issues will jostle for pride of place. There will be tension between the operatives who slavishly follow the polls as they gaze into the rearview mirror and the visionaries who claim gifts of prophecy and the ability to look ahead and see around corners.
We’ll have to get used to the discord, and we should embrace the hurly-burly. Successful political movements aren’t well-organized bureaucracies or even well-ordered armies. (Successful armies often aren’t well-ordered armies.) Conservatives will have to accept more diversity of views, debate about strategy, and disorder in the ranks than they’re comfortable with. But comfort isn’t everything. In politics it’s often not even a good thing. Its discomfort that’s usually the spur to fresh thinking, to strenuous effort, to surprising victory.
So conservatives will have to make debate, diversity, and disorder their friend. They’ll have to appreciate ambiguity, cooperate with complexity, come to live with confusion.
Of course there are times when (relative) unity is important. In the key moments of congressional confrontation, in national debates when the battle is fully joined, in the last months of a presidential campaign, unity is needed to prevail. And so, having marched separately as they must, the various parts of the movement will then have to strike together. At that point: e pluribus unum. But before then, for most of the next year and a half, we’ll have to get used to lots of pluribus, and we’ll have to make a virtue of not much unum.