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With 2020 soon approaching, and with seemingly every registered Democrat alive throwing his hat into the ring of presidential contenders, Twitt . . . er, the country is bracing itself for what is sure to be the most contentious election cycle ever.
Among the most difficult parts of navigating these cycles effectively is balancing punditry and principle versus practical, intelligent, and successful campaigning. These two Ps—practicality and principle—are invariably at tension with each other during an election season.
On the surface, the two seem like polar opposites. Campaigning, after all, is the domain of consultants, whereas pundits shape the political conversation. But this is fallacious. Ultimately, it’s the national discussion that drives voters to elect candidates.
In order for a party to walk away from a cycle in victory, it needs to manage both facets: keep the party dedicated to the principles their voters care about and win the most seats possible, from the local school board to the Oval Office.
In blue and purple states the importance of this balance cannot be understated. This is the philosophy and balance that has led now-Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts to be perhaps “the most popular elected official in the U.S. of either party” in a region hostile to Republican ideology. And what happens when a party loses balance? Look no further than Alabama, where unpalatable conservative Republican Roy Moore lost in a deep red state.
And while the balance I’m describing may seem straightforward enough, both of the mainstream political parties in America consistently fail to achieve it.
Principle Matters But Requires Winning
In Republican circles, specifically, candidates who moderate their stances away from the traditional party platform in an effort to be competitive in a blue or purple state are called RINOs. On the other hand, principled influencers are called unrealistic ideologues. What each side misses is that there is a crucially important role for both to play in order to win elections and control the narrative.
Before discussing those roles, it would be prudent to clarify that I am not grouping those who are dedicated to winning races with the online group of folks who became represented by the “muh principles” meme. The characters represented by that phrase were willing to throw away principles and qualities traditionally considered important in assessing a party leader for the sake of winning the presidency. But these very people would likely be opposed to a pro-choice Republican in New York, for example.
No, the consultants I’m talking about are people who would support that pro-choice Republican to prevent a New York “democratic socialist” from winning the seat.
And the truth is, that is a valiant and necessary effort. Winning competitive seats in blue states (consider New York’s 11th Congressional District, which was flipped last cycle) is often the difference between holding the House of Representatives or not.
In other words, it is imperative for the good of the country and the good of the party that operatives, candidates, and campaigns sometimes fold on some principle to hold on to their seats. It is imperative that these campaigns are run practically. Having worked on campaigns in blue states, I have sat through painstaking discussions in which a candidate has to decide which issues to discuss. Some of those issues might run counter to the goals of the party. This is not done with ease, but it is the only way we can maintain power in important institutions. Then, once the GOP holds those seats, they can use the platform to try and move the status quo rightward. But that, obviously, can never happen if these seats aren’t won in the first place.
Winning Matters Because of Principle
That being said, there is little that is more important to our culture and our society than playing a serious role in the national conversation. These conversations drive voters and voter turnout. It is absolutely key to conservative causes that these principled commentators continue to ensure that the positions of the party don’t lean to the left and we even burden them with the task of continuing to move the Overton Window to the right.
Where we go wrong is when these factions go at each other’s throats. Indeed, practicality and principle are both necessary in order to win. But many in both of these camps aren’t aware of that because they haven’t been on the other side.
This is especially the case in today’s age where being a pundit is almost solely dependent on whether you are a skilled tweet-crafter, as opposed to the previous era where becoming a pundit required practical experience, such as high-level government employment or working on political campaigns. In essence, the criteria for being a political “influencer” are charisma and building a persona as opposed to hands-on experience. These folks are often very good at perpetuating philosophies, but they sometimes lack the prudence to know when to compromise for the sake of winning elections.
Therefore, with 2020 fast approaching, and with more people becoming engaged in political activism, it is crucial that the Right reconcile the two Ps of party politics. The success or failure of this endeavor will inform the success or failure of the upcoming election cycle.
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