Two cats fighting on the back fence can ruin a man’s sleep, but in the cat world, the noisy arguments between Tom and his feline lady friends rarely settle anything. All they accomplish is more cats.
The Democrats have used this formula to great advantage over the years, squabbling like cats and moving on to win elections so they can put far-reaching legislative programs in place. Most of all, Democrats love to fight.
“I’m not a member of an organized political party,” the comedian and philosopher Will Rogers famously said. “I’m a Democrat.”
The Republicans don’t quite get how the game works; they blew a reasonably promising opportunity to take back the U.S. Senate last year when Republican nominees in Missouri and Indiana decided they wanted to be gynecologists, not senators, and lectured voters on how babies are made. The party still might have made it to a Senate majority if other Republicans — the elites, as they imagine themselves — had not saved the Democrats the trouble of organizing a lynch mob. The Democrats politely stepped aside and let the Republican elites lead in destroying their nominees.
Democrats would never have played the game quite that way. They’re not much concerned with good manners or the rules of the Marquis of Queensbury, or the rules of a marquis of anywhere else. They have their own housebreaking rituals, but want first of all to win elections. They generally take the advice that Ronald Reagan once gave to his party, “speak no ill of another Republican.” The Gipper knew the opposition would do that, so why help them?
This week, conservatives from everywhere, Republicans all, converged on Washington — actually a suburb of Washington — for the annual winter meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, an occasion to size up ambitious governors, senators and others who would be president, and to indulge talk and speculation about 2016. This year they’re “a contentious generation of conservatives,” as The Washington Times called them, learning to squabble successfully like cats and Democrats.
In the wake of losing a national election, there’s always lots to view with alarm, and not much to point with pride about, as the cliche goes. Some of the contentious conservatives are still taking their cues from the Democrats and media liberals as if by long habit, pounding on Barack Obama’s talking points by continuing to blame George W. Bush for drones, global warming, sinkholes, immigration woes, the economy, the heartbreak of psoriasis and whatever else the White House can find in the morning papers to drool over.
Angelo Codevilla, a professor at Boston University and a CPAC panelist on “the costs of war,” is among those unable to climb out of the rut of 2008. He’s terrified of the buzz that Jeb Bush may be the man for 2016. He thinks Jeb should be “smart enough to know that the name ‘Bush’ is poison in American politics today. The left hates [George W.] and nobody on the right really likes him. If somehow the Republican Party were to nominate Jeb Bush you would have the final defeat of the Republican Party. The Republican Party would cease to exist.”
Or not. There’s always an appetite for doom and gloom, but others at CPAC don’t share the vision of doom and gloom so deep that nothing short of an asteroid, preferably a big one like the one that killed the dinosaurs, could challenge the resurgence of the Bush family.
Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, thinks the record of the two Bush presidencies is “mixed” and the positives might outweigh the negatives of the younger brother and former governor of Florida. No one else starts with the strengths of a Bush, he says, “and no family has [such an] attractive Rolodex as the Bush family does, with thousands of loyal followers.”
The great mass of Americans can’t understand why anyone would be talking about an election four years away; most Americans are enjoying the luxury of not thinking about politics at all. But politics and the future is what CPAC is all about; if you don’t obsess about the next election 24/7, CPAC is not the place for you.
Choosing a front-runner for ‘16 is an exercise only for silly people. Of 18 straw polls taken at CPAC to predict Republican nominees, only three accurately predicted actual nominees. Straw polls are nevertheless harmless unless taken seriously. But passionate preference can be fun. You could ask the cat.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.