Lessons for Conservatives

Republicans won big in the 2010 elections on a conservative wave.  But there are also lessons conservatives could take away from their victory.

They have a genuine popular movement in the Tea Party.  But Tea Partiers must remember that they have to field good candidates.  A person who just has the right beliefs or even the person who leads the local organization is not necessarily going to be a good candidate or an effective office-holder.  The Tea Party brought some new blood into the political scene, and some of their candidates–I think of Marco Rubio–are quite talented and have bright futures.  But when the Tea Parties fielded candidates whose only qualification was their zeal, they lost.

What are some other lessons conservatives can learn from the elections?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Matt Jamison

    I’m having a hard time seeing a real distinction between the Tea Party movement and plain old conservatism. The label “conservative” became meaningless during the Bush years as Republicans went for some unconservative ideas. To me, the Tea Party looks like a clever rebranding of an existing coalition.

    The whole idea of a Tea Party movement dates from January, 2009. Most of the candidates in this election were on the scene being described as conservatives long before anyone started using the Tea Party language.

  • Matt Jamison

    I’m having a hard time seeing a real distinction between the Tea Party movement and plain old conservatism. The label “conservative” became meaningless during the Bush years as Republicans went for some unconservative ideas. To me, the Tea Party looks like a clever rebranding of an existing coalition.

    The whole idea of a Tea Party movement dates from January, 2009. Most of the candidates in this election were on the scene being described as conservatives long before anyone started using the Tea Party language.

  • Tom Hering

    The biggest lesson conservatives can take away is that this wasn’t a conservative wave.

    Sure, conservatives voted in opposition to the Democrats (and to some incumbent Republicans). Liberals voted in grudging support of the Democrats. And everyone else just voted for change – any change – that might result in the economy being fixed.

    It’s amazing to me how we’re an ideologically divided nation the day before an election, yet somehow the day after, we’ve all sent Washington a single, unified message.

    This is the same lesson liberals should have taken away from 2008. It wasn’t a liberal wave. And Democrats shouldn’t have governed as if it was.

  • Tom Hering

    The biggest lesson conservatives can take away is that this wasn’t a conservative wave.

    Sure, conservatives voted in opposition to the Democrats (and to some incumbent Republicans). Liberals voted in grudging support of the Democrats. And everyone else just voted for change – any change – that might result in the economy being fixed.

    It’s amazing to me how we’re an ideologically divided nation the day before an election, yet somehow the day after, we’ve all sent Washington a single, unified message.

    This is the same lesson liberals should have taken away from 2008. It wasn’t a liberal wave. And Democrats shouldn’t have governed as if it was.

  • Carl Vehse

    Conservatives need to remember why they were elected and the job they were elected to do. GOP-controlled state legislatures and governorships also need to remember their redistricting duties coming up next year. Michelle Malkin provides the details in her McAuliffesque column, “Take Your Olive Branch and Shove It, Democrats.”

  • Carl Vehse

    Conservatives need to remember why they were elected and the job they were elected to do. GOP-controlled state legislatures and governorships also need to remember their redistricting duties coming up next year. Michelle Malkin provides the details in her McAuliffesque column, “Take Your Olive Branch and Shove It, Democrats.”

  • Tom Hering

    Stick with that attitude, Mr. Vehse. Please. It guarantees conservative defeats down the road. :-)

  • Tom Hering

    Stick with that attitude, Mr. Vehse. Please. It guarantees conservative defeats down the road. :-)

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Stick with that attitude, Mr. Vehse. Please. It guarantees conservative defeats down the road.”

    I am not so sure that the hard line uncompromising attitudes put people off. I think folks are draw to them. They indicate confidence and social dominance. Being too willing to compromise is probably more likely to backfire. This has nothing to do with the actual issues of course, just people’s reaction to certain attitudes.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Stick with that attitude, Mr. Vehse. Please. It guarantees conservative defeats down the road.”

    I am not so sure that the hard line uncompromising attitudes put people off. I think folks are draw to them. They indicate confidence and social dominance. Being too willing to compromise is probably more likely to backfire. This has nothing to do with the actual issues of course, just people’s reaction to certain attitudes.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    What conservatives need to do here is simply to clearly, and consistently, state why the nanny state is wrong, vote accordingly, and keep an eye on scandals. It was scandals and inconsistency as much as anything else that torpedoed Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America. Tom is right that this wasn’t a conservative wave, though it will, thankfully, throw a monkey wrench in the Democrats’ plans. However, if the GOP plays this politely, but emphatically, it will become one.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    What conservatives need to do here is simply to clearly, and consistently, state why the nanny state is wrong, vote accordingly, and keep an eye on scandals. It was scandals and inconsistency as much as anything else that torpedoed Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America. Tom is right that this wasn’t a conservative wave, though it will, thankfully, throw a monkey wrench in the Democrats’ plans. However, if the GOP plays this politely, but emphatically, it will become one.

  • Kirk

    I think that this election has shown that the Tea Party needs to choose its candidates more wisely. Between Palidino, O’Donnell, Miller and Angle, it seems that moderates are more willing to go with establishment candidates than with hardcore Tea Partiers. The conservatives dodged a bullet in Alaska, as Murkowski is still pretty conservative, but the NY and DE races could have easily been won if decent candidates had run. It goes to show that just because someone claims a label that is ideologically appealing, it can’t outweigh fringe ideology or erratic behavior. I know “moderate” is a dirty word to many, but you’ve still got to appeal to them to win races. It’s just a fact of life in a two party system.

  • Kirk

    I think that this election has shown that the Tea Party needs to choose its candidates more wisely. Between Palidino, O’Donnell, Miller and Angle, it seems that moderates are more willing to go with establishment candidates than with hardcore Tea Partiers. The conservatives dodged a bullet in Alaska, as Murkowski is still pretty conservative, but the NY and DE races could have easily been won if decent candidates had run. It goes to show that just because someone claims a label that is ideologically appealing, it can’t outweigh fringe ideology or erratic behavior. I know “moderate” is a dirty word to many, but you’ve still got to appeal to them to win races. It’s just a fact of life in a two party system.

  • Matt Jamison

    The Tea Party idea represents an attack by conservatives on the Republican establishment and its candidates. But there is no real candidate selection process here, instead, the Tea Party groups chose which candidates to put their energy behind.

    Sharron Angle has been doing her thing for decades in the Nevada Legislature as a kind of maverick conservative Republican. Christine O’Donnell’s bio shows that she is completely the product of the conservative and Republican establishments.

    So the Tea Party did not create or recruit these candidates. Instead, in some cases, the Tea Party seems to be nothing more than an angry repudiation of pragmatic candidate selection among Republicans.

  • Matt Jamison

    The Tea Party idea represents an attack by conservatives on the Republican establishment and its candidates. But there is no real candidate selection process here, instead, the Tea Party groups chose which candidates to put their energy behind.

    Sharron Angle has been doing her thing for decades in the Nevada Legislature as a kind of maverick conservative Republican. Christine O’Donnell’s bio shows that she is completely the product of the conservative and Republican establishments.

    So the Tea Party did not create or recruit these candidates. Instead, in some cases, the Tea Party seems to be nothing more than an angry repudiation of pragmatic candidate selection among Republicans.

  • Carl Vehse

    The Tea Party idea represents an attack by conservatives on the Republican establishment and its candidates.

    Actually it was more of an attack on the RINO establishment. Even Sarah Palin received some criticism by conservatives for her support of RINO (and former running mate) John McCain.

    This, of course, was tempered with the realization that Palin deserves a significant part of the credit for her help and campaigning toward Tuesday’s GOP victories. And those GOP statehouse takeovers in many states will have a long-term effect on Congressional elections.

    In the short term, the Tea Party supporters can relish the public humiliation of the TOTUS’s mouthpiece and his party. But not for too long; the new Congress will need to start its efforts to dismantle the 0bamination agenda in January. And in two years the Tea Party Republicans will be graded by the electorate on how well they did.

  • Carl Vehse

    The Tea Party idea represents an attack by conservatives on the Republican establishment and its candidates.

    Actually it was more of an attack on the RINO establishment. Even Sarah Palin received some criticism by conservatives for her support of RINO (and former running mate) John McCain.

    This, of course, was tempered with the realization that Palin deserves a significant part of the credit for her help and campaigning toward Tuesday’s GOP victories. And those GOP statehouse takeovers in many states will have a long-term effect on Congressional elections.

    In the short term, the Tea Party supporters can relish the public humiliation of the TOTUS’s mouthpiece and his party. But not for too long; the new Congress will need to start its efforts to dismantle the 0bamination agenda in January. And in two years the Tea Party Republicans will be graded by the electorate on how well they did.

  • Daniel Gorman

    American voters don’t want a big government, big spending, Neocon like John Boehner as the next House Speaker. Republican congressmen would be wise to elect a real conservative like Ron Paul for the job.

  • Daniel Gorman

    American voters don’t want a big government, big spending, Neocon like John Boehner as the next House Speaker. Republican congressmen would be wise to elect a real conservative like Ron Paul for the job.

  • Porcell

    The Tea Party is indeed a formidable populist movement that wants spending, especially entitlements, under control; however its fringe candidates who lack political finesse will properly not get elected.

    The most salient lesson from this election is that a very large segment of the American people has had it with the sort of self-serving, Inside the Beltway politics that doesn’t seriously address vital American issues. They know that they were had by Obama who claimed that he would change the way politics was done in Washington.

    The Republicans are now on probation; they had better come up with credible, serious proposals to address the issues and manage these proposals with courage and integrity, as well as finesse. Otherwise, we shall need to go through the pain of forming a third country party..

  • Porcell

    The Tea Party is indeed a formidable populist movement that wants spending, especially entitlements, under control; however its fringe candidates who lack political finesse will properly not get elected.

    The most salient lesson from this election is that a very large segment of the American people has had it with the sort of self-serving, Inside the Beltway politics that doesn’t seriously address vital American issues. They know that they were had by Obama who claimed that he would change the way politics was done in Washington.

    The Republicans are now on probation; they had better come up with credible, serious proposals to address the issues and manage these proposals with courage and integrity, as well as finesse. Otherwise, we shall need to go through the pain of forming a third country party..

  • rlewer

    The liberals were elected 2 years ago and overplayed their hand. and were rejected. The conservatives need to be careful not do to the same. The balance in this country is still on the center-right. Either fringe will be rejected.

  • rlewer

    The liberals were elected 2 years ago and overplayed their hand. and were rejected. The conservatives need to be careful not do to the same. The balance in this country is still on the center-right. Either fringe will be rejected.

  • DonS

    Addressing the issue of candidate selection, sometimes a movement’s strategic interests are better served by running a candidate who can’t win THAT election, than by running a candidate who has a better chance of winning THAT election, but also may damage the movement long term.

    Kirk said “but the NY and DE races could have easily been won if decent candidates had run”. Well, yes, Mike Castle would probably have beaten Chris Coons in the DE race, but he is so moderate that he was judged to make an unreliable ally in the Senate, and not worth backing. I didn’t agree with that particular judgement, but I can see the logic in it, as I will explain in a moment. As for NY, I strongly disagree that any Republican could have “easily” won the NY gubernatorial race against Chris Cuomo. What is your basis for saying that? NY Republicans won no statewide races, and the two Senatorial races, against the undistinguished Gillibrand and the corrupt Schumer, with two decent candidates, were lost by about the same extreme margin (on the order of 60-35%) as the gubernatorial race.

    Now, back to the “damage” premise. Extremely moderate Republican senators have damaged the Republican brand in the past. Look at Arlen Spector, Jim Jeffords, and Lincoln Chafee as stark examples of Republican failures. They all eventually bolted the party, but beforehand contributed in great measure to the Republicans’ reputation as “Democrats-lite”, which is played up on this blog all the time. Republicans desiring genuine change have calculated that short – term gain (eg getting Republican Mike Castle into the Senate) isn’t worth the long-term damage to the brand for the sake of one more short-term seat. Can’t say as I blame them for that calculation.

    Here in California, Schwarzenegger did incalculable damage to the Republican brand. Those of us who voted for him because we thought, at least he is a Republican, rue that day a thousand times over. It cost us many seats in this election and a horrible global warming law which will cripple our economy as jobs flee to neighboring states that were not so stupid as to handcuff their economies voluntarily for no good purpose. It also brought us Jerry Brown. Short term gain in 2003 — long term pain in 2010.

  • DonS

    Addressing the issue of candidate selection, sometimes a movement’s strategic interests are better served by running a candidate who can’t win THAT election, than by running a candidate who has a better chance of winning THAT election, but also may damage the movement long term.

    Kirk said “but the NY and DE races could have easily been won if decent candidates had run”. Well, yes, Mike Castle would probably have beaten Chris Coons in the DE race, but he is so moderate that he was judged to make an unreliable ally in the Senate, and not worth backing. I didn’t agree with that particular judgement, but I can see the logic in it, as I will explain in a moment. As for NY, I strongly disagree that any Republican could have “easily” won the NY gubernatorial race against Chris Cuomo. What is your basis for saying that? NY Republicans won no statewide races, and the two Senatorial races, against the undistinguished Gillibrand and the corrupt Schumer, with two decent candidates, were lost by about the same extreme margin (on the order of 60-35%) as the gubernatorial race.

    Now, back to the “damage” premise. Extremely moderate Republican senators have damaged the Republican brand in the past. Look at Arlen Spector, Jim Jeffords, and Lincoln Chafee as stark examples of Republican failures. They all eventually bolted the party, but beforehand contributed in great measure to the Republicans’ reputation as “Democrats-lite”, which is played up on this blog all the time. Republicans desiring genuine change have calculated that short – term gain (eg getting Republican Mike Castle into the Senate) isn’t worth the long-term damage to the brand for the sake of one more short-term seat. Can’t say as I blame them for that calculation.

    Here in California, Schwarzenegger did incalculable damage to the Republican brand. Those of us who voted for him because we thought, at least he is a Republican, rue that day a thousand times over. It cost us many seats in this election and a horrible global warming law which will cripple our economy as jobs flee to neighboring states that were not so stupid as to handcuff their economies voluntarily for no good purpose. It also brought us Jerry Brown. Short term gain in 2003 — long term pain in 2010.

  • DonS

    Porcell @ 11 says it well, insofar as the Republicans are, indeed, on probation. They were elected this cycle because they are not Democrats, and because it was perceived that Obama needs to be constrained. But if they fall into their old habits of earmarking like the Democrats and spending just a little bit less than the Democrats, they will lose their seats quickly, especially given the tilt of establishment media against them.

  • DonS

    Porcell @ 11 says it well, insofar as the Republicans are, indeed, on probation. They were elected this cycle because they are not Democrats, and because it was perceived that Obama needs to be constrained. But if they fall into their old habits of earmarking like the Democrats and spending just a little bit less than the Democrats, they will lose their seats quickly, especially given the tilt of establishment media against them.

  • DonS

    One other thing that needs to be emphasized going forward, perhaps more at the state and local level than nationally, is the impact of government labor unions and their rich defined benefit pension plans on government budgets and society at large. First, I don’t understand why government employees are unionized in the first place. The old civil service protections in effect prior to government unions are more than adequate, and if government is that much to be feared, why are we trusting it to protect us in other areas?

    Second, these pension obligations are beginning to crowd out other more worthy government spending priorities. I think this is an area conservatives AND liberals can work together to address. We need massive government employee compensation reform. It will be a tough fight against entrenched unions, but it is in the interests of both conservatives and liberals to see it get done. Those of us as conservatives need to start framing this issue in that way and start getting reasonable-minded liberals on board for what will be a necessary fight.

  • DonS

    One other thing that needs to be emphasized going forward, perhaps more at the state and local level than nationally, is the impact of government labor unions and their rich defined benefit pension plans on government budgets and society at large. First, I don’t understand why government employees are unionized in the first place. The old civil service protections in effect prior to government unions are more than adequate, and if government is that much to be feared, why are we trusting it to protect us in other areas?

    Second, these pension obligations are beginning to crowd out other more worthy government spending priorities. I think this is an area conservatives AND liberals can work together to address. We need massive government employee compensation reform. It will be a tough fight against entrenched unions, but it is in the interests of both conservatives and liberals to see it get done. Those of us as conservatives need to start framing this issue in that way and start getting reasonable-minded liberals on board for what will be a necessary fight.

  • Carl Vehse

    One lesson newly-elected Tea Party members of Congress will need to learn and use right away is to choose someone other than a Barry-boot-licking Eric Cantor as House Majority Leader.

  • Carl Vehse

    One lesson newly-elected Tea Party members of Congress will need to learn and use right away is to choose someone other than a Barry-boot-licking Eric Cantor as House Majority Leader.

  • Carl Vehse

    Kirk @7: “Murkowski is still pretty conservative

    Hey, that’s funny! Tell me another one.

  • Carl Vehse

    Kirk @7: “Murkowski is still pretty conservative

    Hey, that’s funny! Tell me another one.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “I know “moderate” is a dirty word to many, but you’ve still got to appeal to them to win races. It’s just a fact of life in a two party system.”

    Excellent point. A candidate doesn’t need to be moderate in order to win moderates.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “I know “moderate” is a dirty word to many, but you’ve still got to appeal to them to win races. It’s just a fact of life in a two party system.”

    Excellent point. A candidate doesn’t need to be moderate in order to win moderates.

  • Cincinnatus

    Wise words, Tom@2.

    Kirk@7: What the hell is a moderate?

  • Cincinnatus

    Wise words, Tom@2.

    Kirk@7: What the hell is a moderate?

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Acroamaticus

    What can conservatives learn?
    How about ‘Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men who cannot save’?

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Acroamaticus

    What can conservatives learn?
    How about ‘Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men who cannot save’?

  • Porcell

    Judging from this article WSJ today, John Boehner has got the message from the American people.

    He sums up with:

    The American people deserve a majority in Congress that listens to the people, focuses on their priorities and honors their demands for smaller, more accountable government. Accountability starts at the top, in the office of the speaker.

    Cynics will write this off as so much rhetoric, though he understands how the House Republicans failed in the past with Gingrich and Hastert . I find his resolution to change encouraging. He is one of the few congressmen who never sought earmarks.

  • Porcell

    Judging from this article WSJ today, John Boehner has got the message from the American people.

    He sums up with:

    The American people deserve a majority in Congress that listens to the people, focuses on their priorities and honors their demands for smaller, more accountable government. Accountability starts at the top, in the office of the speaker.

    Cynics will write this off as so much rhetoric, though he understands how the House Republicans failed in the past with Gingrich and Hastert . I find his resolution to change encouraging. He is one of the few congressmen who never sought earmarks.

  • Daniel Gorman

    John Boehner’s voting record speaks for itself. He’s just another big government, big spending, Neocon. If John Boehner wants us to believe that he’s really changed, he will surrender his House leadership position to a real conservative like Ron Paul.

  • Daniel Gorman

    John Boehner’s voting record speaks for itself. He’s just another big government, big spending, Neocon. If John Boehner wants us to believe that he’s really changed, he will surrender his House leadership position to a real conservative like Ron Paul.

  • Porcell

    Ron who?

  • Porcell

    Ron who?

  • Cincinnatus

    Ron Paul–you know, one of the few politicians in America with some level of integrity and a number of valid ideas?

  • Cincinnatus

    Ron Paul–you know, one of the few politicians in America with some level of integrity and a number of valid ideas?

  • Daniel Gorman

    And what about Mitch McConnell? After trying to derail Tea Partier Rand Paul, he says his number one goal is defeating Pres. Obama. Not cutting government spending or reducing the deficit or ending endless wars. I can understand that. During the Bush Administration, he was the President’s point man for the opposite of those things.

    It’s all about power, not principle, with Senator McConnell. Tea Party senators should replace him with someone who actually believes in the issues that they believe in.

  • Daniel Gorman

    And what about Mitch McConnell? After trying to derail Tea Partier Rand Paul, he says his number one goal is defeating Pres. Obama. Not cutting government spending or reducing the deficit or ending endless wars. I can understand that. During the Bush Administration, he was the President’s point man for the opposite of those things.

    It’s all about power, not principle, with Senator McConnell. Tea Party senators should replace him with someone who actually believes in the issues that they believe in.

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ Carol-Christian Soldier

    Miller-O’Donnell-were betrayed by the R elites-the NRSC being the most obvious in wishing to keep the ‘good ‘ol boy’ est. Rs in power–
    We did get Rubio-West-and several others on my ‘short list’–
    It is going to take 60-80 years to get back to the original Constitutional percepts and that can only happen if we take back the education system from avowed ‘progressives’ -
    It would help if Christian leaders would put their ‘toe to the line’ and dropped the PC inhibitors…
    Carol-CS

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ Carol-Christian Soldier

    Miller-O’Donnell-were betrayed by the R elites-the NRSC being the most obvious in wishing to keep the ‘good ‘ol boy’ est. Rs in power–
    We did get Rubio-West-and several others on my ‘short list’–
    It is going to take 60-80 years to get back to the original Constitutional percepts and that can only happen if we take back the education system from avowed ‘progressives’ -
    It would help if Christian leaders would put their ‘toe to the line’ and dropped the PC inhibitors…
    Carol-CS


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