Victory or purity?

Ramesh Ponnuru has a fascinating piece at Bloomberg today asking whether conservatives really want to win elections.

People who want to see American politics take a turn to the right, and a few who don’t, have been giving a lot of advice to conservatives lately. Move this way on the social issues; move that way on economics; get more technology-savvy. You’ve heard it all, sometimes from me. 

Maybe all this advice is based on a false premise. We’ve been assuming that conservatives want to start winning political and policy victories again. But a few news items from last week suggest that many of them have different priorities.

Read the whole thing.

We’ve long known that some conservatives care more about being right and choosing the ideologically correct candidates than winning. If their candidate doesn’t win the primary, they threaten to stay home. If the party’s nominee has the wrong views (most often on abortion), they’re just as bad as the other guy. If we just lose this one election, the other guy will be proven to be a massive failure, the country will learn its lesson, and we’ll win big next time. That might have looked like a viable strategy after what happened in 2010, but after 2012 it’s been proven to be dead wrong.

So where does this all come from? Why would some conservatives rather be right than win? And more importantly why do some seem to relish being in the minority? I think part of it can be traced back to the Christian and evangelical prominence within the movement. The Bible is full of praise for victim status, and most importantly for our discussion, perception of and satisfaction in persecution, and instructions to sacrifice worldly things (election victories?) in order to follow the faith (ideological purity?). I’m not saying that Christian conservatives are actively forsaking campaigning and winning elections for their faith, but if you combine these spiritual guidelines in the foundation of your philosophical outlook, it’s easy to see how for the party whose support literally correlates with religiosity it becomes second nature to accept victimhood as your lot in life, even politically. Somehow the idea still finds traction that Christianity is widely persecuted in a country that’s over 75% Christian. If people can believe that in national religious terms, it would be even easier to translate into political terms, where the coalitions are much smaller and more tenuous.

Unfortunately, as the parties increasingly split on religious terms, this phenomenon may become even more prominent, and Republicans may settle into the comfortable role of permanent minority. Sadly that seems to be just fine for some, as long as they’re right.

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