The Concept of Party Unity is Dead
With the presidential primary on the GOP side effectively over, we’ve begun the annual unity pantomime routine.
You know the routine – after spending the last six months attacking each other and each other’s chosen candidates viscerally, we pretend that everything is all better, all the wounds are healed, and we’re one big happy family again, ready to do battle with the Democrats in November.
It’s time that we finally come to accept something that we all know is true, but nobody actually wants to talk about – the myth of party unity. There’s no such thing as “party unity.” At least, not anymore. Maybe there was a time, in the distant past, where candidates could spent months flinging mud and epithets at each other, then hug it out and move on. I get the feeling, however, that this is not reality, just the Leave It to Beaver version of history that some people want to pretend existed while ignoring how things actually were.
This presidential primary has highlighted the divisions out there, and I honestly don’t know how you can expect anybody to rally around our nominee after the things that have happened during this nomination battle. Hillary Clinton did us all a favor when she put together this ad yesterday. If you haven’t see it, you need to watch it.
— The Briefing (@TheBriefing2016) May 4, 2016
How are we supposed to unify after that? Hillary doesn’t even need to highlight Trump’s own statements in negative ads – she can just replay what all our candidates said about him during the primaries. It’s no different at the statewide and local levels.
It is time for us to bury the rhetoric of political unity. It’s dead, and its rotting corpse is doing nothing but sending up gusts of putrid stank to rival a rock concert port-o-potty in the summer. Get it in the ground.
The GOP is not unified and has not been unified for years now. These nominating contests have become too divisive, our party too fractured along ideological and policy lines, and the only universally respected leaders we have are all dead. Calling for unity doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did.
Most of these calls for unity aren’t legitimate calls for unity anyway. Most of the time, they’re spiteful attempts to rub the losing candidate’s nose in their loss. This has happened to me, and I’m sure it’s happened to other candidates who have come up short. I was expected to ignore my opponent’s false attacks on me, the underhanded attacks on my family, and his unwillingness to apologize or even acknowledge that what he did was wrong and just blindly endorse him and help get him elected. The same happened to Bill Bolling when Ken Cuccinelli broke the gentleman’s agreement that stopped a bloodbath at the 2009 convention and gave us all three statewide slots that same year. The same happened to Eric Cantor when he lost his race against Dave Brat. The calls for unity after those events weren’t legitimate – they were designed to humiliate the loser. Whenever I see calls for unity from anybody but the candidate who lost, I know exactly why they’re being made.
Unity isn’t something that you demand from a losing opponent. It’s something you earn as the winning candidate.
You do that by reaching out to folks who attacked you, asking their advice, forgiving them and bringing them into your fold. By recognizing that we’re all on the same team, at the end of the day, and that you need their help in order to win. That’s good politics. The ability to do that is what separates the good politicians from the amateur morons who think they’re Karl Rove but will end their careers doing a radio show that 12 people listen to because it’s the only station they can get. Turning critics into supporters is something every good politician has to be able to do, and we seem to be lacking good politicians these days. I can’t remember the last time that somebody I’ve been critical of has reached out and asked what they could do to earn my support.
We don’t really see that very much in Virginia. Could you imagine what would have happened if Ken and Bill had found a way to work together before 2013? Here, the calls for unity inevitably come from the winners, as we saw with Corey Stewart’s call for unity after Trump’s victory, and they fall flat because they’re designed to. You can see it now in the bleating of activists who are now lording Trump’s victory over their erstwhile colleagues, demanding unity and threatening purges of those who fail to fall into line.
The other problem with these calls for unity is that there’s no real basis for us to be unified on. When we all agreed with the Republican Creed, all had a set of values that we could accept together, and all knew basically what we believed in, unity was possible. Don’t like the candidate? Well, at least I know he’ll be right on more of the issues I care about than the Democrats. I don’t know if we can honestly say that anymore. At least, not at the presidential level. The Creed itself is so loosely worded that you can justify almost anything with it, from massive tax increases to religion based pogroms. Values have been shifting by generation, and other than a few venerated figures from the past – Reagan and Buckley (to a certain extent) are about it these days – there’s not much that we can rally behind. Even issues like the military and national security don’t serve as the glue they used to, as the rise of the anti-war libertarian wing has proven.
With no common values to rally around, candidates unwilling to extend olive branches and bring their opponents into the fold, and the no-holds-barred approach to treating opponents that can’t be washed away or ignored in the age of video and the internet, the old idea of party unity is as anachronistic as the buggy whip.
We need to accept that party unity isn’t going to happen, and start trying to figure out what to do instead. Winning elections is about addition, not subtraction, but looking around, I don’t see a lot of places where we’ve got room to add. And I see a lot of people clamoring to subtract folks they don’t like. That’s not a recipe for success.
It’s hard to see a way forward here. It’s going to take some outside-the-box thinking, and a willingness for folks to bury hatchets in the ground and not in their opponents’ foreheads. None of that is easy, and in days when anything that seems remotely difficult is usually left undone, I don’t know if it’s going to get fixed.