Jennifer Rubin and the excommunication impulse

Jennifer Rubin, writing in the Washington Post, detects “two starkly different visions of the GOP, as well as two potential paths for the GOP.” The question, she believes, is whether the GOP will become the party of:

Rand Paul or Kelly Ayotte [I would have said John McCain, but I understand why Rubin wants to say Ayotte] on national security;

The Gang of Eight or the Gang of Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Jeff Sessions on immigration; and

Rob Portman or Rick Santorum on gay marriage

In Rubin’s view, only the Ayotte, Gang of Eight, and Portman’s side is truly conservative. For it only this side that “wants to conserve what is good” (talk about a question-begging definition of conservatism) “while recognizing the habits, morals, and desires of 21st century America (all of them, without question?)

The other side, by contrast, isn’t conservative. It is “reactionary” or “radical,” Rubin announces.

This is name-calling disguised as argument. It seems that Rubin has what Peter Wehner calls “the excommunication impulse.”

Unfortunately, even using Rubin’s dubious definition of conservatism, (didn’t William Buckley say something about standing athwart history yelling “stop”), she fails to make a case for excommunicating those on the right with whom she disagrees.

Take national security. I’m closer to John McCain than to Rand Paul in this area. But Paul’s views – e.g., on matters of foreign intervention and domestic surveillance – may well be more in line with the current “habits, morals, and desires of 21st America.”

I say “current” habits, morals, and desires because these can change quickly, as anyone who has been paying attention during the past 12 years knows. But that’s part of my point. Conservative views on national security shouldn’t be contingent on an assessment of “the habits, morals, and desires of 21st America.” They should depend on our national security requirements, balanced by our Constitution.

As for immigration, the Gang of Eight’s position is probably consistent with the morals, habits and desires of Hispanics. But Hispanics are an insular minority. I doubt that most of the rest of the population consider the legalization of 11 million or more illegal aliens prior to securing the border consistent with their morals, habits, and desires. Nor is there any reason to believe that most Americans favor the influx of, say, 30 million Central Americans into the ranks of our citizenry.

Finally, we come to gay marriage. Here, one can see the trace of a connection between Rubin’s misguided definition of conservatism and the side she favors in the debate. Even so, the country seems divided about 50-50 on the issue. Indeed, liberal California recently voted to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

I believe the trend is running the other way. But since when does one jeopardize one’s status as a true conservative by refusing to yield on a matter of principle in anticipation that the wind is blowing the other way? It is silly to suggest that those who insist on the age-old, essentially universal definition of marriage are less conservative than those who want to change that definition.

Equally silly is Rubin’s conclusion that the “true conservatives” — i.e., the folks who agree with her on key issues, as opposed to Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Jeff Sessions, etc. –- need to “be fiercer” if they wish to prevail in 2014 and 2016.

John McCain called Republicans who disagree with him “wacko birds.” Marco Rubio claimed that certain right-wing groups opposed to amnesty legislation aren’t conservative, and are motivated by an anti-life, pro-abortion impulse. Few who have tangled with Chris Christie would say he’s insufficiently fierce for a politician.

In any event, Rubinesque ferocity against popular conservative politicians like Ted Cruz is not the path to victory in 2016 for a Rubio, a Christie, or an Ayotte. Neither is excommunicating a large chunk of the Republican base by denying its conservatism.

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