The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel, who is no Beltway establishment RINO sell-out by any stretch of the imagination, has a problem with most of the Tea Party upstart candidates challenging establishment incumbents in primaries. The problem is not that the candidates are conservative. That may be the only thing good about them. The problem as Strassel sees it is that Tea Party candidates - often put up by groups in Washington who have quite the establishment flavor of their own - simply have nothing to recommend them as candidates except for professed fealty to the right positions.
That appears to be good enough for many in the grassroots, who demand your assurance that you are a "true conservative" but don't seem to recognize that a lot more than that goes into both getting elected and governing. When you lack those things, Strassel notes, bad things happen:
The challengers aren't bombing because of a lack of money or the "establishment," but mainly because of some mind-boggling embarrassments. Dr. Milton Wolf, challenging Pat Roberts in Kansas, was discovered to have a penchant for posting gruesome X-ray images of dead people on Facebook. FB +2.29% (Whoops.) Kentucky's Matt Bevin, challenging Mitch McConnell, has been forced to explain his changed positions on the 2008 government bank bailout, and more recently his presence at a cockfighting rally. (Uh-oh.)
Chris McDaniel, a lawyer and state legislator challenging Mississippi's Thad Cochran, spent April dealing with past comments as a radio host, including derogatory references to Mexico and "Mamacita." He's also fielding awkward questions about his past plaintiffs' work, including his request that a judge blow up Mississippi's tort reform. (Ummm.)
These episodes have turned off the very people these outside groups claim to represent: the grass roots. Many Republican voters—even those desperate for a party shake-up—simply aren't comfortable supporting a doctor who publicly mocks gunshot victims. They expect (and deserve) something more serious. That's to their credit, and it's tempting to therefore write off all this as proof the system works. Bad candidates lose. No harm done.
Only that ignores the harm done. Consider the waste, at a time when the conservative movement can ill afford to squander resources. There is no disgrace in backing a sound and serious candidate who can't quite carry it over the finish line. That's honest primary competition. By contrast, it is political malpractice to throw tens of thousands of donors' dollars at a candidate whose Facebook posts or past radio shows no one bothered to check. It's called V-E-T-T-I-N-G.
I've been saying much the same thing for awhile now, and a lot of activists don't like it but you have to recognize something. A good candidate for political office is someone who not only wants to do the right things, but has demonstrated at least some track record of being able to do it. That doesn't have to come from previous experience in political office - obviously those of us associated with Herman Cain believe that - but you have to be able to show you've done something. You've governed a city or a state effectively. You've sponsored and passed effective legislation. You've turned around a business. Something. It's great when you profess your commitment to certain issue positions, but if that's all you've done, how do we know you can campaign effectively?
And how do we know you can get anything done if you win? There are a lot of professional activist/candidates out there that you always hear are running for something, but aside from running for office, they're not known for anything because they've never really done anything. Why would you want to nominate such a person? What is there to recommend them?
What I want to see in the Republican Party is for young, highly effective mayors, governors, legislators and business leaders to first get things done at those levels, then campaign on a platform of conservative policies that they have already implemented effectively at other levels.
This is one of the reasons I am so interested in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as a candidate for president. He hasn't just talked about it. He's done it. And it's worked. The fact that he's a proven campaigner is obviously a bonus, but the most important thing is that he has gotten the kind of results we need for the entire country. The same thing applies to candidates for office at every level. I want to know what you think, but I also want to know what you've done.
There are absolutely establishment candidates who deserve to be primaried, and I give the Tea Party credit for finding and supporting candidates who support the right solutions to our nation's problems. But it's time for the grassroots to start looking at more than just people's issue positions, and to demand high-level capabilities and strong track records as well.
We paid a steep price for mistakes like these in 2010. In just one example, Republican Sue Loudon in Nevada had a real chance to knock off Harry Reid (!), but grassroots activists insisted on nominating Sharron Angle, who was supposedly the "true conservative" but was also a completely inept candidate. Now we're still stuck with all of Harry Reid's crap. Was that worth it?
Yes, put up real conservative candidates. It's a good thing to do. Just demand more of them than professed conservatism, because that alone isn't going to get the job done - either at the ballot box or in the policymaking halls of Washington D.C.