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Clinton v. Obama: Republicans & Conservatives Win?

by Micah Tillman

“[F]or all the millions of votes Mrs. Clinton has now won, simple math is still her enemy,” writes Patrick Healey for the NYTimes. And since math is reality (according to Newton’s descendants) we’d expect things to feel just like they did before Super Tuesday II.

But they don’t. With Clinton’s wins in Ohio and Texas, the Capozzi Doctrine (“appearance makes reality in politics”) kicks in. And as Kathryn Jean Lopez writes, the winners in this latest round of primaries were: “Hillary Clinton. Rush Limbaugh. John McCain.”

Rush Limbaugh?

Rush Limbaugh.

Lately Rush has been on a kick about keeping Democrats kicking each other. The idea is that, due to racial issues, McCain will be unable to really attack Obama. So the only alternative is to keep Hillary doing it.

Given that McCain had already won the nomination (for all intents and purposes) and both Texas and Ohio had (some form of) “open” primaries, Republicans were given the freedom to vote Democrat. To keep the Dems fighting while giving McCain even more of a head start, therefore, the logical thing to do would be for Republicans to vote for the Democrats’ underdog.

And the strategy seems to have worked.

So, because Clinton won, the Republicans win. This has truly been bizarre campaign.

What may be even more strange, however, is that Rush has been able to do something which the logic of his arguments have long supported, but which only Ann Coulter had the je ne sais quoi to actually promote: voting for a Democrat, rather than McCain.

The shockwaves created by Limbaugh and Coulter rippled throughout conservative political America. A secondary epicenter became National Review Online’s team blog, The Corner, where debate between contributors grew heated. Some, like Victor Davis Hanson, wanted to stick with McCain. Others, like John O’Sullivan and Mark Levin, either found it impossible to vote for McCain or thought there are good reasons to find it impossible.

And on Mark Levin’s show, NRO contributor Andy McCarthy made essentially the same case as Limbaugh had (audio here, minutes 52:40-58:25). The difference was that Limbaugh framed his statements as observations, while McCarthy framed his as a legitimate argument for not voting Republican.

But with the Texas and Ohio primaries, Rush found a way to actually “do” what his observations suggested conservative voters do, but under the guise of actually helping the Republican Party. The irony of this was that Limbaugh had been arguing that non-conservative Republican leadership suppresses conservative legislation and activism by conservative members of Congress. You can’t attack your party’s own leadership, so you either shut up or get in line.

Under a Democratic President, however, conservative Republicans would be expected to play a contrarian role, and would openly flaunt/live out their conservatism. So while it would not be good for the Grand Old Party to lose the Presidential election, it would be good for the Conservative Movement.

In other words, when it comes down to it, Limbaugh chooses “Movement Conservatism” over “Republicanism.”

And yet, the strange phenomenon of the “open primary” has given Rush a way for conservatives to both do what he seemed to want them to do (vote Democrat for President) and yet not get the Party angry. He has even taken to claiming that his opposition to McCain was temporally restricted to the time-period in which McCain still had legitimate Republican challengers.

No doubt Limbaugh still dislikes McCain, and his tactic hasn’t changed (“Vote Democrat for President!”); it’s just gone from implicit to explicit. The goal, however, seems to have changed: “Make straight in the desert a highway for McCain!”

How Limbaugh thinks this works with the “Conservatism First” theme, I’m not sure. But I imagine with more research I could find out. Unfortunately, there are other things I have to do today, so my time is limited.

Perhaps the idea is that, given Obama’s high positives amongst even Republicans, the only way to suppress Democratic turnout in the general election is to keep Obama from winning — or at least make him very much less attractive than he now is. After all, if Movement Conservatism is going to survive, it will need conservative Republicans to win seats in Congress, no matter who wins the White House.

But if Obama is still in the race — whether as the Presidential or VP pick — and still idolized enough to drive Democratic turnout, the chances of conservative Republicans winning congressional contests with their Democratic opponents are very much lowered. So, at least at this point in the game, the GOP’s interests (“Give McCain a Chance by Damaging the Dems!”) align with conservative interests (“Give Conservatives a Chance by Damaging Obama!”).

I keep hearing people say that it’s the Democrat’s side of things that is the most exciting this time around. But I think the tensions and convolutions (convulsions?) on the Republican side are just as fascinating.

The difference is that there’s a war of ideas and principles on the Republican side, while there’s merely a conflict of personalities on the Democratic side. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ll take the former over the latter any day I’m looking for a little political entertainment.

Micah Tillman is a lecturer in the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. His blog can be found at http://micahtillman.com/