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October 24, 2016 / 22 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘conservative’

Trump Versus Reagan: What Is A Conservative?

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

Many of Donald Trump’s supporters have compared him to Ronald Reagan. It is quite instructive that Trump himself picked up the 1980 Reagan campaign slogan, “Let’s Make America Great Again.” Trump speaks positively of Ronald Reagan, and, like Reagan, claims to be a conservative.

Many longtime Reagan conservatives beg to differ. The Trump comparisons make them bristle.

But if Trump insists he is a conservative, then it is incumbent upon him to do something that ought to be fairly simple: explain how and why he is a conservative. He should tell us—as Reagan often did—what conservatism means.

That was never a problem for Ronald Reagan. Reagan remains the prototype of modern conservatism. He is the ideology’s standard-bearer.

So let’s start with Reagan’s understanding of conservatism – a good yardstick with which to try to size up Trump. In fact, to narrow the comparison even tighter, I will go with a Reagan definition of conservatism that he provided prior to the presidency, without the aid of a White House speechwriter scripting him.

On February 6, 1977, Reagan spoke to CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, a venue he would address no less than 13 times through his final year in the White House, not missing a single CPAC during any year of his presidency. (Donald Trump bailed out of CPAC this year.)

On this particular date, he acknowledged that conservatism is often described differently by “those who call themselves conservatives.” Nonetheless, differing claims by different people calling themselves “conservatives” does not mean that we cannot identify certain common conservative principles. To that end, Reagan stated:

The common sense and common decency of ordinary men and women, working out their own lives in their own way – this is the heart of American conservatism today. Conservative wisdom and principles are derived from willingness to learn, not just from what is going on now, but from what has happened before.

The principles of conservatism are sound because they are based on what men and women have discovered through experience in not just one generation or a dozen, but in all the combined experience of mankind. When we conservatives say that we know something about political affairs, and that we know can be stated as principles, we are saying that the principles we hold dear are those that have been found, through experience, to be ultimately beneficial for individuals, for families, for communities and for nations – found through the often bitter testing of pain or sacrifice and sorrow.


There’s a definition that every self-professing conservative needs to take to heart and mind. It is one you could find in conservative classics, such as Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, or glean from decades of reading William F. Buckley’s flagship publication of the conservative movement, National Review, or from the older Human Events – all of which Ronald Reagan read assiduously.

Reagan had an informed comprehension of conservatism because he devoured these writings. He did the intellectual heavy lifting that facilitated his full conversion from a 1940s New Deal FDR liberal to a conservative trying to save the Republican Party from the Rockefeller Republicans who were not conservatives.

What Reagan said in February 1977 is worth underscoring: The essence of conservatism is to preserve and conserve time-tested values that have endured for good reason and for the best of society. Do not fall for the leftist canard that cruelly caricatures conservatism as merely wanting to preserve anything and everything from the past, from slavery to Jim Crow to women not voting. Quite the contrary; conservatives want to preserve the values and ideals that are timeless and time-tested for the benefit of humanity, not the detriment.

We conservatives cling to and seek to conserve and preserve not just any ideas but worthy ideas. If we merely sought to keep any, say, 19th century idea, then why aren’t we fighting for Marxism or some variant of socialism, as many of our “progressive” friends still do? That isn’t conservatism, regardless of what you heard about it from some liberal professor or clicked in a Google search.

In that same speech to CPAC, Reagan enunciated a number of conservative principles and positions: freedom and liberty, free markets, religious freedom, constitutional rights and protections, anti-communism, smaller government, local government, individualism, voluntarism, communities, families, self-reliance, hard work, common sense, reason, faith in God.

He called for a prudent and just government that spends money wisely and whose stewards act with integrity and honesty. Here, too: we need a nation comprised of outer order and inner order, a virtuous government that is the product of virtuous citizens.

And finally, Reagan told CPAC that the time had come “to present a program of action based on political principle that can attract those interested in the so-called ‘social’ issues and those interested in ‘economic’ issues.”

He wanted a complete conservatism that combined the two core strands of contemporary American conservatism (the social and economic) into “one politically effective whole.”

Let’s pivot to Donald Trump’s explication of conservatism. I’ll consider the two recent occasions where Trump was asked to give a definition.

In New Hampshire during an ABC News debate in February, Trump was asked point blank, “What does it mean to be a conservative?” In response, Trump stated:


Well, I think I am, and to me, I view the word conservative as a derivative of the word “conserve.” We want to conserve our money. We want to conserve our wealth. We want to conserve. We want to be smart. We want to be smart where we go, where we spend, how we spend. We want to conserve our country. We want to save our country. And we have people that have no idea how to do that, and they are not doing it. And it’s a very important word and it’s something I believe in very, very strongly.


Ironically, this definition (I’ve provided the entirety of Trump’s statement) does not suggest that he believes in conservatism “very, very strongly.” He might believe in conserving money and wealth very, very strongly, which is fine, but that isn’t a definition of conservatism.

There is no sense in Trump’s statement of any grounding let alone a rich or nuanced cognizance of conservative philosophy.

What’s worse, Trump gave that definition with a look of surprise and unpreparedness – with a deer-in-the-headlights look. That is worse because only two weeks prior he was asked the same question in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” where his response was shockingly dismal. The candidate this time should have been equipped to give a better answer.

That other Trump definition, offered to CBS in January, was at best a stream of consciousness, with occasional disconnected outbursts of random policy observations. Here is (verbatim) what he told CBS when asked for his definition of a conservative:


Well, I think it’s a person that doesn’t want to take overly risk. But I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s a person that wants to – in terms of government, I’m talking about – a person that wants to conserve, a person that wants to, in a financial sense, balance budgets. A person that feels strongly about the military, and I feel very strongly about the military. And, you know, you have some of these people they don’t even want to focus on the military, our military is falling apart. I feel very, very, and I have always felt very, very strongly about the military.

By the way, if you look at vision, when you look at the word “vision,” I was the one that said, “take the oil,” I’ve been saying that for years, and I said, “take the oil, let’s take the oil,” and nobody would listen, then all of a sudden after Paris they started saying “maybe that’s right, we’ll take the oil.” They still don’t do it the proper way. You know, I was – which is a little bit different than a normal conservative – but I was very much opposed to the war in Iraq. A lot of these guys were all for the war in Iraq, look what that’s got us: We spent $2 trillion, we lost thousands of lives, we have nothing, we’re now handing Iraq over, just handing over to Iran. Iran is going to take over Iraq, and I said that was going to happen.

I said that years ago, in 2003-2004, that Iran will take over Iraq with the largest oil reserves in the world. And that’s not a conservative position. When I was, you know, saying, don’t go into Iraq – I’m a very militaristic person, I’m very much into the military, and we’ll build our military bigger, better, stronger than ever before, but – and that’s safe, that’s actually the cheapest thing to do, opposed to what we have right now, but I was opposed to the war in Iraq. Most conservatives were gung-ho. I mean, these guys, every one of them, wanted the war in Iraq. Look where it got us.


Here again, what I’ve quoted is the entirety of Trump’s response. My transcript leaves out nothing.

Trump’s “definition” is, in short, anything but a picture of conservatism. To the contrary, what you just read is a picture of a non-conservative exploiting a conservative movement in order to try his hand at getting elected president via the Republican Party – the party of Reagan conservatism.

This definition from Trump is confusing, incoherent, and incomprehensible, and it is a vindication of legitimate concerns by true conservatives that Donald Trump as the GOP’s new standard-bearer is poised to do enduring damage to the modern conservative movement that Ronald Reagan did so much to advance.

Is Donald Trump a Reagan conservative? Certainly not by any definition he has hazarded to try to give.

Dr. Paul Kengor

Likely Compromise Found in Coalition Rift over Reform, Conservative Mikvahs

Monday, June 13th, 2016

Coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) on Monday morning presented a compromise solution for the problem caused by last Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling siding with the demands of Reform and Conservative petitioners for equal access to state-run mikvahs-ritual baths. Last February, the Supreme Court ruled that local religious councils must make state-run mikvahs available for conversion ceremonies run by Israeli Reform and Conservative clergy.

Last week, the Knesset Interior Committee debated a bill proposed by Shas and UTJ, the two ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, determining that the use of public mikvahs in Israel will be conducted strictly according to halakha and under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate.

Finance Committee Chairman MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) for his part on Friday announced that he plans to submit the bill in order to prevent the implementation of the court’s ruling. This would be in keeping with the coalition agreement between UTJ and Likud, which says that each time the Supreme Court issues a ruling that jeopardizes issues close to the heart of the Orthodox-Jewish party, the government must submit a bill to bypass the court.

Gafni, who argued that the court’s new ruling violates the national status quo on issues of religion and state, also cited the coalition’s obligation to maintain the same status quo.

Judge Elyakim Rubinstein, an Orthodox Jew who was part of the unanimous decision in favor of the Reform and Conservative petitioners, suggested in his ruling that the religious council in question, in Be’er Sheva, illegally segregated against Israeli citizens. “From the moment the state has constructed public mikvahs and made them available to the public — including for use in conversions — it cannot practice inequality in their usage,” Elyakim wrote. Rubinstein added that “the state’s decision not to supervise dipping in the mikvah that is conducted as part of a private conversion does not justify preventing it.”

One of the other two judges on the panel was Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab. Chief Justice Miriam Naor was the third judge. It should be noted that while last week Ha’aretz complained about a decision by Judge Rubinstein favoring the Chief Rabbinate, implying he should have recused himself from deciding Orthodox Jewish issues because he wears a yarmulke (sic), the same paper did not make a similar complaint in this case.

The MK Bitan compromise will suspend the application of the Mikvah law for nine months, during which time two to four mikvahs would be built for the Reform and Conservative public. The Jewish Agency is expected to bear the costs of construction. Meanwhile, the coalition would work on a softer version of the Shas-UTJ bill, which would skirt the Supreme Court ruling but not actually bypass it. The first draft was scheduled to be presented to the Interior committee Monday morning.

According to MK Bitan, “We are not planning to pass a Supreme Court bypassing law, but instead to find solutions to the problems raised by the court’s ruling. According to the understanding, we will build between two to four mikvahs in various locations in the country for the Reform and Conservative public so they can dip there according to their method.” Bitan stressed that “we must maintain equality for everyone in spending resources.”

A Haredi party source that spoke to JNi.media on the condition of anonymity said the Bitan compromise will most likely be accepted since it does not actually compel religious councils to share existing mikvahs with the Reform and Conservative, but allocates to them new mikvahs. Nevertheless, the Haredi coalition parties are likely going to be subjected to attacks from the Haredi media, which see the very idea of allowing the two non-Orthodox movement a foot in the door as ushering disaster. Some in the Haredi media, such as Ha’peles, would like to see the Haredi parties using their critical role in Netanyahu’s small coalition to extract deeper concessions regarding the non-Orthodox mikvahs.


Survey: 95 Conservative Rabbis Say They Would Conduct Intermarriage Weddings

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

(JNi.media) An organization named “Big Tent Judaism” which seeks to embrace intermarried families in the Jewish fold (presumably without the expectation of a conversion of the non-Jewish spouse down the road), sponsored a survey of 249 Conservative rabbis which found that 38 percent— 95 rabbis, would officiate at the marriage of a Jew and non-Jew if the Conservative movement lifted its prohibition on these unions. This sample corresponds to roughly 15% or the Rabbinical Assembly’s approximately 1,700 members.

The survey finds that intermarriage is part of the daily reality addressed by Conservative rabbis and Conservative congregations. Eight in ten respondents have an intermarried family member; seven in ten work with an intermarried volunteer leader in their congregation. Four in ten respondents have attended interfaith weddings, usually of close family members; a handful already officiates at interfaith weddings under some conditions.

On the whole, according to the survey, Conservative rabbis will not marry a person of patrilineal Jewish descent to another Jew, citing halacha, but the survey suggests “their views on Jewish identity are nuanced, as many distinguish between Jewish identity and halachic status.”

In the hypothetical scenario that the Conservative movement’s policy would change, just under four in ten rabbis would officiate at interfaith weddings. Also, according to the survey, almost half of Conservative rabbis interviewed feel that some discussion of their movement’s position on interfaith marriages, recognizing patrilineal descent, and admitting intermarried rabbinical candidates is warranted.

Respondents in small Jewish communities are more likely (45%) to see themselves officiating in interfaith weddings if RA rules changed, compared with respondents in large Jewish communities (33%). Female pulpit rabbis are almost twice as likely to change their practices if RA rules changed (56%) when compared to male rabbis (35%).

Here’s a counter-intuitive discovery: when comparing respondents by age and ordination date, the survey found that respondents over 50 years old and those ordained before the year 2000 are slightly more likely to officiate at interfaith weddings. The authors suggest that the difference can perhaps be explained by the fact that older, more seasoned rabbis have “softened” their attitude toward interfaith weddings after having had to repeatedly turn away intermarried couples.

The survey’s presentation is rife with opinion, not to the point of skewing the results, but certainly to add spin to the numbers. The line in the above paragraph, explaining why older Conservative rabbis are more likely to conduct an intermarriage wedding, actually says the differences are explained “by the fact that older, more seasoned rabbis have “softened” their attitude toward interfaith officiation after having to repeatedly turn away intermarried couples, many of whom would have created Jewish homes.”

Paul Golin, Big Tent’s associate executive director, says the group isn’t advocating that the Rabbinical Assembly change its policy, but rather that it should open a conversation on it. But God—and advocacy—are in the details.

The section headed, “Half of Conservative rabbis believe discussion of some RA rules is warranted” is dizzyingly biased:

“The survey asked Conservative rabbis for their view on whether three specific issues should be opened for discussion among members of the Rabbinical Assembly: allowing officiating at interfaith weddings, recognizing Jews of patrilineal descent, and accepting intermarried rabbinical candidates to Conservative seminaries. Four in ten (39%) respondents agreed that the RA should open for discussion among its members the issue of officiating at interfaith weddings; a third (33%) agreed that the RA should open for discussion the issue of accepting patrilineal descent; and one in seven (14%) agreed that the issue of admitting intermarried or inter-partnered rabbinical candidates should also be opened for discussion. Half (51%) of the respondents disagree with all three statements and think that none of these issues should be open for discussion.”


Analysis: New Pew Report Has Seen the Jewish American Future and It’s Orthodox

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

(JNi.media) The Pew Research Center has issued a further analysis of its 2013 survey of US Jews which, at the time, shattered some people’s long held beliefs about the Jewish community in America. The 2013 survey found that Orthodox Jews comprise 10% of the 5.3 million Jewish adults (ages 18 and older) in the US, but, as the new report puts is, “a survey is a snapshot in time that, by itself, cannot show growth in the size of a population.” What the new report is showing, based on the same findings, is that Orthodox Jews are likely “growing, both in absolute number and as a percentage of the US Jewish community.” In the race to dominate the Jewish community in America, the Orthodox are miles ahead of everyone else:

• The median age of Orthodox adults (40 years old) is better than a decade younger than the median age of other Jewish adults (52).

• More than two-thirds of Orthodox adults are married (69%), compared with less than half of other Jewish adults (49%).

• The Orthodox get married younger and bear at least twice as many children as other Jews (4.1 vs. 1.7 children ever born to adults ages 40-59).

• The Orthodox are more likely than other Jews to have large families: almost half (48%) of child bearing Orthodox Jews have four or more children—a mere 9% of other Jewish parents have this size families.

• Finally: practically all Orthodox Jewish parents (98%) say they raise their children Jewish, compared with 78% of other Jewish parents. Orthodox Jews are much more likely than other Jews to have attended a Jewish day school, yeshiva or Jewish summer camp while growing up, and they are more likely to send their children to the same programs.

That’s a strategy for domination. The numbers may not show it today, but one generation at these respective rates of growth could wipe the distance between the Orthodox and the other denominations.

And as competitions usually tend to go, as the Orthodox “threat” continues to loom, attacks on every aspect of the Orthodox, especially ultra-Orthodox lifestyle, will be forthcoming from a fast shrinking non-Orthodox community, as well as from unaffiliated Jews.

The Pew analysis itself already uses the kind of belligerent language US Orthodox Jews should expect from traditionally liberal to left-wing Jewish publications: “Indeed, in a few ways, Orthodox Jews more closely resemble white evangelical Protestants than they resemble other US Jews,” notes the new Pew report, carelessly blending the religious Jewish tradition with a tradition Jews consider repugnant for some of its “pagan” values.

The new Pew report states: “For example, similarly large majorities of Orthodox Jews (83%) and white evangelicals (86%) say that religion is very important in their lives, while only about one-fifth of other Jewish Americans (20%) say the same.” But the term “religion” means very different things to Orthodox Jews than to other communities: to Orthodox Jews, religion means adherence to a complex set of laws and a lifetime engagement in studying those laws as an intellectual pursuit for its own sake. Also, to many Orthodox Jews, their Jewishness is not so much a religion as a familial connection to their own ilk, to being a link in a historic chain, and to remaining socially isolated from non-Jews. To the evangelicals, “religion” might mean the reverse of that: a literal adherence to biblical law, rather than an interpretive approach; and spreading and expanding their faith among as many strangers as they can. Both communities practice “religion” the same way both gazelles and lions practice running–for very different reasons.


Rabbinate Court Forces Woman Who Did Not Have Orthodox Wedding to Have Orthodox Divorce or Face Prison

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

(JNi.media) Natali Lesterger (48) earlier this week posted a moving facebook message, which she began urgently enough:

“I’ll start from the end: My name is Natalie — and I need your help minutes before I go to jail!

“Listen up: an arrest warrant was issued against me by the Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem, and I may be arrested anywhere, anytime.”

Natalie then relates how she grew up in a religious Zionist environment, got married, had three children, and, twenty years ago, had a painful divorce.

After that traumatic procedure, she wrote, “when I left the rabbinical court a divorced woman, I swore by everything that’s precious to me that I would never set foot in the rabbinate in any way whatsoever. Never. And if the day would come that I would wish to marry again, I will do it without the rabbinic establishment.”

Long story short, 12 years ago Natalie met her second love, “M,” with his four children, and they agreed that, should the time come for a divorce, they would do it through the Masorti movement, which is the Conservative movement in Israel.

After more than a decade, Natalie continued, “I found myself in the process of separation again.” And, as if to make matters worse, she discovered that “M” had filed for divorce in the rabbinical court in Jerusalem — contrary to their pre-marital agreement. And even though the Ministry of the Interior honored her report and changed her status in the population registry “divorced,” the Rabbinical Court still had the power to force her to receive a halachic get (divorce).

“And if disagree?” Natalie wrote, “I should expect severe penalties and sanctions, and even jail!”

Indeed, the rabbinical judges did not wait around, and immediately issued an order prohibiting her exit from the country, “and now I received Subpoenaed / Arrest Warrant, to be executed any place and any time to make sure that I appear in court.”

Natalie’s problem stems from the fact that Jewish divorces in Israel are the purview of the Rabbinate.

And so, because the Jewish State follows the Torah law through the Chief Rabbinate, the Rabbinate indeed has the power to force every Jewish person separating from their spouse to undergo a halachic divorce.

The Rabbinical Court’s aggressive response (see enclosed arrest warrant) is surpassing, considering the fact that they had a perfect out in this case:

Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote several responsa about the Halachic status of Reform wedding ceremonies. In addition to the lack of valid witnesses in such weddings, Rav Moshe argues that Reform marriages are invalid because “they do not perform an act of Kidushin (sanctifying). Rather he merely responds ‘yes’ to the Rabbi’s question, ‘Do you wish to take this woman as your wife?’ … These are not words of Kidushin [such as the required phrase, ‘Behold you are betrothed to me with this ring’]; rather, these words express consent to joining in marriage. [The man and woman] subsequently exchange rings as an expression of their marriage, which they believe to have been contracted already by answering ‘yes.’”

“In the above responsum, Rav Moshe suggests that double ring ceremonies raise concern about how the couple understands the wedding procedures. ‘Even though he gives her a ring,’ he writes, ‘she also gives him a ring, which demonstrates that his giving her a ring was merely a present in honor of their marriage, and there is no act of Kidushin.’” (Thanks to Rabbi Chaim Jachter, Bergen County Torah Academy).

In other words, the court could have just said there was no valid marriage here, and that would have been it. Instead, they sought to impose their authority over every Jewish marriage being conducted in Israel.


Orthodox & Reform Rabbis Condemn Arab Violence against Settlers

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Orthodox Rabbis Asher Lopatin, Yitz Greenberg and David Kalb joined Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal colleagues in decrying the daily assaults of Palestinian Arabs on the homes and cars of Jews living in Judea and Samaria.

“We cannot and will not remain silent,” said Rabbi Pam Frydman co-founder and International Co-Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall.

“Our hearts go out to the brave women and men who show true courage in upholding the Jewish tradition of fighting the forces of injustice and intolerance,” said Rabbi Asher Lopatin, President of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in Riverdale, New York.

Rabbi Lopatin concluded, “May Hashem give you all strength to continue this age old, noble struggle which God promises us will end in victory.”

“All leaders should stand together and condemn such acts and words of violence,” said Rabbi Andrew Strauss, senior rabbi of Temple Sinai in Oakland, California.

Rabbi David Kalb, International Co-Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall couldn’t agree more. “This attack against the home … the perpetrators and their entire community should be made aware that such behavior constitutes a a desecration of God’s name of the highest order. Such an act is completely forbidden in accordance with Jewish Law. I call on all of my fellow Orthodox Jews to condemn such behavior and demand that the criminals who performed this atrocity step forward, face justice and do Repentance.”

“With deep sadness I heard the news,” said Rabbi Paul Kipnes of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California. “When Arabs strike out against Jews–with stones, firebombs, knives and guns—the Hanukah lights are diminished. When rabbis do not speak out saying unequivocally that such threats and violence transgress the most foundational teachings of Torah and halacha, the lights of Hanukah are diminished. And more. If Arab clergy cannot or will not control their communities, it becomes the responsibility of the government of the State of Israel to ensure that patience and tolerance shine forth throughout our Jewish state.”

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, a Harvard Ph.D. and founding President Emeritus of CLAL, continued: “These violent undemocratic actions violate Israeli law and Jewish religious ethics. It is urgent that police take action to catch the lawbreakers and that Arab religious leaders condemn the threats and reject such behaviors.”

Rabbi Menachem Creditor, senior rabbi of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley California said, “An assault on the home of any Jew is an assault on every Jewish home. It is a basic obligation upon the global Jewish family to affirm the right of our sisters and brothers to pray and live in peace.”

“Those who perpetrated the shameful violation of a Jewish home need to know that Women of the Wall and its worldwide network of supporters will not be deterred in their quest for Jews everywhere in Israeli society.” said Rabbi Diane Elliot, Director of Wholly Present of the San Francisco Bay Area. “I hope the perpetrators will be caught and brought to justice.”

“So long as Jews are subjected to persecution, Israel is not living up to its potential,” said Rabbi Yocheved Mintz, spiritual leader of Congregation P’nai Tikvah of Las Vegas, Nevada and President of the Board of Rabbis of Southern Nevada.

Rabbi Amy Eilberg, the first woman ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary (New York, 1985) concluded: “Shame on those who committed this latest act of hateful vandalism against Jewish men and women in Judea and Samaria. Have we learned nothing from our history as a people and our tradition’s sacred teaching on the consequences of causeless hatred? To attack and threaten Jews in their own home is a violation of everything we stand for as Jews.”

Yori Yanover

GOP: Polls and the Hinge Points of History

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

What does it mean that recent polls show 7 in 10 respondents think Republicans are putting their agenda ahead of what’s good for the country, as opposed to the 5 in 10 respondents who think President Obama is doing the same?

The answer probably lies in an analysis of the ancillary question posed in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll: do respondents agree or not with the statement that the GOP or the president is “demonstrating strong leadership and standing up for what they [he] believe[s] in”?

For Republicans, only 27% of respondents agreed with that statement.  For Obama, 46% of them agreed.

On the face of it, that’s actually a contradictory assessment about the Republicans.  Only 27% of respondents think Republicans are standing up for what they believe in – and yet more than 70% of respondents (the actual figure was 74%) think Republicans are putting their agenda ahead of what’s good for the country?  How can that be?

Here’s how: a meaningful number of the respondents are conservative Republicans (call them the “Tea Party,” for short) who are disappointed with GOP leaders, because the conservative respondents don’t think GOP leaders are standing up for Republican beliefs.  Those respondents add to the number who are predisposed to blame or dislike Republicans for other reasons.  But the “Tea Party” demographic despises GOP leadership because it thinks the party is doing too little to combat current trends in government, rather than too much.

I don’t think it can be disputed that the opinion-poll numbers are bad for Republicans.  But I do think the narrative that reflexively calls this a linear reaction to The Stupidity of Cruz is all wet.  For one thing, that narrative itself falls apart on examination.  The specialized thought process and the poll-respondent demographic just don’t exist to make it descriptive.

Equally important, however, is the key difference between Democrats and Republicans in October 2013, which is that Republicans are profoundly divided.

As long as the Democrats keep their communications reasonably disciplined, they can be sure of getting a unified set of characterizations across to the public without interference.  But the Republicans, who already find every talking point distorted by the media, have the added burden of genuine disagreement among themselves.  There’s no question that Republicans look, at this juncture, like we can’t get our act together.  This is because we can’t get our act together.  We don’t agree on what it should be.

Poll respondents are quite reasonable in recognizing that there would be no government shutdown if everyone in the GOP agreed with the Democrats on what should be done.  That’s really kind of a forehead-slapping “duh!” revelation, and I suspect it’s what the poll numbers are telling us.  Of course it’s the GOP’s fault that there has been a shutdown.  Of course the shutdown has been forced by political differences.

Does it follow that 74% of poll respondents – or of Americans in general, who may or may not be well represented in this poll – think “the” problem is the Tea Party, and that the way to resolve it is for the GOP to crush the “Tea Party wing” and get on with the business of agreeing with the Democrats?

No, it doesn’t – any more than it follows that the GOP should do the converse: rout the GOP “moderates” in a turkey-shoot from the right.  There is no such quantity out there as a 74% majority making it clear that Republican blame for the shutdown should translate into gigging Ted Cruz like a swamp-bottom frog, or into running John McCain out of town on a rail.

What there is instead is a profound dispute within the GOP about who we are and what our way forward is.

There may no longer be a unifying “center” to hold the GOP together.  If the GOP doesn’t encompass the limited-government views of the Tea Party, there is an essential sense in which the party no longer represents an alternative to the Democratic Party.

But there is still a sizable number of Republicans who see a viable future for a Republican Party that makes its name on what George Will has been calling “splittable differences” with the Democrats in Congress.  I admire Will’s broadly positive and genial take on the current impasse between the parties, and between the factions in the GOP.  But ultimately, I’m not convinced that being the party of “splittable differences” would be a big motivator or vote-getter for Republicans.

J. E. Dyer

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