Jonah Goldberg is a reliably right-wing Republican columnist with just enough insight to make sensible observations occasionally. One such occasion was during the past week, when he noted that many Republicans, Tea Partiers particularly, remain obsessed with purging their party of "Rockefeller Republicans" long after the subspecies had gone virtually extinct. If there is conflict within the GOP -- and Goldberg takes seriously the possibility of a "civil war" in the party -- it's less about ideology than it is about disagreements over "efficacy and passion" or "tactics and power." The "establishment" Republicans -- those disparaged as RINOs or "Rockefeller Republicans" -- are hardly less "conservative" than the Tea Party fire eaters, in Goldberg's opinion. Yet the fire eaters inevitably see them that way. That's a symptom of radicalism. Radicals distrust establishments. In Red China, Chairman Mao worried that bureaucrats would take the "capitalist road" instead of taking the revolution to the next level. From the radical perspective, the establishment is always more concerned about stability than about the need for permanent revolution. Among Republicans, whoever was unwilling to follow Sen. Cruz in his scorched-earth approach had to be part of a hated establishment, a Rockefeller at heart. Your proof of revolutionary loyalty is how far you're willing to go to bring down big government. That standard will always be hard to satisfy, and for someone like Goldberg, who notes that veteran Republicans have opposed Obamacare from the beginning, the affected superiority of radical "latecomers" like Cruz is an insult to genuine conservatives.
For Goldberg, the real problem for Tea Partiers isn't that their fellow Republicans are inadequately conservative, as they define conservatism, but that however they fancy themselves a majority by virtue of their control of the House, they lack the power to enact the radical changes they desire. The reason for that, Goldberg writes, isn't obstruction from any "establishment" but obstruction from the electorate. To gain the power to advance their agenda, "the GOP needs to persuade voters to become a little more conservative, not to hector already-conservative politicians to become even more pure." How to persuade voters is a subject for another column, apparently, though by extension Goldberg would no more recommend "hectoring" them than we would hector veteran Republicans. Some TP sympathizers are eager to hector the public -- Cal Thomas wants politicians to tell voters to "eat your vegetables," no matter how "harsh" the message may seem -- but most Americans find TPs to be a rather hectoring sort already. The Republican who can persuade millions of people that they should make do with less, for their own good, would be a real miracle worker. I don't know if that's what Goldberg wants to tell voters, but that's what many voters hear whenever Tea Partiers speak. They might actually say something like, "Take responsibility for your own lives and see all that you can accomplish in a real free-enterprise system!" but most people recognize that "make do with less" is going to be part of that process. I don't mean to suggest that citizens of a republic can never be told that they should (or must) make do with less, but the real hurdle Republicans face is the assumption that they don't demand that of others out of necessity, but out of preference. It's the assumption Cruz noted when he claimed that the media would say that he wanted people to suffer. In his own mind, Cruz, not to mention other Republicans -- may not wish suffering on people. But as long as their policies are expected to cause suffering, even in the short term, "pure" Republicanism is going to remain a tough sell, and "pure" Republicans are going to grow more frustrated. It might then be a good thing that they still lack power, for revolutionaries have never looked too kindly on a lack of self-sacrificing revolutionary zeal among the masses.