When Principle Steers You Wrong

“My Way or the Highway” absolutists aren’t new to politics in any party, much less the GOP.  In 2000, it was hard to get any traction in some caucuses I remember if candidates weren’t not only pro-life, but weren’t sufficiently, convincingly pro-life enough.  It was the litmus test for a lot of people.

I think it was Ronald Reagan who said “if someone is 80% your friend, it doesn’t make them 20% your enemy”.  And beyond that, William F. Buckley enjoined conservatives to “vote for the most conservative candidate who can win“.


There are a few such groups in the GOP today that just don’t buy that; some of the Ron Paul crowd, and some traditional conservatives, have morphed over to the “Anything less than 100% might as well be 0%” school of thought.

It’s easy to sigh and roll your eyes and chuckle “that’s naive” – and then catch yourself for doing it, since there’s almost nothing in the world (short of adults who hang around comic book stores) more annoying that people who roll their eyes and chuckle about other people’s politics. 

But chuckling and rolling is a bad idea, if only because it prevents the possibility of anyone learning anything.  And a little learning is simply desperately needed.

Here’s a great example; over the weekend, I interviewed Cam Winton, the moderate Republican candidate for Mayor of Minneapolis.  He’s a sharp guy, and he’s got a genuine chance to shock the world in Minneapolis next month, and if I were a dishonest guy I’d figure out a way to get to Minneapolis and vote for him a couple of times, just like the Democrats do.

Now, in the great Republican scheme of things Winton’s a moderate.  And I’m not.  On the show, since the topic came up, he specifically listed three areas where a base conservative – like the AM1280 audience – might disagree with him; he supported gay marriage, he supports background checks at gun shows (provided that it can be shown they can’t be turned into a registry for confiscation) and…er, something else that I can’t remember.

Against that?  Winton advocates bringing a whole lot of free market common sense to Minneapolis; cutting spending, prioritizing the spending that’s left better (cops and roads, in a city with the highest crime and worst roads in Minnesota), cutting the pork (streetcar lines, city power co-ops), slashing mindless regulation of small business and much more.  He favors giving Minneapolis’ taxpayer a bigger bang for fewer bucks – something Minneapolis desperately needs after two generations of DFL spendthrifts. 

And I had a couple of Minneapolis conservatives write me after the show.  One wrote and said he’d sit the election out until Minneapolis got “a real conservative” running for Mayor.  To which I replied “Tom Tancredo is never going to get 51% of any vote in Minneapolis.  Ever.  You’ll never even get Rhonda Sivarajah or Dave Thompson or Jeff Johnson over the top for mayor in Minneapolis.  Cam Winton is the closest to a conservative I’ve seen running for office in the 28 years I’ve been watching Minneapolis politics that’s had a credible chance of winning.  Perfect is the enemy of good enough, especially when you’re a Republican in a city full of Democrat workers and clients”.

Put another way; Minnesota conservatives complained about Norm Coleman’s conservatism.  But none of them have shown me how a more conservative candidate could have even gotten into position to stage a credible run for mayor of Saint Paul – and that was 20 years ago, when the Saint Paul DFL still had people like Norm, Jerry Blakey and Randy Kelley – all of whom have been purged.

Another critic, a Twin Cities Second Amendment activist, decried Winton’s stance on background checks.

To which I respond:  Minneapolis is run by people who invite Michael Bloomberg to town; people who support Michael Paymar; people who would schuss right past background checks to ban every gun you own, if they could.  So even if you leave out the fiscally-conservative stuff completely (and you must not!), how would electing a person who favors just about the weakest credible “gun control” there, is provided that it could be made non-threatening in terms of confiscation (an iffy compromise, but one we made, successfullly, on the NICS system 20-odd years ago) be any worse than the current, anti-Second-Amendment, gun-grabber-friendly Mayor, or all of the DFL front-runners for the office who are at least as bad as Rybak, and jointly and severally worse than anything Winton is proposing…

…all of which is completely irrelevant, since the Mayor of Minneapolis, or any city in Minnesota, can have absolutely no policy impact on gun control, or any impact beyond their “bully pulpit” at all (and ask Representatives Paymar and Martens how much that bully pulpit got them this last session) by state law?   That’s right – the state’s pre-emption statute bars cities from having gun laws more restrictive than the state law!

On the issue of victim disarmament, the Mayor of Minneapolis – whatever their party or their beliefs – is as relevant as a promise ring on Kim Kardashian.  If Minneapolis elected a mayor whose entire platform was “melt down every gun”, it would be the same as electing a mayor with no platform at all.  It’s the law.

More realistically – if Minneapolis elects Cam Winton (and I hope they do), it’ll be a huge benefit to Minneapolis citizens and property tax payers – and a net gain for Minneapolis gun owners from the bully pulpit (it’s just not a big issue to Winton), and an absolute “no change” in terms of policy – because the City of Minneapolis has as much control over gun control policy as it does over building nuclear submarines and setting the federal budget; it’s not a job the law gives them.

Principle is a great thing.  One of the most important principles, I think, is analyzing ones’ principles to see if they’re making you do dumb things.

You vote for the most conservative (or libertarian-conservative, if you’re me) candidate who can win.  At the moment, in Minneapolis, that candidate is Cam Winton – who I am proud to support, “imperfections” and all.  He is the most conservative candidate who can win; not just because Minneapolis is a solid blue city, but because he is the most conservative candidate to have posted a single lawn sign, appeared at a single debate, knocked on a single door, gotten a single media appearance – much less running a pretty masterful campaign to boot. 

Yes, conservatives; there could come a time in the future when government by “moderate” Republicans as a sensible and solitary sane alternative to Democrat hegemony starts to convince the unconvinced that “Republican” and “conservative” aren’t the untrammeled evils that their establishment and media (pardon the redundancy) have been programming them to think.  Hint:  You’re not going to get there with 20 more years of R.T. Rybaks and Chris Colemans in power.  It’s happened before, in a place you may have heard of; the state of Minnesota.

Comments welcome at Shot In The Dark.