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Opinion: Columnists

Conservatives need to keep their eyes on the prize

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Opinion,David Freddoso,Columnists,Mississippi,2014 Elections,Thad Cochran

Ten years ago this spring, I was a young conservative journalist writing for Human Events. I was living the nerd-dream of following then-Rep. Pat Toomey around Pennsylvania during his insurgent Senate primary against the RINO of all RINOs, incumbent Republican Sen. Arlen Specter.

The evening of election day, which I spent at Toomey's “victory” party outside Allentown, was a difficult one. Driving up from Washington, I had heard Specter's radio ads accusing Toomey of voting to help pornographers - a charge based on some obscure House vote that did no such thing. I had seen how the national Republican Party and a then-still-popular President George W. Bush had shown up in the Keystone State to save Specter from a likely defeat. It was all quite infuriating.

But Toomey handled this personal defeat with dignity, even as he pledged to keep fighting for the cause. “We have to respect and honor the decision the people have made,” he said in his concession. Despite his differences of opinion with Specter, he said, “I have no difficulty supporting him now.”

His lack of defiance irritated me then, but Toomey's gracious concession ultimately made sense. He lived not only to fight another day, but to win Specter's seat.

That classic primary, similar in some ways to Tuesday's Mississippi Senate primary runoff, proved to be quite different in its conclusion. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. - not as liberal as Specter, but also an elderly incumbent who used pork heavily as political leverage in his state - beat his conservative challenger, Chris McDaniel, by more than 6,000 votes, or about 1.6 percentage points.

But in his speech after the results were in, McDaniel did not concede. He instead refused to accept that he'd actually lost. He insinuated that there had been irregularities because non-Republicans had voted in the open primary - even though this is basically allowed in Mississippi. McDaniel vaguely hinted at a legal challenge and invited supporters to join him in what appears to be a delusional last stand.

Of Cochran and the party establishment that worked against him, McDaniel spoke bitterly: “I guess they can take some consolation in the fact that they did something tonight by once again compromising, by once again reaching across the aisle, by once again abandoning the conservative movement.”

This self-absorbed speech - which equated the broader conservative cause's success with an already-lost election - reflects a relatively new tendency in conservative politics. Until recently, the party's moderates - Wayne Gilchrest, Joe Schwarz, Lisa Murkowski, Dick Lugar - had always been the ones more likely to embrace the sore loser's mantle, even as they and their allies complained that conservatives were destroying GOP unity. But the Right keeps finding new ways to give up the high ground.

Conservatives once had the patience to lose, keep fighting, and win slowly. Through the tragedies of Barry Goldwater's landslide loss, Richard Nixon's presidency, Gerald Ford's 1976 nomination, and betrayals big and small by more than one President Bush, conservatives quietly did the unglamorous work of electing and promoting their candidates, state by state, district by district. Over decades, they changed the national political conversation. And they moved the Republican Party - not just its fringes, but its center and its establishment as well - far to the right of where it had once been.

But for some conservatives, patience has lately given way to demands for instant gratification. Why accept defeat just because we got fewer votes? So what if we failed to elect enough conservatives to defund Obamacare - we want it, and we want it right now. Or we all quit!

Losing is tough. It is hard to wait for change, and harder still to spend a lifetime laboring in obscurity for multi-generational goals.

DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former Editorial Page Editor for the Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).
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David Freddoso

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The Washington Examiner

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