Advancing a Free Society

The Myth of Conservative Purity

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

With the opening of the fall political season and tonight's Republican candidate debate, expect influential conservative voices to clamor for fellow conservatives to set aside half-measures, eschew conciliation, and adhere to conservative principle in its pristine purity. But what does fidelity to conservatism's core convictions mean?

Superstar radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh has, with characteristic bravado, championed a take-no-prisoners approach. In late July, as the debt-ceiling debate built to its climax, he understandably exhorted House Speaker John Boehner to stand strong and rightly praised the tea party for "putting country before party." But then Mr. Limbaugh went further. "Winners do not compromise," he declared on air. "Winners do not compromise with themselves. The winners who do compromise are winners who still don't believe in themselves as winners, who still think of themselves as losers."

We saw the results of such thinking in November 2010, when Christine O'Donnell was defeated by Chris Coons in Delaware in the race for Vice President Joe Biden's vacated Senate seat. In Nevada Sharron Angle was defeated by Harry Reid, who was returned to Washington to reclaim his position as Senate majority leader. In both cases, the Republican senatorial candidate was a tea party favorite who lost a very winnable election.

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