Talking Past Each Other

I have really been enjoying the opportunity to have conversations with candidates for the Legislature. I am learning a lot, not only about the candidates themselves but about the unique challenges each of Idaho’s 35 districts face.

One thing I’ve learned is that few people on either side of the divide in the Idaho GOP truly understand each other.

For the sake of brevity I’ll refer to the two factions as conservative and establishment, though I know it’s more complicated than that.

Conservatives believe every establishment figure is a progressive leftist who only runs as a Republican because it’s an easier path to victory. They believe that compromising on social issues and continuing to expand the size and scope of government will inevitably turn Idaho blue, just like California and Colorado.

The establishment, on the other hand, believes every conservative is a radical libertarian extremist that is exaggerating social issues and fringe ideas to win political power. They worry that such extremism will drive regular voters away from the Republican Party, turning Idaho blue like California and Colorado.

In my conversations with conservatives, I’ve noticed that they are very concerned about high level political issues: election integrity, the loss of state and national sovereignty, fighting back against indoctrination of our children, the open southern border, and the weaponization of our government against dissidents.

In my conversations and observations of establishment figures, I’ve found that their priorities are more down to earth: water, transportation, growth, and taxes. They see the conservative priorities as distractions from what really matters to voters.

Establishment folks are much more willing to work together with actual leftists, both in the Legislature and the news media, while those groups will work with establishment Republicans against conservatives.

I think the big divide comes from differing opinions about what time it is in our country. If we are on the verge of a social revolution akin to the Civil War or the New Deal / WWII era, then we should be very concerned about elections, the weaponization of government, the national debt, etc. On the other hand, I would guess that establishment figures would say that folks on the right like the John Birch Society have been warning of just such a thing for more than half a century and it has not yet happened, so it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.

If I could advise the establishment, I would say it’s time to start taking some of these things seriously. The transgender social contagion is very real, and scientific evidence is coming out about the irreversible damage our society is perpetrating on our children. When conservatives talk about stopping child gender mutilation or removing books that promote transgenderism from schools and libraries, it’s not a made-up problem.

I would also say that the weaponization of government is a big problem too. The federal government has been turned into an instrument of oppression against dissidents, which means anyone who opposes a totalitarian society. The Covid lockdowns demonstrated how far governments could go in depriving people of their rights under cover of a health emergency, so they will be developing new emergencies to continue expanding their power.

Idaho is not immune to these things. Compromising with an ever-radical left wing ideology will not forestall our transformation into California, but accelerate it.

My advice to conservatives is to be realistic. We do not have the ability to return our government to the bare bones organization it was when the Constitution was ratified. 1950s Republicans could not roll back the New Deal, 1970s Republicans could not undo the Great Society, and 2010s Republicans could not even repeal Obamacare. Simply saying “we have to go back” is not a winning message.

I would also suggest to come back down to earth in some areas. Yes, the machinations of the World Economic Forum are troubling, but Idaho voters are more worried about the cost of groceries, traffic, and having good schools for their children. Focus on those issues first, and then you can address the big picture.

The Republican Party has long had a tension between conservatives and moderates, and neither side will ever completely obliterate the other. Populist conservatism was thought to be extinct when William F. Buckley drove out the Birchers, and paleoconservatives like Patrick Buchanan were marginalized, but a changing time has brought these ideas back into the discourse.

To the establishment I say, it’s not 1984 anymore. Our country is rapidly changing, and really is on the verge of a social revolution. We must do what is necessary to protect our state and our communities from the fallout, whatever that might be.

To the conservatives I say, don’t forget the people. Don’t fall too far inside your own bubble where you assume that a majority of voters watch the same programs as you and are worried about the same things.

To everyone I say, let’s stop name calling and demonizing each other. Let’s have some productive conversations about how to best manage this great state. We all agree (or most of us, at least) that Republicans should stand for limited government, low taxes, and the protection of traditional family values. Let’s work together to make those principles a reality.

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