Saturday, Sarah Palin responded on Fox News to a question from Twitter: “Would you & Mark Levin be willing to build a “Freedom Party” if GOP continues to ignore conservatives?” Tempting thought, isn’t it? Given the regular thwarting of conservative ideas and disrespect of the Tea Party activists who delivered the House to the GOP in 2010, conservatives can’t be blamed for being dissatisfied with the GOP. From the RNC changing their rules last summer, to the debt ceiling debates; from the bumbling of messaging, to the less-than-stellar candidates fielded (coughJohnMcCaincough): conservatives have a lot to complain about. How difficult is it to reconcile a party that contains both Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham? How frustrating is it for cries of “smaller government” to go ignored, not only by the progressive left, but by the Republican establishment? It’s easy to understand if conservatives want to walk away in disgust and think of building something new and principled and exciting to get behind.
But is it wise?
David Darnell doesn’t think so. Hours after Palin’s response, David told his story of activism on Twitter, tagging it with the label #mystory. In a few tweets, he chronicled his journey from “the armchair of ignorance” to head of his county Republican Party. That’s an impressive political rise, but it’s not unique, or even too uncommon for someone dedicated to making sure his voice is heard.
My own story is a bit similar, even if it took longer. I felt the need to do more than show up to vote in 1998, and so began a habit of party involvement that eventually allowed me to serve on the Republican Party of Texas’ Rules Committee last summer. That seems to officially qualify me as a member of the Republican establishment. Thus, not only do I have some tea party credibility from founding the Houston Tea Party Society; I have also developed quite a bit of Republican credibility as well.
But it didn’t happen overnight. I went to meetings. I worked on campaigns. I walked blocks and worked phone banks. I met people. I attended trainings. I studied parliamentary procedure. I argued policy and platform endlessly. I spoke up at gatherings. I served as secretary and parliamentarian for my Senate District. I looked for opportunities to get involved, and I found more people to get involved with me.
It really is that simple. As David says: Suit up, show up, and do not shut up. The frustration will still be there, but the ability to do something about it will increase exponentially. Contrast that with building a third party structure from scratch, on the shoulders of a few popular national figures. We may wish for success, but the same hard work required to achieve that would pay off immeasurably more when applied to taking control of the existing shell of the Republican Party.
Most notable in David’s tweets are these important points:
The Third Party math doesn’t work
While I believe there are many more of us rightward-leaning folks in the country than leftists, splitting forces almost guarantees loss of the country to leftist administrations for the foreseeable future. If politics is about winning in order to govern, it’s a mathematical impossibility to expect a third party to do anything other than divide those on the right who are most passionate and motivated to action. Unless a third party will energize and activate and train (in a very short period of time) tens of thousands of NEW activists, they’ll end up poaching from the people already IN the fight for smaller, limited, responsible government.
Time is of the essence
A third party requires building party structures and gaining legitimacy, and that takes time. Lots of time. It also takes a top-down, national approach that pushes down its structure and messaging, rather than relying on the multitude of grassroots activists, opinions, and solutions. Even in its current form, the Republican Party has more input from the grassroots than a viable new third party would.
It takes fewer people to get the same job done
A common mistake is thinking of the GOP as an ideology. In fact, it’s merely a vehicle to promote the prevailing ideology of the members of the party. And it doesn’t take many people to change things. In Texas, for example, it takes just a few people to be elected to precinct leadership. It takes just a handful of precinct leaders to be elected to a committee. It takes a small room of activists to be elected to state leadership. And the process to get into the rooms where the RNC is chosen is equally simple. A well-planned, thoughtful, coordinated effort by a handful of activists can radically alter the face of a party in just a few years.
You have to show up where you live
Armchair quarterbacking is certainly fun, and ranting about politics is a national pastime. But the way you actually get change, rather than just lamenting the way things are, is to make it happen yourself. It’s not enough to show up to vote every four years. There are many things that happen politically, day in and day out, in your local area. And it isn’t just the party offices that need changing. School boards. City councils. State legislatures. Utilities districts. It’s much easier to gain influence and control on the local level, and it pays off much more quickly. And if good people aren’t going to run those entities or hold them accountable, the big spenders and the statists are going to fill those offices. And they’ll keep using those offices as auditions for higher offices, too. Today’s Water Board jerk will be deciding who has water rights in five years in the legislature.
Keep watching David’s feed – he’ll be updating soon. In the meantime, think long and hard about where your energy can best be spent. And think of the delicious victories conservatives have already had… Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz. Let’s do more of that.