The Republicans' Conservative Problem, In One Quotation

Rep. Tom Price has been in Washington since 2005; why is it only just hitting him that not all Republican districts are as conservative as his?

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Ryan Lizza's New Yorker profile of Eric Cantor has rightly gotten a lot of attention this week. Cantor's admission to having been the knife man nixing the almost-"grand bargain" on the deficit between House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama has especially received prominent play around the Web this week. But there was another quote that lept out at me as illustrating how deep the GOP's problems run, especially as regards to its truculent conservative wing.

This from Lizza regarding Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, a leading House conservative:

Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia, who holds Newt Gingrich's old congressional seat and is seen as a leader of the most conservative House Republicans, said that, during a recent debate over taxes, "we talked past each other oftentimes as much as Republicans and Democrats talk past each other." He explained how surprised he was when one of his colleagues from a Northern state told him that he favored a tax increase on millionaires. "It hit me that what he was hearing when he's going home to a Republican district in a blue state is completely different than what I'm hearing when I go home to a Republican district in a red state," he said. "My folks are livid about this stuff. His folks clearly weren't. And so we weren't even starting from the same premise."

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

To be clear, Price has been in the House since 2005, so the fact that only after eight years has it finally "hit" him that Republicans from other parts of the country represent constituents with less archly conservative views is fairly mind-blowing. This is pretty basic stuff: Voters in different regions have different political views. Even reliably Republican districts in "blue states" will sometimes favor a different brand of conservatism. The real life fact of the political matter is that you can't build a governing coalition—on either the right or the left—with a narrowly drawn, philosophically pure political party. Tom Price couldn't get elected in many northern districts any more than, say, his fellow Georgia Rep. John Barrow, recently rated by National Journal as the most conservative Democrat left in the House, could win Nancy Pelosi's seat.

This is a truth that conservatives understood back in the 1990s when they were first clawing their way back into the majority. But they have forgotten it and now are stuck believing their own talking points about how the United States is an inherently conservative country. In this world view, Democratic victories (like in the popular presidential vote five of the last six times) are just voters' rebuke for the GOP being insufficiently conservative.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

Take Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas:

"Why did we lose? It wasn't as the media would tell you: because the American people embraced big government, Barack Obama's spending and debt and taxes. … That wasn't what happened. I'm going to suggest to you a very simple reason why we lost the election: We didn't win the argument," Cruz said before pointedly lowering his voice. "We didn't even make the argument."

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Is Karl Rove's Conservative Victory Group Good for the GOP?]

Actually, you did. It's just that more Americans prefer the other side.

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