There’s no denying the fact that as we watch the behavior of the Republican insiders, every action and proposal is aimed at shifting the party toward the left. More and more, Republicans have ceded the ground on so-called “social issues,” where questions of right vs. wrong take precedence over matters of right vs. left. On such issues, they would rather not engage, preferring instead to avoid the ugly potential fall-out with moderate and leftist voters if some candidates uses the clumsy or foolish language to describe their views. They support old bulls of the Senate like Dick Lugar(R-IN) over upstarts like Richard Mourdock(R-IN,) but when Lugar could not win the primary, like saboteurs, the establishment wing arrives on the scene to campaign for the Democrat. It’s not accidental that the establishment Republicans seem to agree so frequently with the statist left. After all, they know who butters their bread, and it’s obvious that they’re gaining more than their congressional retirement benefits. They claim leadership over a party largely composed of people they detest as “purists,” and you might wonder about the character of those who openly mock purity. You might ask yourself what kind of Republicans these are, and as Jeffery Lord writes in the American Spectator, history holds the answer: Rove and his ilk are modern-day “Cotton Whigs.”
As Lord reminds us, the “Cotton Whigs” had been that branch of the powerful Massachusetts Whig Party that acted in most respects like today’s Republican establishment. Their opponents, the “Conscience Whigs,” opposed slavery and were uncompromising in that pursuit. In issue after issue, and election after election, the Cotton Whigs did all they could to undermine Conscience Whigs, often siding with the pro-slavery Democrats out of a desire to forestall addressing the slave trade. Like our contemporary Republican establishment, they claimed to sympathize with Conscience Whigs, but underlying that sentiment, they wanted to hold the country together and continue making money indirectly through the continued use of slaves. It was this divide that ultimately led to the building of the Republican party, and the abandonment of the Whigs. Lord’s conclusion is that modern-day Cotton-Whigs are making a similar error, and that Karl Rove and his fellows in that group may soon find themselves kicked by history against the political curb.
It is also fitting that one of the so-called Cotton Whigs had been Robert Winthrop, who served as speaker of the House, whose close ties to the textile industry in Massachusetts made him a less than enthusiastic supporter of abolition. You see, much like modern day Republican establishment types, he couldn’t or wouldn’t take a firm stand against slavery, not because he agreed with it in principle, but because in practice, he profited from it. Fast-forward to John Boehner and the rest of the Republican establishment, and you find the same sort of principles of convenience that cannot be tolerated if they interfere with profits. I warned my readers in 2011 that there were any number of Republican establishment types who were fine with Obama-care, because a.) they wouldn’t be affected personally, and b.) they had figured out a way to profit from it. These are your putative leaders, and they bear an eerily resemblance to the Cotton Whigs of Massachusetts.
I agree with Mr. Lord’s appraisals of the modern-day Cotton Whigs, because much like their political forerunners in pragmatism, establishment Republicans are not interested in conservative approaches to social issues because they threaten to undermine the status quo. Let us be blunt in admitting that the GOP establishment is comprised of people who have figured out how to make substantial fortunes from the growth of big government, and that they have no concern for underlying issues of morality so long as the cash continues to run freely from the treasury into their accounts through various devices of public expenditure. They have sold their souls in exchange for ill-gotten loot, and they are willing to destroy “conscience conservatives” in order to continue on their way. They side with Democrats in every issue in which their money or power comes up against doing what is right.
There are some who will interpret this as an attack against wealthy Republicans, but such is not the case. It is a matter of examining who is enriching themselves not by entrepreneurial endeavors, but instead by graft and rampant cronyism. In most respects, the modern day Cotton Whigs are the frequent beneficiaries of government expenditures. What do they care if tax rates go up if their take from the treasury increases many times over? Just as the Cotton Whigs were happy to profit from slavery, thus turning away from consideration of the moral aspects of the issue, so too are today’s “Cotton Republicans” willing to ignore the bondage into which you and your children are being cast. The Democrats play roughly the same part they played a century-and-one-half ago, happy to take such assistance as Cotton Republicans will offer while dividing and destroying Republican strength in opposition to their pro-bondage agenda.
Jeffrey Lord must be credited here with seeing an accurate analog to our current political troubles, reaching back to the founding of the Republican party to make it plain how rank-and-file conservatives, concerned as much with the long-term social and moral aspects of our country are again being overwhelmed by well-heeled interests who continue to profit from the bondage we must in good conscience oppose. Whether the particular issue is abortion, crony capitalism, immigration, or an outrageous health-care mandate, the “Cotton Republicans” live on the wrong side of every issue, not wanting to stop the gravy train to which they’ve hitched their caboose. What these charlatans offer is that one can gain the whole world, and to devil with one’s soul. There is one other person who deserves a hat-tip in all of this, because it had been Sarah Palin warning the GOP establishment that they might well end up going the way of the Whigs. Who better than the Alaskan crusader against crony capitalism and corruption to have pointed out the similarities between our modern Republican establishment and the Whigs? The time may have arrived in which her unheeded warning will be made fact by the intransigence of the Beltway political class.
There’s no sense pretending that the GOP establishment is on our side. In fact, it’s so bad that we ought to stop considering them as Republicans at all, or abandon the party to them, as had been the ultimate result with their philosophical forbears, the “Cotton Whigs.” One thing about which we must be careful is that some of them don’t manage to infiltrate our movement in order to co-opt it. Given the opportunity, they will quickly set up shop and begin all over again, leaving us right where we started. If you don’t think they’re willing to stoop to that tactic, I’d urge you to think again. Wise conservatives will observe the actions of some of our newer brethren, judging their actions rather than merely listening to their words. If Mr. Lord is right, and I must admit that he has struck a chord with me, a single defeat or a string of them will not banish these Cotton Republicans from our party, whether in six weeks or six years. We will be required to practice resolve and vigilance to keep them at arms length, because I believe that if one can keep them at bay for long enough, they will shed their masks and simply join up with Democrats who are their natural allies. If the GOP establishment wants to find unity with the Democrats, I strenuously suggest we let them. Put another way, as Jeffrey Lord aptly reminds us, from the historical precedent he offers:
Briskly remarked a young Charles Sumner, another Conscience Whig (whose defiant anti-Cotton Whig leadership would eventually make him a Republican U.S. Senator from Massachusetts) of the differences with Cotton Whigs: “Let the lines be drawn. The sooner the better.” Said Sumner: “Thank God! The Constitution of the United States does not recognize men as property,” adding at another point “I am willing to be in a minority in support of our principles.”(emphasis added)
We should heed Lord’s analogy, but we should be willing also embrace Sumner’s advice. In order to clean out the Cotton Republicans from our midst, we may need to be willing to briefly remain a minority party. That will be the immediate cost of ejecting or abandoning the GOP establishment, but it is a cost we can’t afford to avoid for much longer. They are unifying with the Democrats, adopting their arguments and their tactics, and isolating conservatives while claiming the mantle of conservatism. It’s time we give up our fixation on winning at any cost. If we stick to the fundamentals of our principles, rejecting statist arguments outright, victory will come in due course. If we stand on principle, the American people will ultimately notice, and when the Republic begins to collapse, they will remember who refused to yield. If we don’t believe that much at least, for what are we fighting anyway? I am calling on all of my conservative brethren to reject the GOP establishment no matter the short-run cost, so that we may go on about the business of saving the country. We must be a people of no lesser a character than our predecessors, the “Conscience Whigs.”