Reality Check for Conservatives

My mentor in seminary was the late, great Dr. Charles Siburt (or “Chainsaw Charlie”).  He was a bear of a man with a booming voice and a heart as big as his home state of Texas.  He was one of those rare people who could tell you that you are wrong and you would happily thank him for it.  One of his favorite pearls of wisdom he would share was, “Reality is your friend.”  He meant that we tend to shy away from criticism or bad news when we really need to hear it, and critically evaluate it, if we are to see how things stand in order to grow or to solve a problem.

Recently, my fellow Christian conservatives have been fuming over Senator Rob Portman’s decision to redefine marriage, the failure of the Ohio legislature to pass the Heartbeat Bill–on and on [read on OCR: “Kasich, Portman Should Brace for Consequences”]. Many of my fellow “right wingers” have urged conservatives to sit out the 2014 elections or even support a third party in order to teach the Ohio Republican Party a lesson.  I have previously argued that both of these courses of action are bad ideas because we are very close to winning the fight to overturn Roe v. Wade [read on OCR: “Why Christian Conservatives Should Not Abandon the GOP”]. But there are other reasons to continue to work within the Ohio Republican Party.

One of my first assignments for my current job was to organize a fundraiser in Delaware in the spring of 2008.  That’s when I first met Christine O’Donnell (the candidate of the “I’m not a witch” fame).  I met Christine many times over the next few years and came to like her very much. She is a sweet, warm person.  Christine decided to challenge U.S. Rep. Mike Castle for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2010.  Castle had been labeled a RINO because he voted with conservatives only about fifty percent of the time.  Christine managed to defeat Congressman Castle, only to have her hat handed to her in the general election by the ultra-liberal Chris Coons.  She never had a chance in the moderate to liberal state.  Had Castle won the nomination, however, he certainly would have defeated Coons.  Castle would have supported us conservatives at least half the time; Coons never will.  It is important to remember that something is always better than nothing.  

I had the great advantage of growing up with access to political icons like the late Congressman Bill Harsha (R-Portsmouth) and the late Speaker of the Ohio House Vern Riffe (D-Wheelersburg).  One of the stories they told me concerned former Congressman Louis Stokes of Cleveland when he was serving in the Ohio Legislature.  Stokes was attempting to have one of his bills signed into law when he took a break to blast then-Governor Jim Rhodes in an interview.  Rhodes invited Rep. Stokes to the Governor’s mansion for dinner. At the end of the evening, Governor Rhodes handed Stokes a copy of the interview with his freshly vetoed bill and stated, “Louis, you don’t kick Daddy in the pants and then ask for the keys to the car!” It is also important to remember, in politics, you never unnecessarily alienate someone you may need to work with in the future.

My favorite movie from last year was The Avengers (yes, I’m a raging geek) and one of my favorite moments from the film was when Captain America challenged Iron Man to come up with a plan of attack, to which Iron Man responded, “I have a plan—attack!” Many of my fellow conservatives approach politics like Iron Man when we need to heed Captain America’s advice.  Politics is like chess, if you don’t formulate a plan, you will lose.  In politics, in order to win, you typically need a united team, money, a message that resonates beyond your own group, and the right way to apply pressure to those in power. Unity, money, message, and power are necessary to win.  Unfortunately, conservatives in Ohio are not united, underfunded, speak largely to ourselves, and assume those we elect will do as we wish.  That’s a recipe for disaster.  We have to learn to work effectively within the system to nominate those who can win even if they don’t give us everything we want, and to reserve criticism for when we are behind closed doors. We have to be united, well-funded, speak with a message that sells, and apply pressure in a nuanced fashion–just as the NRA and other effective groups have done over the years.

I have been told by many Ohio conservatives over the last few weeks that we have a right to be angry because our issues (life, marriage, and religious liberty) poll so well [read on OCR: “Conservatives: ‘We’ll Take Our Chances”]. But in the 1990’s, when I worked on Capitol Hill, term limits and a balanced budget amendment all polled incredibly well but were stonewalled by the Democrats and moderate Republicans. Why? Because there wasn’t a united, well-funded, tightly messaged and effective organization martialing support for each issue.  If you want a Heartbeat Bill, you have to have a Heartbeat Bill organization that applies so much pressure on the legislature that they feel they have to do it or else. [Read on OCR: “One Heartbeat Away: What Happened to the Heartbeat Bill?”]   It has always been that way and it will probably always be that way.

Lately, I have been studying the history of American liberalism, and I discovered that most leftist ideas stem not from the 1960’s or the New Deal but from 19th century progressive movements that predate Karl Marx.  Thus, it took more than a century for our country to get into this mess, and we have only been fighting back for the last thirty-odd years. It may take a very long time to win this battle, but I believe our children, grandchildren, and so on, are worth it.  But to win the future for our children we will have to nominate candidates who can win, build coalitions, and plan effectively.

This is the political reality we find ourselves in, and reality is our friend.

Featured Columnist - MattMatt Rawlings is an attorney, pastor, former Congressional aide, past music video director and prodigal preacher’s kid.  Matt resides in Portsmouth, Ohio with his wife Emily, his son Jackson and his dog Duke (named after John Wayne not the university).  Matt blogs regularly at

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