Hark! Is that the call of the pissed-off conservative I hear? The lonely voice in the night that cries, “We need a new Conservative Party?”
I have to thank Mr. Doughart, because when I wrote about how conservatives waste time fighting one another over nothing, I completely overlooked the most pointless of all the non-controversies. If you are a conservative and want to dominate the conversation for the next five minutes, announce that you are done with the CPC or PC Party of Wherever and that it’s time for a new party, one that is REALLY about conservative ideas.
Everyone will think you’re some kind of bold heretic bucking the status quo, and will mutter aside to you that they, too, are *this* close to being done with those jerks running the show and if it weren’t for the fact that the Liberals and NDP were so much worse, they’d be right there with you.
At no point will you have to answer any tough questions about your new conservative party, the ones that never get answered. What are/aren't “conservative ideas”? Who will be allowed and not allowed to join? How do we recruit competent people away from the other parties? How do you plan to challenge the PMO and all the other powerbrokers currently directing traffic? Where is all the money going to come from?
Fictitious Principled Conservative Parties are built on the assumption that ideas are going to make up for all the other practical problems, and that they’re somehow going to be different from all the other fringe parties out there, and – this is the big one- that their supporters and volunteers and donors, whoever they are, will somehow never get tired of losing.
You want to know why Harper is the way he is? Why he made a deliberate point of making enemies of so-called principled conservatives? Because he got tired of losing. Putting 1997 Harper next to 2015 Harper and pointing out how the 1997 model would be campaigning against the 2015 model implies that Harper should have stayed a principled loser. And despite what the “We Need A New Conservative Party” crowd thinks, nobody respects a loser no matter how personally honourable they are. Just ask John Tory.
The only reason this problem exists is because there quite simply aren’t enough principled conservatives to win and to advance the agenda. Principled conservatives do not have to demonstrate the correctness of their ideas in op-eds. They have to win, and dominate the discourse after they win.
Rob Ford got the winning half of this formula right, and movements like the Tea Party and Team Trump get the controlling the discourse part right, but no conservative has been able to do both. The CPC, flaws and all, is and will remain at the high water mark for conservatism until someone proves they can do what they did without compromise.
How will we know when a conservative has been able to do both? When it’s people on the left calling for a new progressive party. When the Liberals and the NDP get over themselves and merge, for example, or when a vengeful splinter group takes over one of the parties like what’s happening to Labour in the UK.
This is Harper’s ultimate test, the ultimate determinant of his legacy. He must drive progressives in Canada to the point of madness, to the point where they utterly abandon the centre. If he succeeds, he will have achieved his goal of breaking the Liberal consensus. If he fails? Only then will the principled conservative critics will be vindicated.
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