Jack Kingston’s announcement that he’ll be seeking the nomination for U.S. Senate from Georgia came with the following statement to the AJC’s Greg Bluestein:
“(I) will yield no ground to any of my opponents as to who is the most conservative.”
In Republican circles these days, “conservative” is defined in the eye of the beholder. And when those beholders go to the ballot box, there are many trip wires within conservative litmus tests. One of the most prominent that will be on display in the months leading up to next July’s primary – or at least during the formative stages of this campaign when a pecking order among candidates is established – will be immigration reform. Kingston stakes out his “conservative” position via The New York Times:
“There was a lot of Washington talk about the gun bill’s possibilities, but I never saw that reflected in the people at home,” said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who has served since 1993. “Now there is all this buzz about the immigration reform, and that is not reflected, either.”
And with that statement, we now see the problem that John Boehner will be dealing with in the House over the next year or so. Republicans are keenly aware that they are elected in primaries. And Republican primary voters are driven by the activists. The activists are getting more loud, and less tolerant for anything that can be seen as not conservative. And anyone who attempts to explain reason, strategic vision, or the future pool of voters that will make up the party (and whether that is a sufficient number to ever achieve 50%) are quickly dismissed as establishment.
Candidates too often cede the opportunity to lead or to educate, and for unfortunate but good reason. In a world where primary voters seek to be affirmed, candidates follow the lead of what they expect their voters want to hear. It’s risky, time consuming, and very expensive to change the narrative. It’s much easier to mirror where a candidate feels the people already are.
Three of Georgia’s congressmen thus far have entered the U.S. Senate race. Each will likely want to prove himself “the most conservative” in the race.
John Boehner will likely not be able to count on these three votes on controversial issues between now and next July.