For primaries, style over policy

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Winning the Texas Republican primary is tantamount to election in most parts of the state, and this has lead to some truly disappointing news this time around.

Don Huffines, of “My brother is a car dealer” fame, has narrowly beaten long-time incumbent State Senator John Carona. His campaign was ugly, won primarily through redefining what it means to be a conservative in the first place.

Gone are the days when a politician’s conservatism was measured by the policies they supported. Conservatism to Huffines (and many other candidates who made a name for themselves this election season), is more a rhetorical style than it is a list of policies to support.

Huffines defined himself as a conservative primarily by saying that because he was louder and more obnoxious in supporting right-wing ideals than his opponent he was the more conservative candidate in the race.

Ironically, conservatism is antithetical to radical right-wingedness. To be conservative, in the classical sense, is to be opposed to radical change in any political direction, left or right. Conservatives prefer to move the Overton window, rather than tear it out of the wall and throw it across the room.

So Corona now joins a long list of deposed politicians deemed, ultimately, too conservative in their support of right-wing ideas. Radicalism has taken over to such an extent that it has co-opted the definition of that to which it was once diametrically opposed.

And so once respectable politicians are now reduced to yelling in campaign ads that they’ll “oppose the Obama agenda,” as if saying no constitutes a political platform. To see reform-minded politicians reduced to meaningless platitudes and talking points is profoundly disturbing. Policy is all that matters once a candidate starts governing. But voters would rather hear complaints that an opponent once said something nice to a Democrat than hear a candidate’s position on entitlement reform, so now candidates like Katrina Pierson can give Pete Sessions a run for his money.

This dynamic may create good campaigners, but it wreaks havoc on the quality of a legislative body.

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