Crank-Lamborn rematch bodes ill

As Whittaker Chambers wrote: “Since my desire is to live, I must live as far as possible outside the vapors of the perishing West even to the point of living as differently as possible from it. For, to survive at all, one must stand against it in its corruption (in this my instinct was never wrong and has never changed) even though one is not at war with it, is even committed to its defense. Actually, and with the profoundest vindictiveness of unhealth, it does not wish to be defended; it deeply resents anyone who would defend it and will seek to destroy him.” (Cold Friday, 1952) With Jeff Crank’s formal announcement that he will challenge Congressman Doug Lamborn (CO-5) in a GOP congressional primary in 2008, we have confirmation of what had been widely suspected: Mr. Crank *really* wants to be a congressman.

The fact that Mr. Lamborn stands for all the conservative principles to which Mr. Crank adheres, and has championed them for much longer and, if we’re being honest, with more vigor than Mr. Crank has, is no matter. We El Paso conservatives will therefore be treated against our wills to a replay of the 2006 primary, with the Crank camp accusing Mr. Lamborn of having distorted Mr. Crank’s record the first time around, thus having obtained his office illicitly, and thus having deserved Mr. Crank’s 2008 challenge.

The same people who will support Mr. Crank in this endeavor have in the past and will again, as a simple political reflex, offer up the normal “Party unity!” platitudes should Mr. Crank be victorious and anyone challenge him in a future primary.

Beyond this element of hypocrisy, what is so tedious about the “He lied about me” accusation of Lamborn is that it is itself illicit, and plainly so. Neither Mr. Lamborn, nor the Christian Coalition, nor the Club for Growth, nor anyone else who researched for themselves the relevant history, distorted Mr. Crank’s record. They publicized and documented Mr. Crank’s record, including his support while Vice President at the Chamber of Commerce for a City Council candidate who openly supported the homosexual movement, and Mr. Crank’s pragmatic opposition to a grassroots attempt to cut taxes.

Both episodes were, admittedly, liabilities to Mr. Crank in the 2006 primary. This is only the most obvious reason why he should not have taken the positions he took. A less obvious but more meaningful reason is that these positions were and still are contrary to the conservative principles Mr. Crank professes. It was not wrong in 2006 to point this out, and it will not be wrong in 2008 to point this out.

Yet this plain fact will remain forever obscure to many El Paso Republicans who are blinded both by their lack of understanding of conservative politics and by their involvement in the Party. I mean their regular involvement in Republican functions, whether Lincoln Day dinners or committee meetings at headquarters or friendship with GOP office-holders or just the rampant and vicious gossip that circulates in any county party – where the common coin is not, “What is true and right, and how do we get a victory for it?”, but instead, “Who is running for what, and who said what to whom, and how do we increase our popularity?” – this has made them forget the reason they got involved in the Party in the first place.

It has replaced their original, innocent love for what is true and right (commonly called “conservatism,” in useful contrast to “liberalism,” which is more accurately understood as what is not true and not right, even when it wears Republican dress) with a love for party titles and for status in party social circles.

The former line of thought and conversation builds character in both the individual and the Party. The latter line of thought and conversation has its origins in high schools across the nation and is destructive both to good judgment between men and to Party strength on behalf of the Good.

This is, alas, the origin of the well-documented conflict between Party Insiders and the party grassroots that is and will remain at the root of the Lamborn-Crank contest and every contest like it. It is a common joke among grassroots conservative activists that, once elected to office, it’s only a matter of time before a once-faithful conservative becomes a Party Insider and, by definition, useless for anything worth being useful for – like, say, actually advancing the conservative agenda in public policy.

Sometimes office-holders will stray obviously, as with the recent publicity surrounding a GOP member of the U.S. Senate – a family-values kind of guy – caught associating with a DC prostitution ring, and not for their campaign donations. More often, a GOP’er who gets elected to office strays more subtly, in a way only his family, closest friends, or staff would ever notice. He strays by becoming too attached to the office and its perks, making him reluctant to do anything he views as threatening his ability to hold onto that office.

The same dynamic works on Party Insiders of all stripes, whether they hold some office in the county party or just like being invited to GOP cocktail parties and soirees at the Governor’s Mansion: I don’t want to be viewed as one of those extremist, narrow conservatives. I want to be liked.

Which brings us to Mr. Lamborn. Mr. Lamborn gives off a very strong air of not caring whether he is popular. He also gives off a very strong air of caring more about being with his family than about the latest Republican gossip. It is an air that is at once entirely foreign and obnoxious to Party Insiders, who perceive Mr. Lamborn’s healthy adult disregard for their gossip as a personal affront, his innocently consistent and deep conservative conviction as another reason he doesn’t belong, his occupation of an office to which One Of Their Own is entitled as a temporary anomaly in the natural course of the cosmos, and his disregard for his personal popularity as crankiness and, well, unhipness.

It's somewhat like the way athletes in high school view their studious contemporaries. Nobody ever officially anointed the athletes the In Crowd; they just assumed the office and acted the party naturally. You might say, as Thomas Sowell put it, they are the Self-Anointed. Nobody ever officially anointed the studious crowd the Out Crowd either; it just never occurred to them, even if they played sports, to sacrifice their studies for some short-term popularity. They rarely lived to regret that position.

All this is simply to say that Mr. Lamborn is still the hero of a man he was in 2006. His victory then, with its comeback nature, was the sweet kind of electoral justice that is becoming more and more rare in the GOP as the memory of Reagan, about which Mr. Lamborn knows more than any of his critics, fades further and further into the distance. He has been a stellar congressman, showing the same stout nerve and principled conviction in Washington that he showed for 12 years in Denver.

By deciding to challenge him in the 2008 primary, Mr. Crank is guilty of the very bad faith of which he and his most vocal supporters have spent so much time and energy attempting to convict Mr. Lamborn. And by soldiering on steadfastly in the face of such inane opposition, as he has now done in legislative office for a decade and a half, Mr. Lamborn continues to model before God and man what it means to be committed to the truth, and thus to the true interest of his Party.