I listen to Hugh Hewitt every day, and was a guest on his nationally syndicated radio program a few years ago. He’s smart, well-informed and one of the best interviewers I’ve ever heard — and I’ve conducted literally thousands of interviews over the course of 25 years in journalism. And maybe his greatest feat is managing to be a football optimist despite being a Cleveland Browns fan.
But Hugh Hewitt and the establishment mindset he brings represents exactly what is wrong in Washington, D.C. today.
He is totally missing what is happening in the country, and just as importantly needs to happen in Washington, because, I think, he is too close. He is the establishment in mindset in that, of course, politicians do whatever needs to be done to get a win in the “W” column and look toward the next election.
Along the way of following this path, the Republican Party has indeed won the levers of control in D.C. — the House, the Senate, the White House and perhaps the Supreme Court — and at the same time gone a long way to losing its soul. Does the Republican Party represent conservative, traditional, Constitutional principles, or does it represent the continuation of Republican politicians’ futures and power in D.C.?
The Hugh Hewitt Mindset lists sharply towards the latter.
What is the Hugh Hewitt Mindset?
Essentially this mindset accepts swimming in the moral, ethical and principle-less cesspool that is current-day Washington, rather than living and leading by the morals, ethics and principles that could begin decontaminating the cesspool.
Yes, it is a lofty goal, and only ever partially achievable.
But the Hugh Hewitt Mindset actively works to puncture holes in the decontamination vessels sent to Washington to serve in Congress.
The Hugh Hewitt Mindset excoriates principled conservatives such as Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul who have stood by their beliefs even when taking a beating by the mainstream liberal media, to which Hewitt is dangerously cozy. The Hugh Hewitt Mindset castigates Sen. Ted Cruz for the government shutdown in 2013 and warns of the impending doom it would cause the party — and was proven totally wrong when Republicans swept to massive gains in 2014.
The Hugh Hewitt Mindset tears into the House Freedom Caucus, which tried valiantly to stick to the promises its members made to voters — that is, pour in a modicum of decontaminate — because in Washington it is totally expected to tell voters one thing and then do something else once elected. The Hugh Hewitt Mindset has no problem with Republicans promising strong conservative principles during campaigns, as long as those principles can be jettisoned to get a W for the Rs.
On the flip side, the Hugh Hewitt Mindset has seemingly no problem with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell running quite conservatively at home in Kentucky (also Rand Paul’s state) when McConnell seeks votes, then governing quite establishment-like in D.C. and tossing aside his conservatism whenever that works better. The Hugh Hewitt Mindset knows this is just the way things are, understands “everybody” does it — Republicans and Democrats in their respective ways — and accepts that. Gracious comfort is given to McConnell’s duplicity because McConnell can sometimes be effective in the cesspool. But in the end, he only adds contamination to the sludge in the system.
How the Mindset works
Hewitt writes a regular column for the Washington Post — and now has a show on MSNBC — because the Mindset makes him solidly establishment and so broadly acceptable in establishment circles in the media.
Indeed, Hewitt has an unwarranted love affair with the mainstream media. I appreciate many of the journalists he has on, but his obeisance to them is unbecoming, unnecessary and telling. He’s a terrific interviewer and asks many of the right questions and followups, but he legitimizes the most bias mainstream journalists (Glenn Thrush jumps to mind) to his audience of listeners on the conservative Salem Radio Network.
In his most recent Washington Post column, the full Hugh Hewitt Mindset was on display.
Hewitt slammed the “Wall Street Journal ideologues” because they think taxpayers in states that levy state income taxes should not get to deduct those from their federal taxes. The Journal writers understand that, fiscally, such deductions result in federal taxpayers living in states without income taxes — mostly red states — subsidizing the others. Why should Texas and Florida taxpayers be subsidizing the massively irresponsible spending in California and Illinois?
The Hugh Hewitt Mindset? “F.A. Hayek doesn’t vote in large numbers. Blue-state voters with Republican congressmen do.” Snarky, D.C. arrogant, and totally missing the principles of the “ideologues.” Another word for ideology might be principles. Instead, need a W for the Rs.
He writes: “The GOP lacks policy victories, thanks to imprudent Freedom Caucus members and scared moderates.” See? The Freedom Caucus with its foundational conservative principles would not throw them all away and go back on promises to voters regarding repealing Obamacare. They’re the problem. What are scared moderates? Those are incumbents who, if they have principles are far removed from the Founders’, and who would be frightened of losing re-election if they voted for the repeal and replace bill. He understands them.
The Hugh Hewitt Mindset prescription? “Odds of success increase if the parties go big at the start by removing the sequester’s limits on defense spending and adding immigration reform to the deal: appropriations for President Trump’s wall paired with legalization of the law-abiding, undocumented population but no path to citizenship. A truly ambitious “go big” option could also include a settlement of the judicial confirmation wars, because the more moving parts, the better the chances of success. McConnell, Ryan and Democratic leaders Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) could get together with a half-dozen of the smartest members from both parties to work on an expedited basis and go big.”
So basically, get a few really smart people in a backroom, wheel and deal out of the prying eyes of voters and the rest of Congress, make sure lots of people willing to trade their votes for bridges to nowhere get what they want, and then roll out some mammoth piece of porkified legislation covering a thousand political miles. Great idea. Always goes well. And in the end, we would have moved leftward even as Republicans controlled everything. Not an unusual outcome in the mindset.
G.K. Chesterton understood this problem when he wrote in, What’s Wrong with the World: “Compromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf.”
So if, say, members of the Freedom Caucus were to vote no on such a leviathan bill because they, on principle, oppose legalizing 12 million people who came here illegally — and they promised their voters they would not — the Hugh Hewitt Mindset gives them a sharp smack upside the head and blames them for not being prudent team players and dumping their promises and beliefs. They’re the problem!
The Mindset vs. principles
This is why Republicans are having such a devastatingly difficult time getting anything done, despite having all the power. They are a party divided between the dominating Hugh Hewitt Mindset and a minority holding to foundational principles.
The Democratic Party mostly wants to do stuff to help people — or buy votes, depending on your level of cynicism. But it has very few actual principles, and none that fall within the tradition of the Founders. It’s why Democrats joyfully celebrated a leader who wanted to “fundamentally transform” America. He was the first black President — fine, but not a principle. And he despised the Constitution as a “charter of negative liberties.” That fairly represents a lot of that Party — but not most Americans by a long shot.
But this absence of founding principles puts the Democratic Party on much more comfortable ground in D.C.
The Republican Party remains the repository of long-standing, bedrock American principles such as individual rights, freedom of religion and speech, limited government and capitalism. That formula of understanding that built this nation into the greatest in history is nested within the Republican Party, but rarely acted on.
But when Republicans stand up for those principles, and in doing so endanger some piece of legislation that the establishment leadership desires, they are pilloried by the Hugh Hewitt Mindset. Compromise is a necessity in legislating, but that does not mean burying principles. If this mindset pushes more politicians into compromising principles and campaign promises, or into elevating those who are ever more willing to, then the Republican Party will lose its soul. And if the Republican Party does, where are the foundational American principles to live? Do they ultimately vanish?
19th century theologian and philosopher Tryon Edwards wrote: “Compromise is but the sacrifice of one right or good in the hope of retaining another — too often ending in the loss of both.”
This is the path of the Hugh Hewitt Mindset.
Yes, I’m using Hewitt as a proxy to represent establishment thinking in D.C. and everywhere else it is to be found.
In Washington, there are no “self-evident truths.” There is winning. There is power and influence. There is re-election. And there is access to power and influence. The Hugh Hewitt Mindset abets the continuation of this sludgy, bad-for-America mindset, which means the continuation of the decline of America.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in The Revolutionary Act.