Today’s conservatives are grouped into three major subcategories: the purists, the statesmen, and the appeasers.

The prevailing sentiment is that the appeasers are a dying, obsolete minority who exist primarily as an asset to the left. The movement no longer has any room for such useless pacifists, and for good reason, they are being sidelined.

On the opposite extreme of the spectrum stand the purists, no doubt the rising heroes of the party. Since Trump weaned conservatives off of the lingering appeasement strain of conservatism, political purism has carried the party. So totally have we fallen in love with the stubbornly uncooperative dogmatist, we have almost begun to treat anything less than unadulterated purism as treason to conservatism. For this reason, political purists routinely mislabel statesmen as appeasers.

It is wrong to think of statesmen as weak-kneed, spineless RINOs (the purist’s favorite name for anyone who fails his arbitrary purity test). It is also wrong to think of them as slightly more moderate (or less conservative) purists. In most cases, conservative purists and statesmen want the exact same things. Their ends are indistinguishable. Where they differ is in their means to those ends.

The purist strain holds obstinacy as a badge of honor. They tend to believe that loud, obnoxious bull-headedness is paramount to actually accomplishing anything. Antagonizing the left (or establishment Republicans) may be a natural byproduct of implementing a conservative agenda, but not to the purist. The purist holds antagonizing as an end in and of itself.

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The draw of political purism is that the purist can go home to his constituents and boast of “owning” the bad guys. His failure to advance a meaningful agenda is easily atoned for by his being a buzzworthy pain in the neck. The media hates him. He must be doing something right.

The statesman takes a very different approach. The statesman understands that politics is a nuanced game of give and take. And nuance does not sell on the campaign trail. The statesman understands that, sometimes, the best way to advance conservatism is through strategic, often painstakingly slow participation in the game.

There is a popular misrepresentation of the statesman that he is a submissive compromiser. In reality, the true statesman is simply shrewd, and he has his eyes on the prize. He understands that compromise today (accepting less than what the purist demands) may be necessary to win tomorrow’s fight. This does not mean the statesman must compromise on his principles. But he is willing to compromise on what he gets.

The problem with statesmanship is that it is unpopular with voters, particularly those who do not understand the inner workings of politics. “He voted with the Democrats 10 percent of the time!” scream the statesman’s purist opponents. “He was not nearly zealous enough!” Meanwhile, he has at least taken a step in the right direction while his obnoxious colleagues have nothing to boast of but being obnoxious.

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More often than not, the political purist accomplishes very little. Despite his loud, impassioned support for uncompromised conservatism, he burns with zealous nothingness. And all because he proudly refused to play the game. He let perfect become the enemy of good.

For example, the purist and the statesman both believe abortion should be totally outlawed. But the purist refuses to accept anything less than a total ban. The statesman, on the other hand, is willing to work toward that goal incrementally, saving as many lives in the process. Both have the same end in mind. But in a world of imperfect people, only one has any chance of ever getting there.

This does not mean the ends justify the means. It simply means the statesman is willing to take what he can get. 

Perhaps the greatest statesman in American history, James Madison, learned this lesson firsthand. As historian Gordon Wood recorded, while serving in the Virginia Assembly, “Madison continually had to make concessions to the ‘prevailing sentiments,’ whether or not such sentiments promoted the good of the state or nation. He had to agree to bad laws for fear of getting worse ones, and to give up good bills ‘rather than pay such a price’ as opponents wanted.” (Wood, G. S. (2007). Is There a “James Madison Problem”? In Revolutionary Characters: What made the founders different (p. 148). essay, Penguin Press.)  Such logrolling no doubt exasperated Madison. But if he wanted to accomplish anything at all, he could not afford to stick to his guns. He could not afford to be a purist. And ultimately, his humble willingness to “[moderate] the fury” prepared him to be the Father of the Constitution.

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Of course, sometimes we need a bull in the china shop to shake up the monotonous routine of politics as usual. But we cannot always have instigators going on Hulk-like rampages for no particular reason.

The statesman toes the line between Liz Cheney-esque appeaser and Marjorie Taylor Greene-esque firebrand. Between uselessly spineless and uselessly stiff-necked. The statesman is not afraid to stand for conservative values, but he does so calculatedly.

Today’s movement is full of purists, and every day, they prove that the era of the appeaser is dead. But if this becomes the purity era, in which we blazon our click-baitey war cries but do not actually accomplish anything, we will be just as unproductive as those who bent over backward, albeit for very different reasons.

It’s time to set our sights on something greater than just dropping truth bombs and owning the libs. If we want to save the country — and not just watch snowflakes cry all day — it’s time for a healthy dose of statesmanship.

It’s time to reintroduce the statesman.

Jakob Fay is a staff writer for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance.

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