Suppose one wants to advance a particular ideological agenda in a democratic republic. What is the best strategy? Is it to get allies elected, regardless of how tenuous their commitment to one’s ideology? Or is it to remain ideologically pure and not compromise?
As in most things, the answer is a balance. Pure ideology yields the kind of factional pathologies that plague the hard core left and lead to the term “politically correct”. On the other hand, there’s the problem that election of people under cover of an ideology who then govern differently not only failing to advance the agenda but actually setting it back by discrediting it. One need only think of the “privitization” efforts in Russia to see an example of that effect in action (or “free-market” types in South America). Closer to home, the Democratic support for Clinton and Davis long after they’ve become major liablities shows some of the downside of judging progress only by the number of elected offices held.
On the flip side, the Socialists have implemented most of their original platform in the US without much electoral success at all. This was done by a combination of seeking electoral victory with the party more closely aligned ideologicall while still agitating for purity so as to exert pressure on the main stream party. The key insight is that there is a feedback loop between mainstream parties and mainstream opinion, that is not the case that one is determinant of the other. In the same vein, those who wish to advance conservative ideology (which I am, to a large extent), need to strike a balance between obtaining the levers of power and actually advancing ideologically. Like most balancing act, it’s much easier to call on the margins than in the typically muddled cases. For the latter, the context matters.
For instance, in the case of the California gubernatorial recall race, winning is more important than ideological purity because the latter was tried in the actual election and failed. That means that the scope of the possible is small and one needs to settle for the not bad (i.e., Schwarzenegger, the not-Davis).
In other cases, it might be better to push the envelope a bit. One case might be Specter vs. Toomey in Pennsylvania. I, personally, think that Specter is a mediocre at best Republican and far too frequently signs on to bad policy, especially for a Senator from a state where the Republicans have an almost lock on his office. This is a judgement call and that’s my judgement.
One can object, of course, that such intramural competition is damaging and that is true. However, in the long run not having such intramural challenges is more damaging, witness the Democrats these days. But dangerous factionalism is achieved by traveling the same road, so as mentioned at the start, a balance is required. It’s not perfect, but that’s politics.