Nothing fails like success, you know? To take a couple examples from history:
Chancellorsville is rated as Lee’s greatest success as a general. Historians tend to use it as the justification for calling Lee a commander of genius and stand in awe of his decision to split his smaller army in the face of a larger enemy and slip around the Union flank to roll up a stunning victory. There’s only one problem with it: it was stupid.
It was only Hooker’s indecision which allowed Lee to pull it off. If the Union commander had pretty much just ordered his army forward any time during Lee’s movement to the flank, Lee would have been utterly crushed and his army totally destroyed. No really great commander gambles; great commanders rig the game so they can’t lose no matter what the enemy does. And if they can’t rig it at the moment, they don’t move. Lee’s move was daring – but reckless and no officer training school would ever teach a cadet to do that.
And it was also Lee’s eventual undoing: just two months later at Gettysburg, Lee, memory of Chancellorsville still fresh, sent his army into an attack which his primary subordinate told him was impossible. But his great victory gave him an entirely overinflated idea of what he and his army could do, and too high a level of contempt for what the Union army and its commanders were capable of. The doom of the Confederacy was sealed with Lee’s defeat: any chance of fighting the Union to a negotiated peace was lost when Lee’s foolhardy charge kicked the guts out of some of his best fighting units.
Next example: the German invasion of France in 1940. Once again, it is rated as a genius move by the Germans to send their main force through the Ardennes in a move to cut off the Anglo-French armies in Belgium. Manstein, the architect of it, is credited as a genius – and the fact that it worked tends to obscure the plain fact that it shouldn’t have worked. And I mean not at all. And while Manstein was the man who drew up the plan, he wasn’t the only general who noticed the Ardennes. In fact, nearly everyone did: German, French and English. And everyone discounted it: and not just because of the rough terrain. It also entailed sending a massive, mechanized force on a pencil thin drive supported by secondary roads. Any significant French of English drive against the flanks of such a force would quickly destroy it.
But, the Krauts got lucky. Very lucky. Half a dozen times. The French had plenty of opportunities, and forces in hand, to wreck the German plan. They unfortunately had generals who thought in terms of days rather than hours for response time. The German gamble worked only because a failure of French leadership. Especially in the first 48 hours of the breakthrough, just about any energetic French general at the Corps or Army level could have won the most stupendous French victory since Austerlitz had they just moved.
But it was also the German undoing. The success of their Ardennes gamble gave all of them, from Hitler down to the last Fritz, a massively overinflated idea of what they could accomplish. When Hitler turned his sights on Russia the following year, even the German generals who hated him figured six to eight weeks would be enough to finish off Russia. And it would have been – had the Russian leadership crumpled under pressure like the French leadership had. Stalin and his henchmen were rat bastards…but when the Germans were pounding at the gates, they stayed in Moscow and put up a fight rather than run away. And thus the Germans discovered that Luck isn’t on the side of the Master Race, but (as always) on the side with the biggest battalions.
So, why the history lesson?
Because our success was 1980 and 1984 and I think we sort of expect it to just happen again. That we have the right ideas and so we’ll just win if we get our ideas out there. We’re forever looking for the next Reagan to carry us to victory. We think that politics is just matter of finding the right message alchemy – instead of the hard work of getting voters to vote for us. Our too easy success against feckless opponents never prepared us for Clinton and Obama opponents…nor for the political machine they built and which elevated a senile degenerate to the White House in 2020.
To be sure, some get it: Scott Pressler is the most shining example of the youth of the GOP getting out there and doing the work. You should know: back around September when all of us were expecting a big win in 2022, he pointed out that while he was having some success in certain areas (most notably Florida), in lots of places there was little enthusiasm for the GOP…he was expecting what, in the end, we got: a small and incomplete GOP victory. We need more like Scott and we might just get them. People who are willing to do the hard work of registering voters and talking to them, to find out what might be on their minds.
We need to jettison Reagan. And it might be time to jettison Trump. Without for a moment elevating DeSantis or anyone else to demi-god status. Might RDS be our guy? He might. We’ll see. But if he turns out to not be the best tool to break down the Democrat door, then he gets discarded, quite ruthlessly, in favor of someone else. On and on like that – all the while working at the local level to shore up the real strength of the GOP. In each success is the seed of failure – but in each defeat there is the seed of victory. Our problem is that since 1984, we’ve only haltingly looked for the lessons our defeats are teaching us, and so we’ve lost all along…even during the times we officially came out on top of the vote. It is no good to simply get the office: we have to get all the offices, all at once, and with a firm commitment to certain actions. We can’t coast on Reagan, nor rely on a Trump to win our battle for us. It is time for us, all of us, to fight anew.