“By allowing more foreign sugar into the United States, we create unnecessary and hurtful competition.”

What left-wing hater of business and free markets could have said such a thing on the House floor Friday? It was Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who over his nine-year career in Congress has accumulated a 93 percent rating from the American Conservative Union.

On Friday, he was thundering absurdly about the danger “of becoming dependent on foreign countries for what we eat.”

In mid-September, Poe became one of the early co-sponsors of a bill that would have funded regular government operations on the condition that all funding for Obamacare was cut off.

He proudly posted on Facebook his vote to defund Obamacare. In that fight, where Republicans lacked the votes to win or even move the ball, Poe talked the conservative talk and helped mire Congress in a lengthy shutdown that at least one poll suggests is already hurting the conservative movement's Image and helping Obamacare's popularity rebound.

But in the fight over America's agri-socialist sugar program – a fight conservatives could have actually won with considerable bipartisan support if they'd stuck together – Poe was helping lead the charge on the wrong side.

It's a good example of what's wrong with the Right at this moment. Symbolism is trumping substance. Conservative lawmakers and activists are plunging into dead-end conflicts that do little more than inspire e-mail fundraising pitches; at the same time, they fail to stand up for basic conservative principles when given opportunities to win.

The U.S. government's role in the U.S. sugar market is to make sugar unnecessarily expensive for American consumers. The policy costs them an unnecessary $3.5 billion per year, and has led food manufacturers to substitute high fructose corn syrup for real sugar in common foods such as soda (which is why Coke tastes better in Europe).

American producers are essentially promised a floor price for their product well above what the market usually bears. By imposing strict import quotas and prohibitively high tariffs on cheaper foreign sugar imports, the federal government has, over the years, enriched a small number of large and lobbied-up sugar companies at the expense of consumers.

Consumers are not the only victims, either. Defenders of the sugar program argue that it saves 140,000 jobs in the sugar industry, but at the same time it costs more than four times that many jobs in the food manufacturing industry, whose prices have been needlessly inflated by the price floor.

Conservatives supposedly believe that markets work without government micromanagement. Their complaint about Obamacare has been that America's health insurance system was already failing through excessive government interference.

It will only get worse under Obamacare, a complicated scheme of perverse incentives, mandates and subsidies vaguely reminiscent of pre-Carter airline regulation.

Unfortunately, Obamacare passed Congress in 2010 without a single Republican vote, thanks to their heavy losses in two elections in a row. At the moment, the Republican Party lacks the clout in Washington to repeal Obamacare.

Yet, even as conservatives were beating their chests in an obviously doomed, pretend effort to make Obamacare go away, 85 Republicans voted on Saturday morning to block any reforms to a far more socialistic scheme that could probably be abolished or at least scaled back tomorrow if they'd only stick together and vote their beliefs.

There are no indications that any conservative group will primary any of them or even urge constituents to call in and turn up the heat against the anti-free market measure they just supported..

It's almost as though conservatives are determined to fight only the battles they can't win, and ignore those they might.

DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former Editorial Page Editor for the Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).