The GOP's Fratricidal Threat to Liberty
Violating Reagan's Eleventh Commandment
“We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” –Benjamin Franklin (1776)
The grassroots Tea Party Movement is now five years old. With the 2014-midterm elections on the horizon, we should take account of who we were, where we are, and how to restore our lost momentum moving forward.
In the “wave” midterm election of 2010, the Tea Party revolt not only handed the GOP a historic turnover in the House of Representatives, it also led to the election of conservatives in state executive and legislative branches across the nation. After the smoke cleared, Republicans found themselves winners of 63 House seats, 6 Senate seats, 6 governorships and a whopping 680 state legislative seats, giving Republicans control of more state legislatures than at any time since 1928.
But the Tea Party landslide in 2010 did not extend to wins in 2012.
Because in 2010, the movement stood for a unified set of principles under the umbrella of Essential Liberty, advocating the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and the promotion of free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values. (If those principles sound familiar, it’s because they’ve been the essential ingredients of The Patriot Post’s mission statement since our inception – long before there was a Tea Party.)
Unfortunately, in 2012 and now again in 2014, the movement is defined more by whom it opposes rather than what it supports.
How did that happen?
As I wrote ahead of the 2010 election in “The Second Tea Party Revolt,” “The greatest strength of the Tea Party movement is the lack of any central organization – it’s a genuine grassroots movement. We derive great strength in forming a unified front uniformly devoted to Liberty.”
I wrote further, “However, inevitably, self-appointed Tea Party leaders will arise, as will organizations claiming ownership of the movement, and that will undermine the power and constrain the future potential of its grassroots momentum. … We must refuse to waste our precious political capital on fratricidal infighting based on ideological purity, and must instead, frame every debate around First Principles and Rule of Law, defining what we support, not just who we oppose.”
Indeed, “leaders” and organizations claiming ownership of the Tea Party did arise, and have undermined our cause, turning it into a contest for party power rather than Liberty.
That contest was on display last week at the American Conservative Union’s annual confab, CPAC 2014, which attracted a record crowd this year, primarily younger conservatives from colleges and universities. While some of the lineup at the CPAC podium devoted their time to the common cause of Liberty, others did what they do best – focus on who they are against rather than what they support.
A soft case in point would be Sarah Palin’s warning to the “Beltway Boys” in reference to the 2010 election results: “You didn’t build that. The Tea Party did.” Great line, but she uttered not a word about the 2012 election results, when both GOP conservatives and moderates had become more consumed with deconstruction than building.
The internecine warfare in the GOP may be good for cornering constituents and emptying their wallets, but it is most assuredly and demonstrably NOT good for advancing Liberty.
My favorite former radical leftist, David Horowitz, asks, “Can the marriage between the Tea Party and the GOP survive?” His answer, “It better.”
Horowitz writes, “How do we make this marriage survive? First of all, by recognizing that the basic difference between the Tea Party and the Republican Party is a matter of tactics and temperament, not policy and ideology. … I am a huge fan of what the Tea Party represents, though not always what it does. I believe the emergence of the Tea Party is the most important political development in conservatism in the last 25 years, and is possibly the last best hope for our country.”
But he notes, because there is so much internal strife within the GOP, we “fail to take the fight to the enemy camp.”
And the Democrats are laughing all the way to the ballot box.
Fortunately, the principled alliance of the original grassroots Tea Party has not been fully co-opted by those individuals and organizations forming “Tea v. GOP” circular firing squads. There is an emerging consensus from the frontlines that we need to reunite under that umbrella of what we are for – Liberty – and not who we are against.
But in the last two election cycles, the GOP has perfected a strategy to divide-and-conquer itself by way of intra-party fratricide. In the inimitable words of Walt Kelly’s lead swamp comic strip character Pogo Possum, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
On that note, let’s revisit the political model for success adopted by Ronald Reagan – the “Eleventh Commandment.”
In his 1990 autobiography, “An American Life,” President Reagan noted how this powerful political maxim came about during his first campaign for the California governorship: “The personal attacks against me during the primary finally became so heavy that the state Republican chairman, Gaylord Parkinson, postulated what he called the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. It’s a rule I followed during that campaign and have ever since.”
Reagan had witnessed the unrelenting attacks against fellow conservative Barry Goldwater by “establishment Republicans” of that era, who claimed Goldwater was too conservative. In effect, they divided the Republican Party, which led to his defeat in the 1964 presidential election.
In his 1966 gubernatorial campaign, Reagan’s primary opponent, George Christopher, was leveling the same charges against him. Parkinson’s order to stop the intra-party fighting prevailed, however, and Reagan went on to win the primary and the general election, serving two terms as California governor (1967–1975) on his way to becoming the greatest president of the 20th century.
The lesson here is that we should continue to field conservative opposition to moderate Republicans, but in doing so, we should focus on what we support, tenfold, over whom we oppose.
Notably, the current manifestation of infighting between conservatives and moderates in the GOP is not limited to vigorous principled debates in primaries. The internal strife has created ideological division within the party as a whole, which was clearly detrimental in the 2012 presidential and congressional elections – and will be even more detrimental moving forward.
Now, I certainly don’t want to leave the impression that the blame for this division belongs to fratricidal Tea Partiers alone. When Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says of Tea Party primary candidates, “I think we are going to crush them everywhere. I don’t think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country,” it generates a lot of ill will. And when Speaker of the House John Boehner refers to Tea Party conservatives as “knuckle-draggers,” it does the same. And understandably so.
What Republicans of all stripes need to do is adopt Reagan’s model for restoration, or look at what we accomplished in Tennessee over the last decade by emphasizing party-building rather than fratricidal division.
The fact is, most Republicans in the House and Senate score above 80% in the ACU’s congressional ratings. We ought to be able to build on our strategic common ground rather than divide on our tactical – and fractional – differences.
As Benjamin Franklin said famously when signing the Declaration of Independence, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” Franklin’s words should be the motto of the modern GOP – and a rallying cry for the restoration of Essential Liberty.
Pro Deo et Constitutione – Libertas aut Mors
Semper Fortis Vigilate Paratus et Fidelis