Alexander's Column

What's wrong with the Republican Party: A Case Study

By Mark Alexander · Jul. 28, 2006

With Republican majorities in the House and Senate, and a Republican in the White House, the GOP should have picked up where Ronald Reagan left off – leading the nation as constitutional constructionists. Unfortunately, a cadre of constitutional obstructionists has split the Republican Party, diminished party loyalty and taken public support for the President and Congress to historic lows.

Yes, Republican principals have shown great leadership on national-security issues – most notably prosecuting the war with Jihadistan. However, they have failed to articulate why the Bush Doctrine of Pre-Emption is, clearly, the best method for defending our nation against catastrophic attacks by Islamofascists. Weak-kneed Republicans have been run over by Senate Demo Leader Harry Reid, House Demo Leader Nancy Pelosi, and their gang of traitors, who have succeeded in undermining the nation's resolve in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

On the domestic front, however, Republicans have failed miserably, particularly in holding the line on government growth, spending and regulation. Conservatives expected President George W. Bush and his congressional majorities to lead the charge on behalf of individual liberty, the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the promotion of free enterprise and traditional American values, as outlined in The Patriot's Statement of Principles. They have not.

Instead of advocating President Reagan's balanced-budget amendment and tax reform, under Republican leadership, the size and regulatory role of the central government has grown largely unabated since President Bush took office, and his fiscal budget for 2007 reflects spending increases over his tenure of almost 50 percent more than Bill Clinton's last budget. Today, the federal government spends $2.47 trillion – that's 2,470 billions of dollars – each year. Adjusted for inflation, that's 50 percent larger than the big-government Clinton-era budgets of only a decade ago.

Increasingly, Americans can't distinguish Republicans from Democrats on many key domestic issues. One can discern some strident ideological differences between the most conservative and liberal Senators and Representatives, and the Party Platforms are notably different. Yet on the role-of-government issues – those which, historically, have divided the two parties – the “great middle” of the legislative branch falls into the “distinction without a difference” category. Indeed, while lawmakers identify themselves as Republicans and Democrats ideologically, their actions are, for the most part, indistinguishable.

Of course, there is one notable exception on the domestic front, where Republicans have excelled, and that is replacing judicial activists on the Supreme Court with constitutional constructionists. Should Justice John Paul Stevens or Ruth Bader Ginsburg retire, President Bush will have the opportunity to nominate a third constructionist to the High Court. If he does, and if that nominee is confirmed by the Senate, the Supreme Court will, for the first time in 70 years, have a majority of constitutional constructionists, which could dramatically change the legal landscape by restoring constitutional integrity.

However, President Bush will not get such a nominee confirmed unless Republicans retain control of the Senate – and based on the miserable job the current slate has done as the majority party since 2002, their standing is now threatened.

Why? Consider the difficulty in getting Republicans with strong conservative credentials through primaries. Without Republican candidates in the general election this fall who can clearly articulate a conservative vision to replace the current Republicratic status quo, Senate and House majorities are at risk. Of course, Republicans are hoping that “carrot and stick” state initiatives like marriage amendments will rally enough conservatives to maintain their status quo. It worked in 2004, but will it work this year?

Case in point: Tennessee. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is retiring to run for president in '08. His open seat is being hotly pursued by a few Republicans, most notably Ed Bryant and Bob Corker. Whoever wins the August 3rd Republican primary will face a formidable Democrat opponent – Rep. Harold Ford.

Mr. Bryant is a veteran who served our nation as an Army officer for six years after college, who taught constitutional law at West Point, who became a successful attorney and later was nominated by President Bush(41) and confirmed as a U.S. Attorney for the District of West Tennessee (Demo Rep. Harold Ford's territory). Bryant resigned that post in protest in 1992 after Bill Clinton's attorney general, Janet Reno, pressured him to move the corruption trial of Harold Ford, Sr., from Jackson to Memphis, where the corrupt Ford political dynasty would find a far friendlier jury. Bryant was then elected to the U.S. House, where he served five terms until stepping down in 2002. He has well established conservative credentials, including his congressional voting record.

In an unusual move ahead of a primary election, Bryant has received endorsements from Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), Sam Brownback (R-KS), John Ensign (R-NV), Trent Lott (R-MS) and Thad Cochran (R-MS). His candidacy has been endorsed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, under whom Bryant served. He also has the backing of many leading organizations, including the American Council for Immigration Reform, Concerned Women for America, Tennessee Right to Life, Home School Legal Defense Association, Madison Project and the National Coalition of Conservative Republicans.

His opponent, Mr. Corker, is a Chattanooga native who, after college, spent four years as a construction superintendent before starting his own company. Corker demonstrated exceptional initiative and ingenuity by building a successful construction firm and later expanding into real-estate acquisition and other investments. In 1995 he took leave from his company to become commissioner of finance and administration under then Republican Governor Don Sundquist. (It was Sundquist who almost sank the state Republican organization when he attempted, unsuccessfully, to implement a state income tax.) Corker was elected mayor of Tennessee's fourth largest city, Chattanooga, in 2001, where he managed the city as he had his business enterprises – as a fiscal conservative. To his credit, Corker was, arguably, the best mayor in that city's history.

Notably, Corker's campaign lists no significant endorsements. This is largely because he has no record on national or constitutional issues other than those he took in a previous senate bid back in 1994. He was not politically active in the decade before that primary, and has flip-flopped on some significant conservative issues since 1994.

Both Bryant's conservative record of military and public service and Corker's conservative record as a business owner and municipal manager are commendable, but Bryant's ability to articulate conservative principles, and his record of support for those issues, make him a far more stellar candidate.

That notwithstanding, Mr. Corker is leading Mr. Bryant by at least 10 points going into next week's primary. That lead is, as in many other primaries around the nation, a reflection not of Corker's conservative support but of name recognition.

How does a wealthy business owner and former local mayor get statewide name recognition? The old-fashioned way – he buys it!

Mr. Corker is worth more than $225 million and has collected almost $10 million for his campaign, the vast majority from wealthy “country club” Republicans. Mr. Bryant, on the other hand, has a net worth of about $250,000 and has raised about $2.2 million for his campaign, the vast majority from small donors. (Notably, Mr. Corker has funneled almost as much of his own money into his campaign as Mr. Bryant has raised in total.)

Consequently, Mr. Corker has been able to run some 10,776 ads at last count, compared to Mr. Bryant's 1,124 ads.

Some of Mr. Corker's ads have been so disingenuous that one of the newspapers that endorsed his campaign, Nashville's influential Tennessean, called a Corker ad released last week “seriously misleading,” claiming that he “turned what should have been a one-day story into a character issue by sticking with the flawed assertion even after it was exposed.” The Tennessean called on Corker to “pull the ad and admit it is misleading,” but Corker has not done that.

Of course, false advertising has become standard fare in most political campaigns.

In the final analysis, perhaps the most telling evidence of who Bob Corker really represents is the fact that he did not put aside his own ambitions for the good of the Republican Party and the nation, before this primary. Bob Corker should be Ed Bryant's biggest donor. Unfortunately, egos can sometimes be as flush as bank accounts.

In reality, Corker is poised to win next week's primary. If elected to the Senate in November, Corker's voting record will likely parallel Tennessee's other senator, Lamar Alexander. Status quo.

The operative phrase in the previous paragraph is, “if elected.” Mr. Corker, with the full support of Ed Bryant after the primary, should be able to rally enough conservative voters between now and November to defeat Harold Ford, Jr. If not, however, then the U.S. Senate will be one seat closer to Democrat hands. Such an outcome would, of course, deal a deathblow to President Bush's prospects for another constructionist nominee to the Supreme Court – and where goeth the Court, so goeth the nation.