The Fight for Principle in the GOP
For millions of Americans, politics has lost its meaning. There is growing dissatisfaction with both party organizations. More and more Americans tell pollsters they are Independents. The way to reclaim the Republican Party is not by seeking some illusory “middle ground” between principled conservatism and radical liberalism. The way to bring the GOP back at the national level is to hold the party leadership to the pledges it has made for generations.
A lot has been said and written lately of what journalists call the “Republican Civil War.” We need to remember that whenever Republicans have a party clash, journalists are happy to hold our coats. There is of course a struggle going on between Establishment Republicans in Washington, D.C. and many state capitals and the party’s grassroots – conservative, Tea Party, and local activists. Whether the issue is a hard-fought Republican primary or different tactics on repealing ObamaCare, whether the question is Common Core in education, or expanding Medicaid at the state level, there are going to be differences of opinion. But not every difference of opinion means a difference of principle.
Conservatives firmly hold to Founding principles of constitutional government. Conservatives press for economic liberty, traditional family values, and a bristling national defense. Needless to say, the Obama administration is for none of these things. We are urging GOP leaders at every level to give this administration a strong and effective opposition.
As conservatives, we need to understand that our opponent is not the Republican Party. Just this week, for example, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus led the members of the national committee in joining hundreds of thousands at the annual March for Life. I can attest, as a former Republican official, elected statewide in Ohio, that I have seen how the party can be a good vehicle for electing principled conservatives. Once in office, these conservatives can and should press for conservative alternatives to harmful liberal policies.
So, the Republican leadership must first understand that conservatives will not pledge allegiance to a party machine that takes them for granted and that only weakly opposes liberal initiatives. The new age of the Internet affords conservatives many new outlets to organize and inform grassroots supporters outside of the dying liberal news media – both print and TV. Conservatives will not stay “on board” if their deeply held beliefs are disregarded and their grassroots leaders are shunned. The party elites must contend with the fact that the people at home are watching and listening in to the discussions inside the Beltway.
Second, conservatives must be prepared to identify and back our true friends and resist those elites who only want to get along by going along. Rather than engage in what the liberal media wants to call a “civil war,” we should be waging a vigorous campaign for conservative victories at the grassroots. This can have a national impact. For example, the Republican National Committee listened to opponents of Common Core education standards who are often far better informed about this policy than the elites. The RNC has now come out firmly against Common Core. It’s been said that if you like ObamaCare, you’re going to love ObamaCore. Well, the RNC has gotten the message on this one. And it should be praised.
Third, the GOP leaders must understand that the path to electoral success requires active and enthusiastic support by the conservative grassroots. When party elites stiff-arm conservative candidates and principles, they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Ronald Reagan was right when he urged a reinvigorated Republican Party, one that would raise “a banner of bold colors” and not simply offer an alternative in pale pastels. There can be no success without engaging, embracing, and promoting conservative principles and people. Reagan spoke to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 1977. Even that early in President Carter’s term, it was clear he was flailing and failing. The former two-term California Governor said:
Our party must be based on the kind of leadership that grows and takes its strength from the people. Any organization is in actuality only the lengthened shadow of its members. A political party is a mechanical structure created to further a cause. The cause, not the mechanism, brings and hold the members together. And our cause must be to rediscover, reassert and reapply America’s spiritual heritage to our national affairs.
As conservatives, we can take the winning message of economic liberty, family values, and strong defense into minority neighborhoods and share our hopes and dreams with new supporters in churches and synagogues. The current administration is the most hostile to religious liberty in our history. It is threatening to make us subjects once again shackled to ObamaCare and burdened by its mandates. Our free market economy, our retirement and our children’s future has been placed in jeopardy. And we know from disillusioned administration insiders that the only concern President Obama has for our all-volunteer military is for radical social experimentation.
Republicans should not try to avoid free and open debate. That’s what Democrats did when they signed on to ObamaCare. That is what has put them in the greatest political danger. Instead, we can fight hard for principles and candidates who can win while articulating and defending the policies that unite us. Liberty is the cause and unity is the goal. When Ronald Reagan offered that kind of leadership, there were no red states, no blue states. We called them all red-white-and-blue states. We wanted to win them all – and very nearly did. Let’s press on!