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"Party Unity" cannot exist with a "big tent"

By Scott Tibbs, February 24, 2010

At the Monroe County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner last Saturday, it was obvious local Republicans were energized. Barack Obama has fallen out of favor with the American people and it looks like 2010 will be a big Republican year. Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts gave us hope that we could defeat Evan Bayh, and with Bayh's departure from the race the odds are actually in favor of the Republicans. We cannot sit back on our laurels and do nothing, because no election is won without a great deal of hard work and campaigning. We cannot expect the American people to just reflexively vote Republican.

I did see a disturbing trend that could indicate future problems for the party, both nationally and locally. The keynote speaker said we need to support the Republican candidates because the worst Republican is better than the best Democrat, while another speaker called for us all to be unified. This sounds nice on paper, but the reality much more complicated. We are sowing the seeds for an eventual rejection by the American people.

This attitude of hyper partisanship and "party unity" is exactly what caused us to lose big in 2006 and 2008. Republicans had pushed one big-government policy after another. Republicans passed a significant expansion of the federal government's role in our public school system. That Ted Kennedy had a huge role in this should have been the first sign it was a bad idea. The Republicans also passed a brand new federal entitlement program with the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Conservatives were told to shut up, because the Democrats would be worse.

Worst of all, Republicans passed an unconscionable, inexcusable and brazenly unconstitutional campaign finance "reform" plan that went to the extreme of regulating the content of political speech. Then Republicans nominated the architect of that anti-American legislation to be their candidate for President, running on a laughable platform of "country first" after spending years trying to destroy the very freedoms this country was founded to protect.

Republicans like to talk a lot about being a "big tent" party, and we are. We have Republicans who favor gun control, favor keeping abortion legal and favor homosexual marriage. We have Republicans who support tax increases, more spending and bigger government. Most Republicans do not believe in those things, but we have many in our party who are not conservatives. This is exactly why party unity is a fraud.

Simply put, you cannot have party unity in a "big tent" party. If we are going to have a wide range of ideological perspectives in the GOP, then we have to expect there will be heated disagreements and debates about public policy. Sometimes, these debates will become bitter arguments. It is not realistic to expect people who have wide differences on public policy will not criticize each other and sometimes refuse to support candidates who have wildly different perspectives on public policy.

Look at the Libertarian Party, which has always touted itself as the "party of principle." This is admirable. Libertarians are not a "big tent" party. I cannot imagine Libertarians nominating a U.S. Senate candidate who favors strict limits on Second Amendment rights, as the Republicans did in 1998. Libertarians also rarely reach 5% of the vote. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is the large number of philosophical libertarians in the Republican Party and also due to the nature of our system that makes it very difficult for third parties to break through.

Standing firm on principle is something Republicans would do well to emulate. Does this mean we should only support candidates who are perfectly aligned with our own views? No. If that were the case, the only person I would be able to vote for is Scott Tibbs. For example, we have a number of good candidates for the U.S. Senate. John Hostettler is my choice, a consistent philosophical libertarian who refused his Congressional pension and has consistently stood for low taxes and limited government. Hostettler can be depended on to always fight for our civil liberties.

Hostettler is not alone. Marlin Stutzman is a solid conservative who would make an excellent U.S. Senator. If John Hostettler was not in the race, I would be supporting Stutzman. I was critical of Don Bates Jr. back in October. To be fair to Bates, however, I would enthusiastically vote for him if he wins the primary. Whatever disagreements we may have on legislative strategy, Bates is a good man and a solid conservative. I have complete confidence that he would be a reliable pro-life vote if he is elected to the Senate.

But there are candidates who I cannot support. John McCain, who dedicated his Senate career to attacking American values, was one of those candidates. What we have to realize as a party is that most people do not give a rip about the Republican Party. Party insiders and candidates can appeal to party unity all they want. It is generally true that the worst Republican is better than the best Democrat, and even I have to admit that McCain would have been a better President than Barack Obama. But the American people are not interested in party labels. They want candidates who share their values, will protect their civil liberties and push for responsible fiscal policy.

If we are going to have long-term success as a party, the Republican Party must be a party of principle. Does this mean that every single Republican must be a conservative on every issue? Absolutely not. I have some views that are inconsistent with most Republicans, especially regarding decriminalizing drugs. But the basic orientation of the Republican Party must be limited government, low taxes, sound fiscal policy and a strong national defense. Most importantly, Republicans must advocate protection of the unborn. Principle is the key to political success.