There is a schism in the republican party these days – albeit one that has existed since the early 1900s. In 1912 there was a three-way battle between the former president Theodore Roosevelt, the then current president William Howard Taft, and Senator Robert LaFollet, each faction deeming the others to be not really republicans. The ideological battle for a test of true conservatism continued through the FDR and Truman administrations, easing somewhat when centrist republican Dwight Eisenhower was elected in 1952. Hard right conservatives, most notably Barry Goldwater, threatened to leave the party and form a third party along with conservative southern democrats. That concept has been explained, “… the recipe for a new conservative party was plain: one part Midwestern Taft Republican, one part Southern states’ rights Democrat.” That coalition remains the core of the right wing faction of the republican party today – a coalition that is notable mostly because it has never won a notional election. Only when they have joined forces with the moderates and liberal wing of the party – under Reagan, Bush the Oneth, and Bush the Second – have the republicans won the White House. But, the alliance is nonetheless a tenuous one at best. Even after 100 years of history to the contrary, the true believers remain convinced that their hard right message is the only path to salvation.
By the 2000 election the division was clearly articulated with term RINO – Republican In Name Only “a pejorative used by socially conservative members of the Republican Party of the United States to describe other Republicans whose political views or actions are considered insufficiently conservative or otherwise not conforming to their positions.” The emergence of the TEA Party fiscal conservatives in 2009 brought what many thought was a huge new population to the conservative movement. Surely those additional voters would tilt the scales far enough to the right to silence the moderate and liberal republicans. Yet, when – horrors – Mitt Romney, who by general consensus was the most moderate of the presidential candidates, won the 2012 republican primary, the right wingers were verklempt. How could such a thing happen??? So sure were they that their brand of conservatism is the only acceptable philosophy, they failed to notice that their disdain and dismissiveness of those they deemed RINOs was hurting, not helping, their cause. Approximately 62 million Americans voted for George Bush in 2004; in 2012 only 61 million voted for Romney. Who were those missing voters? The social conservatives? No – they turned out in record numbers in 2012. The fiscal conservatives? Not so much. The disaffected moderates and the social liberals who were insulted for four years as not being “good enough” republicans? Bingo!! Instead of this “new conservative” message growing the republican party, it is, in fact, causing a defection that could result in its ultimate extinction.
John Podhoretz shares some interesting insights about the kerfuffle in Congress last week:
The most passionately anti-Obama Republican politicians and activists consider themselves the truest and purest of conservatives, and often unleash their scorn and fury on others who also call themselves conservative but differ on strategy and tactics… In so doing, they have turned on other conservatives — people who agree with them on substance — and accused them of impurity and corruption for refusing to march their party and their movement over a political cliff…
…Then came talk that Boehner should be fired as speaker of the House when the time came to vote in the new speaker yesterday afternoon. Yet none of the insurgents was brave enough to stand against him; instead, a bunch of them cast nonsense votes for someone else or refused to vote at all. In so doing, they came close to handing Boehner a humiliating and entirely destructive defeat — forcing a second ballot and leaving their own party leader critically injured. They seemed to crave disorder.
This is how people who are more comfortable on the margins than in the middle of things behave. This is cannibalism, not political combat. This is unreason, not reason. This is temper, not temperament.
This is anarchism, not conservatism.
Maybe it’s time to re-examine our definition of terms. Could it be that those who proclaim loud and long to be (capital C) “Conservatives,” Constitutionalists, TEA party members, Ron Paul supporters, or John Birchers are the real RINOs? Republicans In Name Only. Republicans when there is no other place for them to go; no other label for them to adopt; no other way for them to vote. Republicans only insofar as the rest of the party members agree with them. Republicans who insist on a purity of philosophy that divides the believers from the non-believers. The people who only claim republican affiliation in order to validate their own agendas.
Who, then, are the real republicans?
They are the party faithful who identify themselves proudly and unabashedly as “Republicans” – without apology or adjectives. They are the individuals who understand that the GOP is a big tent party that welcomes a broad spectrum of political beliefs based on a commitment to God, family, country – in that order. They believe that government is necessary, not a necessary evil. They understand that governance requires compromise and compromise is not a four letter word. More than anything else, real republicans know, understand, and acknowledge that it takes a majority to have the opportunity to govern, and efforts to purify the party will only serve to minimize the chances of obtaining a majority in any future election. Real republicans have been around for a long time. They’ve been battered and bruised, insulted and infuriated, dissed and disgusted, but they stick around. Because “real” is a commitment – not a condition.
“When someone loves you for a long, long time,” explained the wise, old Skin Horse to the Velveteen Rabbit, “not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse, “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair have been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” —The Velveteen Rabbit