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Republican Purity and Conservatism

It appears that the Republican National Committee is working on a set of principles that Republican candidates have to adhere to in order to receive funding and support from the RNC. There are ten principles listed, and the candidates have to adhere to at least seven of these principles “as identified by the voting record, public statements and/or signed questionnaire of the candidate.” If they do not, then the candidate “shall not be eligible for financial support and endorsement by the Republican National Committee”.

Republican Elephant AngledOn the face of it, this doesn’t really seem to be too unreasonable. After all, a political party should have a set of core issues, and too much deviation does beg the question as to whether the party should support that candidate. So far, not a big deal.

However, something that interests me is that of the 10 principles that have to be adhered to receive funding, pretty much all of them could be opposed by a principled conservative, and many of them have been opposed by prominent Republican officeholders and candidates. Here’s a rundown:

(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

Taking this construction literally, it appears that any increase in spending would have to be opposed for perfect adherence–or, at the very least, any bill that increases spending in one area would have to cut another. So a Republican politician who wants to, say, increase defense spending would violate this principle unless he also supports an equal or greater spending reduction somewhere else. What if a bill doesn’t allow that?

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;

Well, Obama-style “government run” health care is not, in fact, government run and it is very similar to the health reform plan in Massachusetts, which was adopted and supported by Mitt Romney, who is probably the current frontrunner for 2012 GOP Presidential nomination. Additionally, I would also say that strict adherence to the letter of this principle would mean that GOP candidates would have to oppose Medicare and Medicaid–which is fine if that’s how they want to run, but it’s probably not an election winner. Furthermore, many prominent conservative intellectuals, notably Friedrich Hayek, have offered support for government-provided health insurance. Is Hayek too liberal for the modern GOP?

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

Technincally, cap and trade is a market-based reform, as it creates a market for carbon emissions. Structurally, it’s similar to the Clean Air Act of 1990, which set up an emissions trading program for sulfur dioxide. The Act was signed by then-President Bush, co-sponsored by several Republicans, and passed with a vote of 89-10 in the Senate and 401-25 in the House. Why was it okay for Republicans then, but not now?

Additionally, both John McCain and Sarah Palin announced their support for a cap and trade program during the 2008 elections (although Palin has since come out against it).

(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

And if someone, as a conservative, opposes this government intrusion into contractual relations among individual workers, a union, and their employer on the principle that such individuals should set their own rules?

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

Amnesty is a policy that used to have large amounts of Republican and conservative support. President Reagan, for example, signed amnesty legislation in 1986. George W. Bush and John McCain both supported a path to legalization that was often derided as “amnesty.” Again, why is this a central issue when clearly there is a disagreement among prominent Republicans as to whether this is optimal policy?

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

This just doesn’t make sense. Last time I checked, nobody in the military was requesting more troops in Iraq. And there is a division in the Pentagon over whether more troops should be supplied to Afghanistan. More to the point, there is a large strain of conservative foreign policy thinking that opposes interventionism and nation-building. Are those thinkers now no longer considered Republican?

7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

This is rather simplistic. What is meant by “containment”? Additionally, if the State Department is able to, say, negotiate an end to Iranian or North Korean nuclear programs based on an end to sanctions, would a Republican who supported such negotiations be violatiing this rule because that wouldn’t be “containment”? Or adhering to it because the negotiations are “effective.” This is frustratingly vague.

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

And so a conservative politician, such as the late Barry Goldwater, who believes that DOMA violates federalism and state control over marriage policy, would be determined to not adhere to this principle.

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

Again, this is frustratingly vague. Does opposing “rationing” mean no government-imposed cost controls, even though programs such as Medicare or through selection of federal employee’s health insurance programs? If a conservative politician opposes a bill that would mandate coverage for people with a pre-existing condition, is he supporting the “denial of health care”?

10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership;

Once again, this is frustratingly vague. How stringently do we define “government restriction on gun ownership”? Does that mean a politician who supports laws that prevent convicted felons or the mentally ill from owning firearms, he violates this rule? Does a politician who supports laws preventing the ownership of fully-automatic machine guns violate this rule? Once again, those don’t seem like election winners or something that a majority of Republicans would support.

* * *

Like I said, I think that the RNC is completely within its rights to decide what candidates it wants to endorse and finance. But if the resolution above is passed as it is, it will almost certainly lead to more heated confrontations between the various wings of the Republican Party and make it much less effective. As someone who wants a strong, multi-party political system, this makes me really uneasy. Although I do support a lot of Democratic Party policies at the moment, I don’t support all of them and would much prefer that voters have an opportunity to vote for a strong alternative in elections.

But if the Republican Party continues to splinter over these types of issues and give in to a particular minority of Republican opinion, it’s only going to serve to alienate more moderates from the GOP and further strengthen the Democrats’ hold on power for a long time to come. That’s not a healthy outcome for our Republic.

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About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp writes about pretty much everything under the sun, including politics, art, religion, philosophy, sports, music, culture, and science.

Comments

  1. Ugh says:

    We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits

    except when it comes to

    workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check

    and

    victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges

    and

    containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat

    and

    retention of the Defense of Marriage Act

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  2. G.A.Phillips says:

    What in the great bloody hell? No, We support ending the crime against humanity known as abortion?

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  3. Alex:

    Look, they felt they needed 10 points because the real GOP platform only requires three:

    1) We love us some rich people.
    2) We hate us some homos.
    3) We’re very, very angry.

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  4. floyd says:

    If the Republican Party must look more like the Democrat Party in order to be successful, then who cares who wins? We are then stuck with a Soviet style political system in which you vote for The Party or you don’t , with the same result either way. This leaves those who prefer relative self sufficiency and liberty, doomed to a life of involuntary servitude without any hope of representation.
    It is time for those Americans who value this nation’s founding principles to form a viable new party.

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  5. Steve Plunk says:

    That’s some twisted logic there Alex. Opposing cap and trade is somehow not a conservative position? Wanting secret ballots for union votes is not a conservative position? You can take all of these issues to the absurd and make it look hypocritical but the reality is it is not.

    This is not contract language, it’s a set of broad principals meant to guide candidates and the RNC. Conservatives like myself see them for what they are.

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  6. Alex Knapp says:

    Steve,

    Opposing cap and trade is somehow not a conservative position?

    I’m not saying that opposition to cap and trade isn’t conservative. I’m saying that principled conservatives can support cap and trade. A Republican President and Republican members of Congress did in 1990. The Republican Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees did in 2008. Are you saying there’s no room in the GOP for debate on this issue?

    Wanting secret ballots for union votes is not a conservative position?

    The government interfering with the voluntary assocation of unions and the way they govern themselves is a conservative position?

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  7. ggr says:

    Last I checked the military is fairly significant part of the gov’t … how do you simultaneously decrease its size while doing surges?

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  8. Drew says:

    “The government interfering with the voluntary assocation of unions and the way they govern themselves is a conservative position?”

    LOL Well, I suppose we could argue, like Alex, that the union view, in order to “govern themselves,” by demanding that union voters have a union rep, with knife to the throat, at their sides as they vote is just fine and dandy.

    How about the Nazi’s, to “govern themselves” holding a gun at election sites.

    How aboiut the Democrats having Black Panthers intimidating people at election sites………….oh, wait, that actually happened.

    I could argue other ridiculously stupid positions, but I’ll leave that to future Alex Knapp posts.

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  9. G.A.Phillips says:

    It is time for those Americans who value this nation’s founding principles to form a viable new party.

    The tea Party?lol…..

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  10. G.A.Phillips says:

    How about the “Heman Donkey haters club”?

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  11. Steve Verdon says:

    Furthermore, many prominent conservative intellectuals, notably Friedrich Hayek, have offered support for government-provided health insurance. Is Hayek too liberal for the modern GOP?

    First, I don’t think I’d call Hayek a conservative, more of a classical liberal. So in many regards Hayek might be too liberal for the GOP.

    Second, if you are referring to Hayek’s passage in Road to Serfdom he was referring to very costly events by which and individual cannot take any measures by which to protect himself from their occurence. It isn’t like what we are seeing today.

    But the point that there might be some room for the government in the health care issue is valid and the current GOP are being silly in going down this route.

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  12. Well, I’m not a member of the GOP, but I think you are making a categorical mistake to define the GOP as having many conservatives at all. They’ve become like the Tories in Britain merely arguing that they can administer Leviathan better than the Labour Party.

    Saying that a Republican President and Republican members of Congress supported this in 1990 just makes my point. Principled Republicans can support cap and trade, as they kind of like the idea of being able to dole out favors to their gang instead. It is, however, anathema to conservatives who believe in enumerated powers and limited government.

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  13. Alex Knapp says:

    Drew,

    LOL Well, I suppose we could argue, like Alex, that the union view, in order to “govern themselves,” by demanding that union voters have a union rep, with knife to the throat, at their sides as they vote is just fine and dandy.

    Violence and intimidation are already illegal. And there’s nothing in the card check legislation that would require no secret ballot, n’est-ce pas? So it’s government interference in private, contractual relationships.

    Charles,

    It is, however, anathema to conservatives who believe in enumerated powers and limited government.

    According to my copy of the Constitution, Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce.

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  14. [...] Mark Thompson we find out that under this proposed test a lot of Republicans would be in [...]

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  15. According to my copy of the Constitution, Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce.

    And for regulate, read tax.

    Mind you, I’m not saying Congress doesn’t have the power to regulate interstate commerce, but I think cap and trade goes well beyond anything the framers might have ever intended by such regulation. But I guess what strikes me as the most troublesome is your undying faith in the goodness and efficacy of government regulation over any potential market oriented solutions.

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  16. Herb says:

    I just can’t take the Republicans’ “We support small government” stuff seriously. Of course, they don’t either.

    They’ll sit there and say, “We’ve got to get the government out of healthcare” but then argue for the indefinite detention of terrorists suspects.

    They’ll complain about regulating the banking sector, but they see no problem with the FCC regulating the air waves for decency’s sake.

    Want a gun? “Small government” conservatives are in your corner. Want to get married to someone of the same sex? No can do.

    Small government types always –not sometimes, but always– find that their small government principles are thrown out the window whenever they need a big government solution.

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  17. Charles:

    I think our collective faith in the free market was somewhat diminished when bankers decided, “Hey, let’s take a lot of sh*tty loans, bundle them together in a big pile of sh*tty loans and get rating agencies to declare them golden! Then, when it blows up in our faces we’ll cash our bonus checks while the government barely manages by throwing trillions of dollars at us to keep the entire worldwide financial system from falling off a cliff!”

    Maybe it was that.

    Or maybe it was the many times when the free market said things like, “Salmonella? It’s cheaper to pay the occasional wrongful death judgment than to actually sweep the factory.”

    Or, “Here’s a great way to make money: let’s collect premiums, then as soon as someone gets sick we cancel their insurance, ah hah hah!”

    Or, “Seatbelts? How gonna make money on seatbelts?”

    Or, “Sure we tested that drug. Yeah . . . tested it, that’s what we did. Sure.”

    Or, “I believe that cigarettes are not addictive.”

    I could go on and on and on. But it won’t matter: you have your religious faith in the magic of the marketplace.

    We need the innovation and efficiency of the market, but we also need regulators. Because sometimes it makes perfectly good business sense for the free market to rob, cheat and kill. And then we want people who have motives other than short-term profit.

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  18. [...] UPDATE: Via Mark Thompson we find out that under this proposed test a lot of Republicans would be in violation. [...]

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  19. Jose says:

    As a Progressive Republican I personally know there are many RNC donors and supporters who I believe will challenges this in court. Many in the moderate wing of the Party are starting to wake up and will sue. This document is ripe for a major lawsuit and I doubt if the RNC would win.

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  20. Alex Knapp says:

    Charles,

    And for regulate, read tax.

    Which is also one of the enumerated powers.

    but I think cap and trade goes well beyond anything the framers might have ever intended by such regulation.

    And I think that having military bases in 100+ countries is beyond what the framers intended when they gave Congress the power to raise armies. That doesn’t mean that its not one of the enumerated powers.

    But I guess what strikes me as the most troublesome is your undying faith in the goodness and efficacy of government regulation over any potential market oriented solutions.

    Pollution from factories, power plants, cars, etc. causes demonstrable harm to human beings and property. It is therefore a violation of individual rights. It is the proper role of government to protect people from violations of their rights. Congress could do this by banning harmful emissions outright.

    They could choose to phase out emissions with great specificity (e.g. “all West Virginia coal plants have to cut by 32% in the next three years”). Instead, they are going by the route of setting a cap on emissions, then allowing the market to trade for the ability to use them, all the while slowly reducing the cap. It’s allowing the market to drive innovation through the pricing of emissions.

    Now, I believe that a tax on carbon emissions would be a better, less intrusive means of accomplishing the goal of reducing emissions. But cap and trade isn’t a bad or unworkable idea. It has, in fact, been very, very successful in reducing sulfur dioxide emissions. It’s not “faith” in cap and trade that I possess–it’s empirical evidence from the experience of the SO2 emissions trading scheme that has been operating successfully since 1991.

    There is no “market” solution to the problem of CO2 emissions because there is currently no price on the externalities involved, therefore there is no incentive to emit less.

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  21. sam says:

    @Charles

    But I guess what strikes me as the most troublesome is your undying faith in the goodness and efficacy of government regulation over any potential market oriented solutions.

    Well, when “market-oriented” solutions don’t work, there’s always the Chinese solution.

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  22. [...] Republican Purity and Conservatism (outsidethebeltway.com) [...]

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  23. Crunchy Con says:

    The Republican litmus test…

    Alex Knapp has a good point by point analysis of the litmus test the Republican Party is considering imposing on its candidates if they want to receive campaign cash from the RNC. Excerpt: On the face of it, this doesn’t……

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  24. Anonymous says:

    How exactly does DOMA adhere to reducing the size and influence of the national government?

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